It’s a bitter but undeniable truth: Women working in bars endure all manner of gender-specific issues, from wage inequality to assault to everything in between. As a woman working in the industry, I can say that it sometimes feels like a constant fight.
Which is why I’m thankful to have some of the strongest women I know leading the charge for equality. Franky Marshall of Brooklyn’s Le Boudoir and Pamela Wiznitzer of Seamstress in Manhattan break down what it means to advocate for equal treatment in the workplace.
Both of you are at the top of your game right now. What were some of the gender-related challenges you encountered on your way up?
Marshall: When I first started working in the cocktail world, there seemed to be more men behind the bar. Women usually worked as servers. Of course, there were exceptions, but that seemed to be the pattern. Once I got behind the bar, I did feel that I had to work a little harder to gain the respect from my male colleagues.
While that could have been gender-related, it also could have been related to my experience level at the time and having worked my way behind the bar from being a server. There was definitely an “us versus them” mentality between the bar and the floor in those days.
Wiznitzer: Most of my challenges were in uniforms I was required to wear at jobs. I’ve never let myself believe that my gender served as the catalyst for my success or failure in this industry. Instead, I focused on the key characteristics, skills and personality traits I had to strengthen to become a great bartender and businesswoman.
How did you overcome these issues?
Marshall: By learning as much as I could. Once you start to become confident, demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about and are doing good work, there are fewer concerns about your ability, no matter what your gender. I went to as many trainings, classes, tastings and industry events as I could. I asked questions, did homework ... and I still do. I’m always learning! Know your craft and do your job well, no matter what it is, then your gender/race/religion, etc. won’t matter. You’ll just be that fierce person who’s great at their job.
Wiznitzer: I’m a very vocal person and have no problem speaking up when something seems wrong or out of place. Whether you are male or female, it’s important to not approach situations with complaints and negativity. Rather, pinpoint the problem, bring solutions to the table, and offer or find ways to use those options to fix the circumstances.
Seeing you two in action at the Diplomático World Tournament Continental Semifinals in Aruba earlier this year was inspiring. What I noticed most was your mutual respect for, and support of, one another, even from opposite sides of the bar, with you as a contestant, Franky, and Pam as a judge. Your dedication to lifting up female peers is very apparent from both sides. Can you go into detail on how you’ve experienced this yourself?
Marshall: When I first started applying for jobs in cocktail bars, I would never get responses after submitting my résumé and was not hired after an interview for a server position at one prominent bar. So when I saw a post for Clover Club (on Craigslist), I knew I had to apply. Honestly, I didn’t apply because it was a female-owned place but because I got a good feeling when I saw the ad. They called me for an interview, and Julie [Reiner] and Sue [Fedroff] hired me as a server, although I was already a bartender but didn’t have any cocktail experience.
They gave me that opportunity to learn, sent me to BarSmarts, and I was behind the bar in about nine or 10 months. They were always very encouraging and interested in having women behind the bar. And I now have women coming to me who say they’d like to be trained by and work with a woman. That’s extremely flattering.
Wiznitzer: High tides raise all ships. It’s easy to let jealousy or ego interfere with the potential for building relationships, collaborations and success. Intergender jealousy and hatred is a real issue that we are still struggling with in this industry and fail to not only recognize but confront when it happens.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Franky, her work and how she conducts herself professionally in the industry. We were fortunate enough to work together at The Dead Rabbit and serve on the board for the New York USBG. The best part about our relationship is that we are very different people and many times do not see eye to eye. And yet we find many ways to respect one another’s opinion and also support each other, our goals and work that we accomplish. I know that will be a continuous trait of our friendship for many years into the future.
Something that we as women are constantly faced with in everyday life is sexual objectification, harassment, even assault. How do you react when faced with this in a work setting?
Marshall: Now hearing more and more about women who have had to deal with this, I think I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to face any really threatening situations. Of course, sometimes there are casual remarks, but I have a pretty good sense of humour and can deliver a tongue lashing when necessary. I am thankful to have never had to deal with anything serious. That said, I have no problem with directly addressing an issue or remark, asking what was meant by it, etc. There is no job that I need badly enough that I’m willing to endure harassment.
Wiznitzer: I’m not one to let myself or others feel uncomfortable, objectified or assaulted. When faced with this issue, I choose to tackle it head-on in a respectful, yet impactful, way. Choosing to confront your perpetrator, condemn their actions and demand an apology (or remove them from the situation) is the only way to ensure the safety of yourself, your co-workers and other guests. And remember this is not necessarily just a female issue. I have many male colleagues who face a similar problem with assault and harassment. We must remain vigilant and aware and look out for one another.
Has the current political climate directly affected your work or maybe your outlook on your work? If so, how?
Wiznitzer: I try to keep all political banter outside of the bar. It’s important to remember that my role as a bartender is to provide service and hospitality, even to people who do not share the same viewpoints as me. When you order a Vodka Soda, I won’t follow up that request by asking, “And who did you vote for this past November?” Rather, I’ll stick to the regular “Would you like a lemon or lime wedge with that?” If words or actions by guests impose harmful or threatening situations, then we can find ways to remove them from the bar.
What I’m most interested in following is the economic links to current politics and how policy will impact the food and beverage sector—new taxations, border control, trade regulations and immigration policies that can severely harm the future of our business.
Do you think there will ever be a day when we as women no longer have to fight to be considered equals in the workplace? Or at least in the spirits and bar industry specifically?
Marshall: Yes, I do actually. Of course, it won’t happen overnight, but it has already started and is happening. There are definitely certain work environments, bars and bar cultures that have been developed by and around men. I feel women have to be careful to not try to insert themselves into those environments too harshly and abruptly. The more organic and natural the process, the more it will lead to understanding, long-term change and eventually (hopefully) permanence. So maybe we knock first, and then we kick the door down.
Wiznitzer: I dream about that day. Until we are making equal pay (not 77 or 78 cents on the dollar), have fair representation in the workforce and are also working toward diverse female employment within our hiring practices, we cannot give up the fight for our rights. We are far from making this a reality in the spirits and bar industry. We’ve only lightly scratched at the surface and have many, many, many more years to go to start cultivating a culture where this is the norm and not something we have to exert extra energy to accomplish.
What kind of education would you say is needed in terms of women’s rights among the bar community right now?
Marshall: To start, I think maybe defining an acceptable vocabulary of how to refer to each other and acceptable language in the workplace might be a good idea. Admittedly, this is tough. Everyone has different comfort levels with certain words, so maybe it’s something you discuss and establish with your co-workers. On the job, I’ve been called “girl,” “guuuuurrrl,” “gal,” “woman,” “mami,” “ma,” “sweetie,” “hun,” “dude” and “bitch.”
I am not easily offended, and I’m definitely not politically correct, so am generally not bothered, but that’s obviously not the case for most people. I think it’s very important that businesses show that harassment (sexual or otherwise) toward women or men is not tolerated. Whether that takes the form of a workshop, company-wide emails or a notice posted in the staff room, the discussion needs to become part of the dialogue and the terms defined.
Also, people need to know what to do and where to turn if they do feel they’ve been harassed. There are some Facebook groups that I think are very useful for those seeking advice and/or sympathetic ears.
Wiznitzer: One of the greatest issues we face as an industry is the lack of listening and the impulse to speak. Everyone has an opinion, but they fail to take the time to first listen to the issue, learn about it from the experts in the field/educators and then find the right way to engage in the conversation.
I’m so glad people want to use phrases like “I think” and “I feel,” but that doesn’t help to push the conversation forward or bring any progress to the table. Women’s rights are not a topic for subjectivity. They are fundamental rights that need to be preached and taught by those who have been working on behalf of them for years.
It’s best to become part of forums, attend local lectures, watch TED Talks and read some great books by authors like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and more to help you learn more about the issues at hand. Some people need to recognize where their privilege lies and how to check it at the door during these kinds of interactions. Having an open mind, dissecting the situation with an objective lens and being willing to learn will help everyone start to engage on a better platform. We won’t be able to apply any of these lessons to our industry until we open up and see the whole issue that plagues everyone.
Looking back at any gender-specific issues, judgments or mistreatment you’ve encountered personally or been witness to in your career, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Wiznitzer: I don’t like to live in a world of regret or “could have, should have, would have,” but what I can say is that I have witnessed many situations that have caused distress or negativity toward a specific gender, race, ethnicity or religion, etc. And while not all of them turned out positive, they were all learning points for me to understand what I can do differently (and better) in the future to help prevent current and future problems. It’s better to find solutions rather than letting something build into a larger problem.
Everyday is an opportunity to keep engaging and learning. What I have taught myself is to be more assertive and to stick up not just for myself but for anyone who is subjected to misconduct from another person or feels marginalized. It’s important to say something but be cautious of the ways in which we speak up and speak out. Will it help the injustice or perpetuate the problem? The best way to put out a fire is with water, not by adding more fuel to the flame.
What are some key takeaways that you’ve learned thus far as successful women in the industry?
Marshall: Stop focusing on your gender and focus on your métier. Be good, be great, be reliable, educated, excited, humble.... if you’re talented and pleasant to be around, your work will speak for itself.
Wiznitzer: For starters, I’d say that you have better things to do than talk negatively about someone else behind their back. What a waste of time. You could have used that half an hour to work on your business plan!
Secondly, even if you have no mentors (or no female mentors), find a way to recognize when a newer or younger bartender might need your help and guidance. Take five minutes to check in with that person. Your knowledge and compassion might be the reason for their eventual success.
Also, keep it positive. There’s so much negativity thrown around our industry (especially on social media), and as people who work in hospitality, let’s use that philosophy in our own world. What you do on social media stays on social media—forever. One picture, post, comment, video or “like” can have a huge impact on your personal brand and future. Be smart, and think before you write. You don’t have to tell everyone in the world about everything you’re doing or your thoughts on every debate.
I think it’s important to find time for yourself away from the bar world, too. Not everything we do has to be wrapped up in the beverage sector. The most successful CEOs and business people have side hobbies they engage in on almost a daily basis. For me, it’s yoga, running and seeing friends. You should also push outside your comfort zone. Go to a new place by yourself, attend a non-industry conference, learn a new language. It’s important to take chances and try new things to help us grow.
What advice would you share with women in the spirits/bar world (seasoned or newer to the industry) on rising above injustices or challenges directly related to gender?
Wiznitzer: Hatred is a byproduct of jealousy or immense attention from another person. If other people are going to talk about you behind your back or become envious of your success, remember that it’s not your problem. It’s their problem. They are the ones with those feelings and emotions, and it has no bearing on you. You can live your life for yourself or live for the validation of others. Which one will get you further along, help you pay rent and make you most fulfilled? Even with the weight of the world on your shoulders, remember to keep it positive, show everyone the same respect you’d like to receive in return and focus on your goals and aspirations. The only real person standing in the way telling you “no” is yourself.