Toasting women in the trade

Shervene Shahbazkhani was general manager of Edinburgh bar The Voodoo Rooms before joining Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, where she is now head of brand advocacy. On International Women’s Day Shervene shared her thoughts on women in the drinks industry.

When did you first start working in the on-trade?

I have worked in hospitality since I was 14 as a cutlery polisher at the Sheraton! It was always part-time work through studies. It became my career in 2016, where I worked in some of Edinburgh’s best restaurants and bars.

Do you think it’s a tougher industry for women to succeed in than it is for men, and have you seen this change at all since you first entered the industry?

Speaking from my own experience, I didn’t find it tougher as a female; I did well in the industry and didn’t feel any barriers.

What I did find tough were the conditions that as a bartender you are faced with. I worked long days, late nights, with low wage and no benefits. I had no time to see friends as my hours were anti-social, and on my days off I was too exhausted to do anything. Conditions were not conducive to a stable, healthy lifestyle. For many this is not sustainable, and for myself and many female colleagues it had a shelf life.

I am fortunate to still work in an industry I love but with the stability and support I desired. There are definitely a lot of bars that are improving working conditions since my day. Groups like Healthy Hospo are shining the light on these issues and it is certainly getting better. There are many places that offer good wages, proper time off and benefits. This however, needs to be universal.

Do you think women are becoming more prominent in the industry now, both on the drinks company and bars side, than they were a few years ago?

Unfortunately, the industry has moved little in the last 15 years. Women are still massively the minority. You only have to go to any bar, event, workshop or cocktail competition to see this.

What is positive is that we are seeing a lot of the amazing female bartenders move to brands or consultancy roles. We have some extremely talented female ambassadors, brand, sales and event managers working in our industry. Great for them, but not so good for the bars themselves.

Can you name some women in the industry (either drinks or bars side) that you particularly admire? What do you admire about them?

My female Ambassador team of course:

Metinee Kongsrivilai (Bacardi): her constant energy and passion for her role is unrivalled.

Andrea Montague (Dewar’s): her depth of industry knowledge and insights is outstanding.

Ambre Morin (Grey Goose): her drive and attitude to succeed, I can always count on her to get the job done.

Karine Tillard (Patron): the way she builds relationships, and support others is extremely admirable. She also has an amazing commercial lens on everything.

Maja Jaworska (Grey Goose): not only is she a great presenter but delivers with so much passion and knowledge.

Rebecca Sides (Bacardi): so business savvy and fierce. She is one of the most organised people I know.

Outside of my team:

Hannah Sharman-Cox (founder of DrinkUp.London) for her determination, drive and constant efforts to bring women through the ranks and mentor them.

Hannah Lanfear (founder of The Mixing Class): one of the smartest people I know. A genuine pillar of our community, really leading the way for developing education for the masses, and supporting diverse communities.

Ali Dedianko: ex Belvedere, now restauranteur. Such a force to be reckoned with. Her attention to detail and vision is seriously impressive.

In the past, certain types of drink were marketed as more feminine (rosé wine, gin & tonic, daiquiri etc) while others (beer, whisky etc) were seen as more stereotypically masculine. Do you think some of these stereotypes continue to linger or has the industry moved on?

I think stereotypes will always exist with the masses. It’s funny, I still hear men avoiding ordering a drink that’s in a coupette as it is seen as ‘girly’ (eyeroll). I think discerning drinkers, both men and women tend to ignore these stereotypes when it comes to classic cocktails and pick on taste. Which sex doesn’t love a Clover Club?

However, whilst gender stereotypes exist in other industries; fashion, clothing, technology, it will remain in our industry.

What is changing is how brands market themselves. More and more brands are taking the responsibility to break down these barriers and challenge these stereotypes.

Can you think of anything the industry can do to be more inclusive and supportive of women?

Create a stable, supportive environment for both sexes that promotes growth and work life balance, and you won’t have to actively look for one sex to make it more equal – they will all come to you.

If you were to pick one drink to represent International Women’s Day, what would it be and why?

This week six of our talented ambassador team partnered with some of the best female bartending talent in the UK to create a collection of International Women’s Day cocktails, inspired by IWD theme of #BalanceForBetter, that celebrate the diverse tastes of women – and men.

Whether you’re a woman and like strong, whisky-based drinks or a man who prefers a lighter, low-ABV serve there is a serve to suit everyone’s taste.

As a passionate rum lover, my personal favourite is the Honey, Honey, which mixes orange blossom, honey and lemon with Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato and Bacardi Añejo Cuatro rum. Topped up with soda and lemon.