Hayley Morison, centre, with The Blend team
Story by Hayley Morison
Hayley Morison is the national brand activation manager for Beam Suntory Australia, with experience working in bars around the world.
Women in the industry – what a hot topic this has been over the last year. Since my days behind the bar (let’s just say it was a while ago) there’s been a significant shift – women dominating cocktail competitions, taking a lead and being recognised as ‘Influential’ at the Australian Bar Awards, and the likes of Paige Aubort taking the initiative in creating Coleman’s Academy which has instantly achieved a remarkable following. It’s been great to see.
I don’t want to preach the f-word — feminism — or get on a soap box, but I do want to address recent attitudes and current conversations in industry circles and social media forums.
Watching my news feed fill with countless conversations on equal opportunity for women, ridiculing bar teams for not hiring women, and deriding comments to women posting photos of themselves looking for employment has been exhausting. I’ve almost resorted to tying my thumbs to ensure I don’t respond. Now I’m not shy of an opinion, or short of a word or two, but I don’t see any benefit in adding fuel to the drama.
It’s clear we work in a male dominated industry and that’s something that may not change. Some women have talked about the “glass ceiling” preventing women from ascending to the upper ranks of supervisory and managerial positions, or even being hired at certain venues.
Sexism is far from exclusive to hospitality – it exists to some extent in virtually every industry. While women’s rights and representation has come a long way in the workplace, men continue to hold most leadership roles. However, with attitudes changing and equal rights legislation backing us up, I’m a firm believer that any glass ceiling is placed there by you, not anyone else.
Success is not based on gender. This industry hires on talent, the ability to showcase skill, knowledge, and holding your own behind that bar. Focus on performance and success will come.
Great bartenders are born, not made. While the basic skills of the job can be taught, and it hardly requires a university degree, what sets a truly great bartender apart is the natural ability to anticipate, and sense the smallest detail. The training required to ensure each cocktail is executed correctly and every customer is served with the highest degree of professionalism is a given.
Each bar is different just as every person is different, and it’s impossible for one system to work for all the various bars in the world for their infinite diversity. So how can you succeed in any bar? Take pride in your work, be comfortable in your own skin, and exude confidence without arrogance. You’ll think more highly of yourself and others of you if you’re honest about the areas in which you excel and in those where you could use some support. Recognise and focus on your strong points and ask questions for areas that seem foreign.
I started off my career in a hotel lobby bar, and absorbed every bit of knowledge I could before setting off to the UK. I highly suggest travelling to enrich your craft and get first-hand experience of different cultures. You’ll realise how fortunate we are here in Australia with support from suppliers and our working conditions are second to none. In the UK, I was quickly promoted to Venue Manager at a bar in Soho, London, for three years before coming home to then continue my career in Sydney. The travel bug had taken hold, and it wasn’t long before I was off to Canada, Jakarta and Hong Kong before returning to Sydney and starting at my current role at Beam Suntory.
Any gender bias I’ve experienced – and it’s been extremely few and far between – I’ve approached as a challenge to overcome. Some places I’ve worked denied women working behind the bar – relegated to floor staff… I broke that rule pretty quickly. It’s also a matter of choosing your battles. I once went for an interview in Sydney at a highly regarded hospitality group which shall remain nameless. The interview opened with the (male) CEO stating “We don’t hire women in this role.” “Why are you wasting my time then?’’ I said before walking out of the interview. You can’t win them all.
If hospitality ignites that passion within, and this is where you see you developing your career, you must take a strategic approach to the places you work. Set out to work in venues which will fuel your personal and professional growth, challenge you, and set you up with development experiences to take your career to where you want to be. In any role you’re in, look for the learning opportunity. Don’t waste your time.
Never underestimate about promoting yourself and creating a profile. This isn’t bragging. If you don’t bring attention to yourself, don’t expect others to notice your talents and accomplishments on their own. Be your own best advocate.
Within the industry I’ve worked alongside some of the powerful and influential women we have around us today. Jess Arnott who I hold in the highest regard, and watching those nail biting episodes of Masterchef, delivering greatness within each dish. Her experience and wealth of knowledge in the trade led her to where she is today. Paige Aubort — a true force not to be reckoned with — and this hasn’t come without her dedication to the industry and experience she has built over the last few years. Jenna Hemsworth, what an inspiration coming second in the Bartender of the Year competition at the Australian Bar Awards, I’ve watched her compete over the years, and admired her focus, and dedication to achieving such a magnitude of greatness. Alex Ross, such a powerful voice, with undeniable influence among the industry and recently highlighting the issues women face within the industry on social media which actually led me to writing such an article.
With the recent results of our cocktail competition The Perfect Blend we now know who’s representing at the state finals, including the faces of many female bartenders, something The Blend team were excited about, as supporting bartenders throughout their career is what the program is all about.
The industry we work in is created by people with passion, it’s evolving every day, and we are extremely privileged to be the ones that write the next chapter. Embrace it and make it your own journey.
Resist the urge to be a keyboard – or smartphone — warrior. Debate can get heated on social media, especially on industry forums. As tempting as it is to add your two cents, resist! Your potential future employer could be watching!