The Buyer
Kirsten MacLeod: We need to act now on diversity & inclusion

Kirsten MacLeod: We need to act now on diversity & inclusion

“There is a wave of outpouring that is screaming out for change. Enough of the turning a blind eye, ignored sexism, racism, bullying, or pretence it’s not happening where you work. It’s time to call time out on these behaviours.” In just one sentence Kirsten MacLeod encapsulates what has been months of hurt and rising tensions across the wine, hospitality and drinks sectors that has reached a crisis point in recent weeks. Those tensions, however, have been there below the surface for decades and although they have reached breaking point in recent weeks, the overriding issues of diversity, and inclusion in the wine and drinks industry, and the treatment of women and people of colour, are long overdue serious debate… and action. In this cutting article MacLeod sets out why she thinks it is now up to the trade, the industry as a whole, to step up and take real, meaningful wider action and not just leave it to individuals to bravely speak out.

Kirsten MacLeod
2nd November 2020by Kirsten MacLeod
posted in Opinion,

If you would like to join Kirsten MacLeod and share what you think the drinks and hospitality sectors can do more to help drive better diversity and inclusion then please contact Richard Siddle at

This should be the year to be better – for everyone who works for you, your suppliers, your customers and your wine lovers.

2020 has been the year where a number of examples have been raised of poor treatment from those in the wine industry. #BlackLivesMatter, and Tahiirah Habibi’s experience at the Court of Master Sommeliers were a catalyst for looking at diversity. More recently, #Winebitch and Anne Burchett and Vinka Danitza,’s articles should be acting as catalysts for inclusion.

There is a wave of outpouring that is screaming out for change. Enough of the turning a blind eye, ignored sexism, racism, bullying, or pretence it’s not happening where you work. It’s time to call time out on these behaviours.

Tahiirah Habibi took to Instagram to speak out about the problems she has faced working in drinks and hospitality

The large chorus of women, BAME men and women and some brave white men have spoken out and supported and encouraged the sharing of these negative experiences. Well done and it takes a lot to do this and these brave people have been strong enough to put it out there. But what next? There has been lots of talk, but maybe less outward visible action.

What action has been taken? There has been some very positive work to improve diversity and inclusion. For example, increased BAME representation on judging panels, in the press on websites, in features, BAME wine professionals. Nyetimber and WSETs tie up with BAME in Hospitality’s Colour of Wine series, Wiston Estate’s partnership with Sonal Clare on food pairing, and more. Bravo.

A number of scholarships and bursaries have been announced, focused in increasing ethnic diversity– Champagne Louis Roederer BAME Bursary, Majestic’s opportunity for 24 places on WSET level 2 course. There are many more in the pipeline to help at both grass roots and professional levels.

WSET, Institute of Masters of Wine, Wine & Spirits Trade Association and The Drinks Trust – have all embarked on diversity and inclusion programmes. The Wine Society raised diversity and inclusion as one of its three big initiatives for 2020/2021, and is already in a good position with a strong female representation at all levels through their business.

We need more good news stories on the positive work being done on diversity and inclusion, stop hiding it under a bushel and let’s share with each other and the press.

We need to do more

But overall, I feel it’s not enough, it’s too quiet. The main voices screaming out on social media and in the press are about the injustices, quite rightly, and there needs action on these points.

So what to do? There are two parts to diversity and inclusion.

1. Increasing representation of ethnic, gender, disability, and sexual orientation and socio-economic backgrounds.

This is hard and takes time.

2. Creating more inclusive environments where every voice can be heard, and the work environment is safe.

This is not just the nice stuff, it’s also the darker side of the industry that people are less comfortable in talking about. How do you keep your people safe, how do you prevent unwanted attention, abuse, bullying or discrimination? The big question is where are your grievance and whistleblowing policies, where do employees go to raise a point of danger, discrimination, or illegality?

This may sound very serious and structured, very unlike the wine trade in fact, but the reality of all these allegations is that there has been nowhere for victims to go for recourse, nothing to keep the bad behaviours in check, and it has continued to happen.

Time for action

Today is the day, it’s time to put on your big pants and take control of the situation or it will just continue unchecked.

Of course, having a more representative work force will help, more women and BAME people in senior positions, better role models, more diversity of thought, less tolerance for the old ways or doing things. Unfortunately, this takes time and all of a sudden, the negative consequences of lack of diversity are at the forefront, screaming out for attention and action.

I ask you all as decent people to please look into your organisations to make sure you have grievance and whistleblowing policies and processes that can protect your staff. You owe it to the great people who work for you and when we are back to normal, attend your events, and tastings.

  • Kirsten MacLeod is a diversity consultant who helps organisations think differently about talent. She is also a WSET Diploma student, and leader of wine tours around Devon and Dorset. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheKirstenMac.
  • As Kirsten explains in her article there have been some important steps made in 2020 as well, most notably BAME Wine Professionals that has been set up Mags Jango.
  • You can see a range of new diversity initiatives that have been set up across the drinks industry collated by BAME Wine Professionals here.
  • You can take part in The Drinks Trust new industry survey to help it shape its diversity and inclusion strategy here.
  • Vinclusive on Instagram has been set up by Susan O’Neil to share BAME events and initiatives. Follow at @vinclusive_.
  • Wine Unify has been set up to “fostering wine education for underrepresented minority groups, and amplifying the voices of the people of colour who are already thriving within the wine industry”. You can read more about the organisation on its website here.
  • Wine writer Julia Coney has also set up a new social media platform @blackwineprofessionals on Twitter and Instagram to help share ideas and build a diverse online community. You can also follow Julia at @JuliaConey.
  • Tahiirah Habibi has set up the The Hue Society as a new lifestyle hub for all things related to black wine culture.