2021 will be remembered for a host of negative reasons, but the shining positive has been the way the drinks industry as a whole has risen to the challenge of addressing diversity and inclusion in a sector that had traditionally not even discussed the issue publicly. Even though there was clearly a major problem to address. But just as the country as a whole has started to open up and have a national debate on diversity and inclusion, the drinks industry has started to take steps of its own through a combination of official sector-wide responses and individual initiatives like Equal Measures. Here Richard Siddle talks to Equal Measures founder, Deano Moncrieffe, about what it is doing to provide a platform to help drive D&I through the sector and how he has linked up with Hannah Lanfear, founder of Mixing Class , the dedicated provider of WSET spirits education, and The Drinks Trust to give more people from different backgrounds the opportunity to start a career in the bar, hospitality and wider drinks industry through carefully structured and targeted education and mentorship programmes.
To find out more about the steps you can take to drive diversity and inclusion in your business click on the websites for The Drinks Trust, Equal Measures and The Mixing Class here.
“What has been so heartening about Equal Measures is that there is clearly an appetite for change in the drinks industry but the mechanism to make that change was not there before. Equal Measures has given the people the opportunity to take action and really make those changes happen.”
That’s why Hannah Lanfear, founder of The Mixing Class spirits education business, says she is so pleased to be working with Deano Moncrieffe and how together they can promote and push the opportunities that Equal Measures potentially offers so many individuals both inside and outside the drinks industry.
“We want to try and build a healthy future for our industry. So that it can become more diverse and acceptable,” she adds.
Both Moncrieffe and Lanfear know what the drinks industry needs as they are both very much part of it. As well as Equal Measures Moncrieffe runs his own successful Margarita bottled cocktail brand and bar business, Hacha, with two sites in London, his first in Dalston and now a new bar in Brixton, and he also spent a number of years on spirits brands at Diageo.
Lanfear has spent over 20 years working across the bar sector in key outlets such as Milk & Honey, St Martin’s Lane Hotel, Boisdale before switching to distilling with Bermondsey Distillery and Jensen’s Gin.
Their love and passion for the bar, spirits and drinks industry is also matched by their frustration that it still largely draws from what Lanfear calls the “narrow demographic” of those from white, middle class backgrounds.
On seeing and appreciating what they were both doing with their respective businesses they soon realised they could achieve so much more if they could combine forces and address the “acute lack of diversity behind the bar, in front of hour and management positions”. Their goal is to make the bar sector a far more warm and welcoming environment that “mirror” a diverse society in the UK.
Together they have started the Equal Measures Education and Mentorship Project that aims to offer underrepresented minorities the opportunity to get their feet on the ladder of the drinks industry by connecting them with the right people who can help advise and inspire them about a career in drinks, as well as provide the training and support they might need. They also want to challenge what they see as they as “the biases of existing hiring practices in the hospitality industry”.
To help take that message to as wide a number of people in the industry as possible they have also now teamed up with The Drinks Trust to really amplify what they are doing, and provide the administrative support to make it happen.
(Click below to hear Hannah Lanfear of The Mixing Class on how Equal Measures is driving real change in diversity and inclusion)
Lucy Marcuson, The Drinks Trust’s project manager, says it will hopefully be able to identify the right people coming to the charity that would benefit from the support that Equal Measures and the Mixing Class can offer. It means The Drinks Trust can go beyond offering financial support and give people a practical route back into employment and open up new opportunities to them.
Moncrieffe says it has already been a huge help to have the “smoothly oiled machine of The Drinks Trust” behind it offering its support. “It has helped so much. We are now able to share responsibilities and we can achieve so much more together.”
Planning Equal Measures
(Click to hear Deano Moncrieffe explain the inspiration for Equal Measures and what he hopes it can achieve)
Considering how much it has achieved already it’s hard to believe Equal Measures was only set up in the summer of 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter and world debate around diversity and inclusion.
Moncrieffe says the idea for Equal Measures had actually been something he had been thinking about for five or six years, but simply did not have the time with his busy bar, and a young child, to make happen.
“I always wanted to create something that would have longevity and not just quickly fall by the wayside,” he explains. “But I felt last June (2020) was the right time to do it. There had been a lot of positive energy around diversity and inclusion after Black Lives Matter, but that was not the immediate spark for me. Lots of people were looking to introduce new ideas, but I could not see anything that was really meaningful, or had any real value.”
He adds: “I thought if only there could be something that was more structured. It was actually Black History Month in November 2019 that made me want to do something. It took a long time to develop. I spent the first six months of 2020 thinking it through and then when lockdown came and people were losing their jobs and going on furlough I thought this was the most radical time to act. This was a time when people had the opportunity to better themselves. It was a good time to connect, particularly when suddenly so many people’s routines that they were used to were suddenly gone.”
For her part Lanfear has been running Mixing Class as a dedicated WSET training provider for spirits for the last four and a half years and in that time has helped widen spirits training to a wide network of people, both inside and outside the drinks and bar sectors.
“I have always loved the breadth of knowledge we have amongst cocktail and spirits professionals. Mixing Class is a way to share that with as many people as possible,” says Lanfear.
“From the outset we have been interested in not just providing spirits education as a purely commercial exercise, but how we can use spirits education to lift up those who have up to now been marginalised by the drinks industry. Education can be a great way of bringing people together and giving them the skills they need to take the next step,” explains Lanfear.
“I would argue we are more trade focused than any other provider because I have 20 years front line experience of working in bars and hospitality. We were also the first independent training company to offers level 3 WSET spirits courses,” she adds.
(Click below to hear Hannah Lanfear explain why she set up The Mixing Class and wanted to link up with Equal Measures)
She also accepts it has been hard to attract and promote its courses to people outside that “narrow demographic” of the traditional drinks industry, which is why the link ups with Equal Measures and now The Drinks Trust are potentially so important.
“I was talking to my sister who was working as manager of Frankie & Benny’s in Birmingham and she was explaining to me the difficulties they were facing and I thought there must be something more that we could do,” says Moncrieffe.
Meeting of minds
“When Hannah and I first met it took me two seconds to realise we would work well together,” says Moncrieffe. “We knew from the outset that education was the key to giving people meaningful support. But we needed to go further as well. We also both know from our own careers what an impact and influence having positive mentors in your life can have. People who can help you before and after any education you might get. We had this collective energy to come together and make this happen.”
It’s that shared vision to help people really fulfil their potential through education and mentorship that has brought Equal Measures, Mixing Class and The Drinks Trust together.
A collective effort to harness the skills and knowledge in the sector and encourage people across all areas of the drinks industry to share their experiences with the next generation of people coming into the sector from hopefully a far wider network of society.
“We can all do with someone to talk to, but particularly at the start of our careers,” adds Lanfear. “Someone who can give us friendly advice.”
Moncrieffe sees successful mentoring as working in two distinct ways. It helps empower the individual, but it is equally important for the employer as well. “We are not just trying to enrich the individual, but also the place where they work as well,” he says.
In order to reach a more diverse pool of talent Equal Measures is going to community outreach projects and looking to work with local councils and the young adult programmes they run, as well as linking up with job centres.
“It is about getting out into the communities and introducing ourselves to people,” he says. “It is about recruiting a new generation to the drinks industry as well as helping those in it to improve their skills as well.”
(Click here to hear Equal Measures’ Deano Moncrieffe on impact working with Mixing Class has had on its diversity goals)
There is also a major skills gap in the hospitably industry and an opportunity to reach out to more people to think about a potential career working in bars or restaurants, says Lanfear. But clearly if those places to do not look welcoming places for people from diverse backgrounds to work in then the problem is going to persist.
Moncrieffe adds: “The hospitality sector is only reflective of the society it serves. So that’s the ultimate goal. To make people feel comfortable working in a bar and be something they can relate to and that is not the case at the moment.”
It’s why he is so pleased the team he has at Hacha come from all over the world and reflect the customers they have coming to the bars.
But equally he does not believe in tokenism and that anyone working in a bar needs to be there on merit and “as a valued member of staff who can contribute to its culture and working environment”.
Marcuson says what has been really encouraging is the level of support it has already had for the Equal Measures mentorship programme and companies looking to get involved through sponsorship and ways of support.
Moncrieffe says he is particularly pleased to say the biggest sponsor of Equal Measures to date is Scottish whisky brand, Johnnie Walker. “They have been remarkable in the support they have given. Also of all the spirits categories I would not have imagined 12 months ago Scotch whisky would have been the one to get so involved. They have shown a real determination to make a difference and make this work and should be commended for doing so.”
He says he been “humbled and overwhelmed” by the amount of brand and individual support he has had in the trade for Equal measures. So much so that they are actually currently over subscribed with mentors. “It’s incredible to say, but we now have a waiting list for mentors,” he adds.
Long term goals
Moncrieffe has also carefully selected the brands supporting Equal Measures as he only wants to work with companies that see this as a long term partnership and not a one year opportunity.
“We have made it clear from the start, that this is a long term project. It’s about building long lasting relationships.”
Lanfear says any activity they do with a brand has to be something that works for both sides. It means it becomes much more than financial transaction, but an opportunity for them to make long term meaningful change in their own businesses. “It’s far more than a cash donation to make them feel better,” she says.
Marcuson says what particularly attracted The Drinks Trust to get involved was that this is an initiative that is all about people taking personal steps to make a difference. It’s not about codes or conducts of behaviour but about “empowering individuals” and “helping them thrive”.
We are also just at the beginning of what the industry can do around D&I understanding and training and we can expect to see even more steps taken next year, she adds. “We will see a lot more businesses training their teams and introducing D&I initiatives. There has in the past been a real anxiety around the right way to approach D&I. Now they can work with Equal Measures for the training and support they need. That’s when we saw what Deano and Hannah were doing and were so keen to get involved. The Drinks Trust is all about up-skilling and supporting people in different ways that we can.”
(Click here for why Deano Moncrieffe believes D&I and mentorship programmes are good for employers & their workplaces)
Next steps for 2022
Moncrieffe says the next steps for Equal Measures and the Drinks Trust is to continue to build the online support they can offer with existing practical guides on how to run a D&I policy, and what tools and services there are available to give companies and individuals support. You can access what is currently available (click here for its resource centre), including taking part in D&I training courses, through the Drinks Trust Equal Measures site here.
“The next step is to make sure people know those resources are there and to amplify that message,” he says.
He is, for example, running community days from his Hacha bar in Brixton that encourage local people to come in and talk about a potential career in drinks, have a bit of experience working behind the scenes in a bar and making it a friendly place to visit. He hopes to be able to offer spirits masterclasses and invite emerging and marginalised brands in to tell their stories.
Then there is the Equal Measures Outreach Program that is being rolled out to several cities across the UK in 2022 to promote the activities and training courses it can provide to a wider group of people. This will include a five day workshop aimed at offering young people the chance to learn all the skills they need to start a career in the drinks trade. Up to four rotating cities will be involved each year, with 10 candidates recruited to each programme, including paid vocational training.
“We want this to be a bridge for people to enter the sector,” stresses Lanfear.
Marcuson says that as more businesses and their teams take part in D&I training the more confident they will be about talking about it.
Lanfear and Moncrieffe area also aware of the influence the UK drinks and bar industries have on sectors around the world and they hope what they already achieved here can help drive real change in other cities and countries around the world.
“The cocktail industry is united in many ways, and the power of influence is often starting the conversation in the first place. We hope we have started to make that happen. After all the values of diversity and inclusion can go around the world,” says Lanfear.