WEBI Launches: New Group Promotes Opportunity for Women in Beverage Business

When it comes to moving women into decision-making and executive positions in the beverage industry, there’s been progress, but not enough. At least, not enough progress according to a new group whose primary focus will be to provide the networking, support, and educational resources needed to help bridge the gap.

In an interview with BevNET, Katherine de Tristan Tait, the CEO of SENCE Worldwide, stated that, “It is apparent how many woman owners and executives there are in the beverage industry, but [there is] still a [distance] between us and an ‘old boys network’ that is still active and proactive in its maintenance.”

“We want to level the playing field,” she added.

Tait and a group of fourteen other women beverage leaders have formed an organization called Women Executives in the Beverage Industry (WEBI). WEBI’s primary focus will be to showcase the significant role that women play in the beverage industry, spotlight issues facing female beverage professionals, and provide resources for empowerment, education and development.

Tait noted that the organization “will now mean being able to have a unified voice” in calling out issues such as pay inequality and lack of entry-level opportunities, as well as advocating for the elevation of female beverage executives and the publicizing of their achievements. WEBI will also push for greater education and training for women in the beverage industry through a scholarship fund that has already received a $5,000 donation from ÜBER Bar Tools of Sydney, Australia.

While most casual observations would show that the top levels of beverage industry have been dominated by men for decades, that has been changing in recent years: the elevation of Indra Nooyi to the CEO spot at PepsiCo is obviously the most notable example, but there are several women who are running well-regarded entrepreneurial organizations as well, such as HINT, which was founded by former AOL executive Kara Goldin and her husband, Theo, or Fizzy Lizzy, which was begun by Elizabeth Morrill.

But despite these advances, there remains a strong feeling among some entrepreneurs that they remain, as one woman put it, “the novelty” amidst beverage boards, beverage ownership and beverage distributorships.

Debbie Wildrick, the Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at the shot company Bazi, noted that while larger beverage companies have been leading innovators and drivers of gender diversity in the industry, independent DSD networks and start-ups have been less inclined to reach objectives.

“There is a difference in how men and women lead and in the style they do so,” she said. “You have to start hiring and promoting leadership at all levels, and there is currently no focus among smaller companies to do so.”

But while Wildrick praised the concept and goals of WEBI, she expressed concern that another much larger and established organization of female executives called Network of Executive Women (NEW) is doing very similar work already.

“I’ve been on the board of NEW for six years, and we have are 6000 prominent executives who are members. You would be hard pressed to find an organization [working to support gender diversity and promotion] that is bigger and better than NEW.”

Still, the notion of a beverage-industry focused organization definitely struck home. When asked if she would become a member of WEBI, Wildrick replied, “Absolutely.”

WEBI’s official launch will take place on March 8, International Women’s Day, when the founders of the organization will begin to encourage new membership via social networking through various partners, direct mail invitations, and booths at industry conventions and select events.