We’re continuing our series of interviews with women in the bar industry. The condensed versions of these interviews can be found in the April issue of Australian Bartender. Meet Paige Aubort, Sydney’s Lobo Plantation.
Bartender, The Lobo Plantation
How have you seen the ‘boy’s club’ of the bartending industry change?
I don’t think that the ‘boys club’ attitude has changed. For all the negative connotations that can be associated with a “boys club” I have never felt anything less than supported and welcomed by the men I have had the opportunity to work with. I don’t feel suppressed in my line of work, I can definitely see the inequality at times, but I don’t feel that a pro-male anti-female attitude rules this industry at all.
Are women well represented in Sydney bars, and at the top end of Sydney bars?
It’s a catch-22 really – female bartenders are well represented by hospitality publications and featured as much as possible, but when you’re pulling from a limited pool of women, then there are only so many people you can speak to. During Sydney Bar Week there were joke awards given out for bartenders who were ‘the best’ or ‘the worst’ at work related topics. During these awards given out in jest, the only two categories that women were nominated for were in relation to being a “good girlfriend” and having the “best tits”. I don’t think the industry is purposefully sexist, but how sad it is that subconsciously our peers can only relate to us in terms of being someone’s partner or being objectified?
Could you tell us how you got to be where you are today?
In the five years I’ve been doing this dance I have kind of gotten around the bars in Sydney – I started as a cocktail waitress at Piano Room then moved to Trademark as a bartender, then onto Ocean Room, Ivy Cocktail Lounge, Dive Bar and LoFi where I was promoted to manager. I then went on to manage The Unicorn until I came to my present position at The Lobo Plantation to bartend once again. So I’ve done my rounds. But I didn’t skip around for lack of a good environment, I moved around to gain more experience and work with a variety of people which I now look back on and feel blessed to have experienced. It’s like being a part of a rowdy sorority of brilliant, slightly insane, party animals who just happen to be incredibly good at their jobs. I’m a part of the biggest dysfunctional family in Sydney.
Are there any women in the industry that served as a role model for you?
I have looked up to a lot of women in the industry, such as Dominique Easter who owns The Hazy Rose in Darlinghurst. She is a woman who has successfully founded and run her own cocktail bar in a city that is tough to dominate whether you’re male or female. Jess Arnott and Hayley Morison are both women that have advanced from bartenders to well-respected brand positions which takes a great deal of hard work and dedication and that is something I will always respect in any gender. I have a lot of respect for women in my industry and have some great role models in Sydney, but I also owe a lot to numerous male mentors who have shown great faith and confidence in my abilities. People like Kevin Peters, Dean Sykes, Sam Egerton, Matt ‘Bowie’ Beaumont and Jared Merlino just to name a few… that’s just scraping the surface.
Do you think “best female bartenders” lists are helpful, say, in raising the profile of women in the industry, or is it a bit patronising?
I think that any and all encouragement is a positive step. Our industry is about growth through knowledge, and the more people that partake in competitions, the more they will learn and advance. With that said, there is nothing that is physically or mentally superior in men or women when it comes to this career. Segregation is never positive; it encourages the belief that we are different. We are not. I would much rather the opportunity to compete against the best of the best as a whole entity and not as just a man and just a woman.
Do you think there are barriers that women face in the industry that men don’t have to contend with?
There are bars all over main cities in Australia that don’t hire women as their policy. It’s their image to have only men working in their establishment. Unfortunately for us, as these bars are some of the most successful venues, it leaves a gap of opportunity for women to join such experienced teams. With that said, women must also acknowledge that a lot of the time, we create our biggest hurdles. By that I mean that we must have find the confidence to enter the competitions, ask for the pay rise, go for the more senior positions and apply for those ideal roles, because just like men, those things will not just be handed to us.
If so, what do you think can be done about it?
I think the opportunities are endless and there is a gap in the industry waiting to be taken on. Where are the female competitions such as Speed Rack? Where are the women in the industry lunches? Where are the networks to encourage and open the lines of communication between the women in the industry? The women that are a part of this industry are strong, supportive, hard working women who if given more of an opportunity to assist and encourage their peers they would do so full force. A push in the right direction by like-minded peers will help to speed up the process and close the still apparent gap.