Home Wine Business Editorial Gender Inequity Discussed at Wine Women Equal Pay Day Conference in Napa

Gender Inequity Discussed at Wine Women Equal Pay Day Conference in Napa


By Dawn Dolan

Gen Whitehouse

On April 4th a local wine industry professional group from Napa and Sonoma, Wine Women, held their first Equal Pay Day mini-expo at Napa Valley Community College.

Geni Whitehouse, CPA and TedX-Napa Valley speaker, was the moderator for the panel discussion of the evening, which featured veteran Napa winemaker Cathy Corison, and HR expert Linda Higueras. The venue lent itself to a Phil Donohue-like discussion, with attendees pulled in to share their experiences and thoughts in coordination with the presenter’s discussion.

Corison, as one of the first women winemakers in Napa Valley, with a career spanning back to the mid-1970’s, has seen a world of change in the wine industry since her early days. She noted much progress, but said that, “We still have to keep pushing, and keep this topic in front of people as long as it takes.”

Linda Higueras talked with the group about her rise in human resources. She shared that, armed with a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins University, and after having worked on Capital Hill as a Senate Intern, she had to start as a bilingual secretary when she returned to California in the late 70’s.

Cathy Corison

She advised the crowd that when job searching, “Identify what you bring to the job, then leverage that and make it work for you”. She said that advocating transparency of salaries would go a long way to rid business of unfair practices. Due to many companies subscribing to the old, non-transparent idea of salary information, she noted, “People don’t know if they are being paid at the market rate. Find multiple data points to judge where you should be [on the pay scale for your industry].” Discussion ensued surrounding the idea that women are often taught that it is impolite and rude to ask about others salaries, something that hinders them from asking for what is due to them in the workplace.

Acknowledging that many employers and jobs have moved to equitable practices to judge compensation, like education level, years of experience, or using skills-based, step-type increments, many workplaces do not have these types of systems in place. A discussion of sources, to which either gender could refer in order to find information on salaries, was given critical attention. For the wine industry, the annual Salary Survey report by Wine Business Monthly was considered as the salary the bible, if people could get access to it. “My boss keeps it guarded under lock and key”, reported one attendee. Other sources cited were the salary survey of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on Glassdoor.com, and the research site: payscale.com.

Partner vendors operated exhibits, and four members’ wineries were pouring tastes of their products. A pre-discussion period of mingling allowed attendees to look at vendors, connect with friends, and also meet new people. Conference-goers cited reasons for attending from “stand up and be counted”, to “the hidden and acceptable misogyny of this presidential election shows how prevalent thoughts like this really are”, and “hoping to get ideas for a salary survey for my home winery”. An HR director noted that salary inequity is a big issue, discussed repeatedly in the Human Resources forum. “People often propagate the inequities without realizing it”, the director said.

President of Wine Women, Christine Mueller, talked about why this was an important event. “The Wine Women Board is about championing women’s work in the wine business. This was a great opportunity to support a really good cause, for a subject that is near and dear to our hearts,” Mueller stated. “Pay inequity is related to job inequity.” Mueller said that this is a topic that comes up in the various forums that meet under the Wine Women umbrella. Various groups meet in locations in both Napa and Sonoma, focusing in on specific winery work such as management, marketing, winemaking, accounting, and human resources, with leadership skills training offered at many levels.

Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. This date changes each year, and indicates how far into the next year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

Wine Women was developed as a non-profit organization, galvanized to accelerate the advancement of women’s careers in the wine industry. More information can be found at their website winewomen.net.

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