Episode 11: Breaking Down Barriers in the Wine Biz

Welcome back to Hit the Bottle, I’m your host, Michael Wangbickler. So it’s been several months since we last published any episodes, we basically broke one of the cardinal rules of podcasting. Don’t start something you can’t sustain.

The error came from me thinking I could do everything with a little help from my colleague and co-host, Emma, but I’ve now assembled a team who is helping us get things back on track. In all that time, the world changed. Fires in Australia, a global pandemic and the tragic killing of George Floyd leading to a large part of the population, questioning police practices and racial bias in the U.S. and abroad. We felt that it was the perfect time to restart the show as several fans have expressed their affection for the podcast and how useful they find it.

I’m also pleased to let you know that we had completed 10 interviews late last year and we’ll be rolling those out over the coming weeks. You will notice a slight format change moving forward, we’re shortening the shows with a target of making them 30 minutes or less. While it pains me, we’re retiring the discussion segment. We had some pretty engaging talks, but it proved too difficult to schedule and maintain. We’ll still be offering our tip of the week on occasion, depending on show length and subject, and you will note some solo episodes from time to time as Emma and I share some news, knowledge and notes.

The following interview with Elaine Chukan Brown was recorded in December last year when there were far fewer conversations of this sort happening. She is someone highly qualified and speaking on diversity, exclusivity and equity. But you will see that even she is hesitant sometimes to offer a perspective. The most recent Black Lives Matter protests have demonstrated that the issues we discussed are as relevant now as they were six months ago. There may be some uncomfortable truths discussed here. But also many valuable insights, sometimes looking in the mirror is hard. But if we’re honest with each other and we want to move forward as an industry, we need to have these conversations. So I offer this episode with love and a genuine wish that it may do some good.

Transcript

Michael Wangbickler
My next guest serves as the American specialist for JancisRobinson.com and is a contributing writer to Wine and Spirits magazine. She contributed to the just released 8th edition of The World Atlas of Wine, as well as the recent award winning fourth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine. In her previous career as an academic philosopher, she specialized in issues of race and ethnicity, among other things, she is an Aleut Inupiat from Alaska, that is an Alaska native. She’s known online as Hawkwakawaka. Welcome to the show, Elaine Chukan Brown.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Thank you, Michael. It’s great to be here.

Michael Wangbickler
I’m so happy that you’re here. So today we wanted to talk a little bit about diversity in the wine business. It’s something that I don’t think as many people are talking about as they should be. And I’m hoping that today we have a discussion that will maybe open a few eyes and have people consider something that they haven’t before. So before we get too far into this, can you let people know how they might find you online?

Elaine Chukan Brown
Yeah, so I have an abhorrently long email address, but if you just search my name, Elaine Brown and also my online handle, Hawkwakawaka, that’s W.a.k.a. W a.k.a. you’ll pretty readily find me through my website and also Instagram and Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Wangbickler
Great. So. When we’re talking about diversity, what what exactly are we? Let’s let’s define what diversity is. First of all, how about that? Let’s start there.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Yeah. So obviously diversity can be applied to any subject matter. Today, we’re clearly we’re talking about it in relation to the idea of people and what do we mean by diversity, about diversity when we are talking about people. But I mean, if you just think about, OK, you know, what’s your fruit basket at home look like? Well, do you just have apples there or do you have apples and pineapple and oranges and papaya and passion fruit? Passion fruit just come into the local stores so you can actually like really up your game. Right. But also, how often do you actually include such variation in your fruit basket? Right.

Elaine Chukan Brown
So there’s a way in which we’re interacting with a basic notion of diversity in our everyday lives all the time. Some of us are comfortable having more diversity in our everyday lives in these really fundamental kind of mundane sorts of ways. But when we’re talking about it in relation to people, normally we we have tended to mean references to race and ethnicity. But as the conversation has expanded, we’re also really talking about ability, sexual orientation, gender and and very importantly, the way all of these things intersect.

Elaine Chukan Brown
So at a really simple level, when we’re talking about diversity in relation to people, we’re talking about how varied is our social group, whether that’s our social group and work or our social group and who we hang out with in the evenings or even some time. For some of us, how varied is our our family circle? Some of us have really multidimensional families that include a lot of diversity.

Michael Wangbickler
So how does this apply to the wine business? You know, I think there’s a distinct lack of diversity in the wine business. So what’s the what’s the current state of things? And and then let’s talk about what would be the advantages of having a more diverse workforce.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Yeah. So to answer the second question first, they’ve actually done a lot of studies in the last 10 years and even some early versions of these studies before that that have shown that the more diversity that is operating in the company at the Decision-Making level, the more successful that company turns out to be. So here’s a really simple example. Apple Watch came out, what is that, probably five to eight years ago, something like that. It turned out, though, that for the most part, the developers designing Apple Watch had relatively light skin and it was meant to interact with your body to some degree like this has become more complex over time. But initially it was basic things like could read your pulse and like oxygen levels in your blood, maybe something like that. But when Apple Watch very, very first came out, it turned out it actually couldn’t read these kinds of things for people with dark skin.

Elaine Chukan Brown
So there’s a really simple example, right? Who’s on your design pool for a product that you’re going to release? It’s really hard for a design pool that has really similar range of experiences to extrapolate beyond their own experiences and come up with ways to make it more useful to more people. When you have a more diverse group of people that actually do all have the room to speak and contribute to the decision making process, you’re simply going to create something that is applicable and makes sense to a greater range of people.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Obviously, they fixed this problem since, but they didn’t realise it was a problem until the very first models got released and got put on by somebody with darker skin. But if that diversity had been deeper in the actual production team and people with decision making power, it would have gotten fixed before the public ever heard about it.

Michael Wangbickler
Got it so and so in the wine business, I think it would extrapolate on that, it would mean that, you know, if you have people of color on your marketing team, that it may be that they give you perspectives of your potential buyers out there who are other people of color

Elaine Chukan Brown
As long as people of color that are being included in the team actually have the room to speak, contribute and be taken seriously.

Michael Wangbickler
OK, so let’s explore that then, you know, because I think that there is that situation where, you know, you have tokenism, right? You’ve got token people on a particular team or in a particular company. So like, how do we open the door to diversity more so that these people have a greater voice?

Elaine Chukan Brown
Well, I think we have to move beyond thinking merely about diversity. If we start at the level simply looking at diversity, we’re really just talking about counting things. Right. So, again, how many pieces of fruit are in your fruit basket? OK, we have 10. OK, how many of them apples? Oh, five. OK, how many are passionfruit. One. That’s just counting. Right. We’re just adding up numbers. Diversity alone isn’t actually a dynamic concept.

Elaine Chukan Brown
It’s just a counting concept. If you want to expand and make diversity, have real substance and make that actual difference, make that decision making impact, you have to move to two more levels. So you talk about inclusion. OK, now, so if you’re talking about diversity in relation to your company, let’s say you have 100 people in your company and you can count 40 of them as people of color. That sounds like a really high proportion of people of color in your company.

Elaine Chukan Brown
OK. Are any of them at the Decision-Making level? Right? The truth is, most companies continue to have very few people of color at the Decision-Making level, that means that they have diversity without equity. Right? And so now if you’re now you start thinking about inclusion and equity. So you want to start moving to seeing that diversity moving further and further up the ladder, so to speak, within the company, so that people of color, just as the example we’re talking about.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Now, you can think of this in terms of sexual orientation or mobility and ability, all different sorts of types of inclusion and in relation to so-called minority groups. Right? But in this case, we’re talking about people of color. So have you included them at the table for the decision making process? That becomes the second question. So that’s an inclusion question. We move for a simple diversity to now inclusion. But the really crucial question is, if they’re in the room, do they actually have the power to speak and be heard to be taken seriously so that they actually are influencing the real decisions being made? Do they belong on that team? Have they been given the room to belong and be heard on that team? And that’s where you start talking about belonging, and that’s actually where the really crucial change happens, where the people on the team, the team itself, the environment that they’re working in, has shifted in a way that means everyone on that team is truly there, operating together, working together because they belong on that team. They’ve not only earned their way through the merits of their work, but they’ve been welcomed in and are valued.

Michael Wangbickler
So, I totally hear you on that. But I also observe that a lot of people don’t necessarily have that access or that power, because of not necessarily overt racism, we talk we’re talking about this before we actually started the show, but that there is a systematic prejudice that may exist there that people are unaware of.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Yeah, I mean, really, the truth is culturally right now, we still tend to talk about and think about racism or prejudice of these sorts as if it’s an event when someone has been mean or used inappropriate language. And when we continue to think about it in that kind of way, it becomes really easy to say, oh, I’m not racist because I’m a nice person. I don’t do those things. But actually, racism is a systematic question of unjust distribution and unequitable access. So if we want a more equitable system, a system that is not restricting access to needs access to success, based on race and ethnicity, then we have to actually change the system itself. And the thing is, we’re all born and raised into this system, right? We’re all participating in it. So we’ve all in different ways, accumulated habits, ways of interacting with each other and expectations that we just take for granted, but that actually support and perpetuate this system.

Elaine Chukan Brown
And so if we want to change this and make it more equitable, for example, working environment that has greater sense of inclusion and belonging at the Decision-Making level, we need to get help from the outside with people that are experts in this sort of thing. So the best thing I can recommend for someone who’s leading the company and realizes it’s not only a good thing to do to work towards greater equity, greater inclusion and belonging in their decision-making team, it’s actually something that will benefit that company because, again, studies have shown companies with greater levels of diversity at the decision-making level have greater long term success.

Elaine Chukan Brown
It’s actually in the best interests of the company to work on these issues. But because we are also trained to see things from the perspective we’ve raised ourselves in, so to speak, we need outside help from people who have expertise in this, who work with companies to help transform the internal environment and these unseen habits. And there are there are experts and consultants that work with companies specifically on these issues. And I think that’s the smartest thing to do.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Here’s the thing, though. Here’s another more tactile way of putting why this matters, the whole wine industry right now is worried about what looks like a potential recession of in terms of wine sales and part of how that’s coming up as we like the bulk market right?. There’s too much wine on the bulk market, but there’s actually too much wine on the fine wine market, too. Right? Or the premium market. So on all levels, we have an excess of wine in relation to sales. And so people are worried that we’re plateauing in terms of sales and why can’t we expand the market? And everybody keeps talking about millennials. Mostly they’re still talking about white millennials, though. And here’s the thing. There’s massive buying power in the black American community. And for the most part, the wine industry isn’t even paying attention.

Elaine Chukan Brown
But why not? You know black Americans drink wine, too. I bet most people in the wine industry don’t know what kind of wine the black market likes for the most part, or even what individual black people that they might encounter like to drink wine. There’s a huge, there’s a huge market. There’s also a lot of buying power in the Latino/Latina sector of the American community. We could keep naming different ethnic groups. There’s lots of ways to expand potential buying power for wine, but we have to expand what we’re looking to as options. And we have to change our expectations around who’s buying wine and how are they spending it. And the way to do that is to get that diversity increased at the Decision-Making level in wineries and distributors and importers in marketing and in PR.

Michael Wangbickler
So one area that this may be a challenge for that C suite is like where where do you find qualified candidates? To fill these positions, because I think that, you know, we talk about that there’s this kind of unrecognized bias, but there’s also this lack of understanding of where we might find the assets that we need for our company in the in the greater marketplace.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Yes. So if we step back for a second, we think about the kind of bones or building blocks of the wine industry, how jobs are marketed, who’s created those companies who they reach. You know, there’s a sense in which this lack of diversity goes through every single aspect, and element of the wine industry. And so, simply put, new job postings out on the same typical job boards isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem. Right? And and there’s also ways that we need to think about how to more elegantly seek greater diversity in our hiring process. Right? Affirmative action in the 90s had really good intentions and also had a lot of problems, we don’t want to just throw that kind of thinking out, but we do want to improve how we approach it. And the truth is, I’m going to go back to the point again, find a consultant that works on these things. They have answers to those kinds of questions. You know, don’t expect that as a really well intentioned leader of your business, that you’re enough to answer these questions. If you want to make genuine change around these issues, then you need to actually get outside perspective to get these kinds of issues. And sometimes wineries alone are too small. A lot of wineries, they don’t have the capital to be hiring outside consultants in this kind of way. So that’s where regional bodies can try and do more work. And I think it’s really important that wineries start asking regional bodies to do things like studies on ways to increase support for diversity in their region or, you know, ways to reach a more diverse audience of wine lovers through the wines of their region. So wineries, if they’re paying into regional boards or marketing boards, they can ask for those kinds of studies in order to build programs that that support that.

Michael Wangbickler
OK, so and for for the listeners, I’ll go ahead and post some possible consultants in the show notes and so that you can actually view those after the show, so, OK. Why, again, you know, we’ve talked about the fact that this is a benefit to companies, so how you know, other than other than a consultant, how should a company, you know, a C-suite executive at a medium size wine company, how should they start to include this sort of conversation in their business practices, like, you know, when they’re putting together their business strategy for the next five years, like how where should they start with something like this?

Elaine Chukan Brown
So unfortunately, my answer is it’s still a little bit abstract, but start paying attention to who’s in your friend group, who’s in your business advice group, who you know, who do you turn to and surround yourself with. Right? If you’re continuously around people that share your same range of experiences. Whether that’s most of the people you hang out with are the same age group as you. Most of the people you hang out with kind of grew up in the same community, things like this. Right. So this isn’t just about race and ethnicity. There’s like all all different levels of expanding our perspective, just based around life experience that can come up here. If you’re only ever in conversation around people that have a really similar experience, background of experiences as you, you’re probably kind of repeating the same sorts of answers and expectations for yourself and how you develop your business plan. You know, so starting by asking questions of people that work with you, other business owners and leaders in your area, but like start expecting yourself to learn new answers. You know, so I’m not giving you a business like, really tangible business plan advice because I feel like I’m not the person to do that. Like there are there are business consultants specifically working around these questions of diversity that could better answer that. But in the meantime, remember that we all have a lot to learn on these kinds of questions and issues. And if we start just from that perspective, you know, recognizing we all have tons to contribute and to this conversation, we all have so much we can give to help improve these kinds of concerns. And we can do that by starting with the recognition that however much we’ve ever accomplished in our life, however much we’ve ever contributed and assisted other people, we will still always have more to learn. If we can start from that perspective, we’re going to be on the right path.

Michael Wangbickler
You know that that speaks back to, you know, never make assumptions. Right?Never make assumptions that other people are the same as you are that they’ve had the same opportunities that you’ve had. Right? I mean, that’s one of the biggest challenge is to bring diversity into a company is because a lot of the. You know, the people of color and the other individuals that we were talking about, they don’t necessarily have the same opportunities that you’ve had. As an executive, as a white executive, frankly, you know, and so let me run an idea by you and that is that, you know, to help overcome that particular challenge, because it may be difficult to find people who are qualified at those higher levels to bring in that diversity. So where do you find that diversity instead is perhaps it’s already in your company, but it’s at at a lower level? Maybe maybe you have junior people who you can actually coach and train and bring them up to the level that they need to be helping them along in their career to then excel and, you know, enter into that C-suite.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Right. So kind of a mentoring process. Well, in the thing there, too, to ask yourself is, you know, if you have again, let’s like what we were talking about earlier, let’s say a 100 person company, 40 people, there apparently are people of color. Have you been giving them the same kinds of opportunities to advance when their work has shown they deserve it as other people in your company? Right? So part of increasing equity through all levels of your company is opening potential doors. Right? We’re not talking about giving people opportunities who haven’t shown the potential to grasp.

Michael Wangbickler
It’s not preferential treatment.

Elaine Chukan Brown
No, no, no. We’re not talking about preferential treatment, but a lot of times implicit bias keeps us from even opening those doors for some people, you know. For me, you know, I’m in a little bit of an unusual position in the wine industry because I decided to take the risk of working for myself essentially and just kind of created my own path because that was the way I wanted to do it. I wanted that independence to pursue what I thought was right for me to work on. But thankfully, I’ve been in the wine industry just long enough now that people come to me to ask me to work on projects with them or to speak at events or things like that. And now that I’m in that kind of position, I vet which projects and which events I can give my time to, partially by taking time to interview the organizers of those things, to see how open they are to actually increasing equity across the speaker profile, the participant profile. And when I find out that they are open to that, then I’ll immediately offer my services on the condition that I can connect them to other speakers of color who I know are seeking those kinds of opportunities and have something really powerful to contribute that will really make a difference in people’s perspective and also help them create scholarship programs and find sponsors who will fund those scholarship programs for people of color. So for me, I am Alaska native. And so I you know, I grew up in a profoundly segregated and anti-native racist community. Unfortunately, that’s just the truth is that’s just part of everyday life in Alaska. I also grew up around a lot of really good people.

Michael Wangbickler
It’s part of everyday life, just about anywhere in the U.S.

Elaine Chukan Brown
But at the same time. I also pass in and out depending on the context I’m in. People don’t necessarily look at me in every in every context. I mean, not everybody’s thinking about whether I’m native or not. So I recognize I have an advantage that some can never pass, just never have. For me, that means it’s my duty to do what I can to, any success I’ve had, I need to be using it to open more doors for more people. And it doesn’t mean they have to be native people. It means that I need to be supporting people who do not readily have the same advantages that I have from from passing in the way that I do.

Michael Wangbickler
So what do you say to people who say I don’t see color?

Elaine Chukan Brown
Well, I think that’s a really important question. I see it sort of as this latent notion that kind of came out of the 90s, again, this affirmative action like we were starting to recognize, oh, God, you know, we’re behaving badly. We need to open more doors. We need to do better by people who are not white. Right? We started really talking about diversity and multiculturalism in the 90s and along with this really common saying came out, oh, I don’t see color. Implicit in that claim is a kind of insecurity. There’s this fear of being a bad person. I’m not a bad person because I don’t see color. But really what people are saying is I don’t have to deal with race. You don’t have to push me on this question because I don’t see color. So it’s not a problem for me.

Michael Wangbickler
I’m so woke.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Well, now, that’s now. Yeah, I can’t even repeat that word, but yes. Yes, that’s the new version. But the truth is, I still hear people say that I still have people say to me, oh, I don’t see color, but the thing is, it’s not literally not even physically possible for someone to not see color. We are all walking around all the time noticing similarities and differences in each other, whether they are through racial signs or otherwise. It’s yeah, it’s human nature. The problem is not in seeing racial differences or, you know, skin color differences. The problem is how do we deal with and respond to the discomfort some of us feel when we see those differences. If we’re claiming I don’t see color, we’re also actually refusing to face our own discomfort

Michael Wangbickler
And our own biases.

Elaine Chukan Brown
And our own biases. And the truth is, again, we all participate in the system that has been set up to favor some people and and leave things more challenging for others. And if we want to create greater equity in a system like that, we have to be willing to say and admit, “Crap. I do see color.” It’s also not my fault that these color differences have given import and meaning in our culture. I didn’t create a system that prioritizes color differences as a value marker in people, but I can now pay better attention to how I respond to things like color differences or cultural differences or disability differences or sexual orientation differences. And by paying attention to these little implicit reactions I have, I can better understand myself and better shift my own unseen beliefs. One of the ways I like to think about it is when we start being willing to see these differences and willing to pay better attention to how we have how we respond inside to them. When we have those little discomfort moments, when we notice, oh, my God, I’m uncomfortable, because such and such is in front of me, whatever the thing we’re reacting to, that makes us uncomfortable. When we notice those little tiny uncomfortable moments instead of panicking and thinking, oh, my God, I don’t want to be a bad person, we can actually slow down and say, oh, I’m uncomfortable. This is a great opportunity for me to learn a new way of understanding, caring and interacting with who’s in front of me. So if we shift that perspective from fear of doing the wrong thing to opportunity to pay better attention and listen and grow, we’re actually bringing more grace and compassion to ourselves and to the people we’re interacting with. So, again, shifting that perspective from fear of doing the wrong thing to opportunity for growth, I think is the key. And the way to do that is to be prepared to listen again, notice that no matter how much we’ve accomplished, you will always also have far more to learn and to be open to that learning and see those brief uncomfortable moments as a sign we have an opportunity for that learning.

Michael Wangbickler
That is an excellent way to end this interview, so thank you so much for being on the show today. This is a topic that, frankly, might be uncomfortable for some of the listeners, but I’m hoping that it actually opened some eyes and that you start to think about what you can learn from the experience.

Elaine Chukan Brown
Something‚Ķ just to add one quick thing in response to what you just said. I actually specialize in this professionally. I’ve talked about this with, you know, international groups like I was on multinational research boards on these subjects. And it still scares the crap out of me every time I have to talk about it in a new forum, because we all are afraid of hurting other people. I am actually a person of color, and it is scary for me to talk about this, even though I have professional expertise in it. Because I want so much to be talking about it in a way that’s actually supporting positive growth in our communities, and I want to do it in a way that really respects and honors the challenges others have, the challenges to learn how to be better at this and the challenges of not finding enough opportunities that one otherwise could deserve and do well at. I want to respect that the challenges on both sides there. And so having to talk about this publicly is really scary for me. And I’m saying that because it’s OK to be scared, that’s actually a sign that we care. You know, and so I want I wanted to support people facing things like these conversations that are hard to have and recognize we have a lot to learn and a way to learn more is to listen more.

Michael Wangbickler
Yeah. And it’s OK to be scared. You know, it’s what you do with that fear, right? It’s how you react to it that really, frankly, just makes what you do important.

Elaine Chukan Brown
I think the more grace and compassion we can bring to ourselves, which is not the same as letting ourselves off the hook. Right? But the more grace and compassion we can bring to ourselves on these conversations, the more we can bring it to each other.

Michael Wangbickler
Thanks so much.

Elaine Chukan Brown
OK. Thanks for having me.

Links

https://wakawakawinereviews.com/

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/introducing-elaine-chukan-brown

https://www.instagram.com/hawk_wakawaka/?hl=en

https://abalancedglass.com/meet-the-tribe-2019/2019/5/10/elaine-chukan-brown-writer-speaker-illustrator-wakawaka-wine-reviews-usa

Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity Consultants

Change Cadet – http://www.changecadet.com/

The Diversity Coach – https://www.thediversitycoach.com/

Sahar Consulting – https://www.saharconsulting.com/diversityandinclusion

Russell Reynolds Associates – https://www.russellreynolds.com/services/diversity-and-inclusion