On Success, Male Privilege And Getting Paid What You’re Worth

It’s a scorching Carnival Sunday in Trinidad and Tobago and House of Angostura has chosen one of the hottest weekends on the country’s calendar to host one of the coolest events on theirs: the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge – a premiere competition where the world’s best bartenders and mixologists vie for the US$10,000 prize and a two-year contract as an Angostura Global Brand Ambassador.

The setting at the Hyatt Hotel and Conference is pumped and oozing with Carnival joy; the bartenders from all across the world are settling on for breakfast, other visitors are excitedly checking in, some beaming proud smiles as they carry the large plumes from their Carnival costumes to their rooms. Soca music is streaming in the background.

It’s the perfect backdrop for me to interview three very interesting women: Genevieve Jodhan, CEO Angostura Holdings; Monica Berg, celebrity mixologist, award-winning bartender, author and co-founder of P(our), a not-for-profit organization devoted to exploring new ideas, sharing information, and exchanging inspiration within the global drinks industry and Sandrae Lawrence, British journalist and editor of Cocktail Lovers’ magazine.

They’re confident and ready to begin another very long day. Our breakfast meeting is the morning after Panorama finals but there are no weary faces and I’m equally psyched to talk with them about their individual journeys to the top of their game in the drinks and spirits industry.

Genevieve, Monica and Sandrae command their spaces though they come from different cultures and have different experiences. But as they share their stories, I realized that while they may have taken different paths, they often had to skip over the same stones that are cast as obstacles for women and reimagine them as opportunities.

Judette Coward: What’s really interesting to me knowing you well enough Genevieve and of course reading about you both Monica and Sandrae is that all three of you are at the top of your respective careers in the spirits and drinks industry. Is that unusual given how male-dominated a field it is? When you look around do you feel like you are an anomaly?

Genevieve Jodhan: It’s not an anomaly to be a female CEO in Trinidad and Tobago, there are several of us and when I look globally there are female CEOs more so in the wine industry than in spirits but women are definitely up there especially in the non-public, smaller, spirits companies. At Angostura, the head of blending is female and we have a lot of women working throughout the organisation at senior levels.

Sandrae Lawrence: I remember someone once turned me down for a job because I was black and he said black women are hysterical. Those things used to happen back then, so in my case, it’s not just about being a woman, it’s also about being a black woman and ever so often I notice there are not many like me around.

I guess I am an anomaly but I don’t think that that has ever stopped me from doing what I want to do and a lot of people have said, “Oh, we haven’t got role models!” I think we have to be our own role models but I also think that if you have been brought up in a way to believe that you can do anything that you want to do, which is the way I was raised, then I don’t think there is anything that can hold you back really.

JC: When you are the only female and the only black female in a room, do you feel as if you have to work harder?

SL: No. I don’t feel that way but I do wonder why there are not more people who look like me. It’s a question that I’ve asked in the colour issue of Cocktail Lovers. I put it out there and asked readers why they thought there are not more people of colour in the industry? A lot of people said it was because of slavery and because we don’t want to be in positions of being subservient but that is total bullshit.

JC: There are many things, which are far more subservient than being a bartender? Plus isn’t there joy in service?

SL: Exactly. I always see it as something more than what’s in the glass because there is history, there is art, there is theatre, there is chemistry, there are all these things and so people think that bartending is just something that you do in between careers but it’s not. It’s a bloody excellent career to have.

JC: Monica your career is a great testament to that. You started off bartending using your tips as a way to pay for school. Now you’re involved in all sorts of amazing, entrepreneurial projects that elevate the drinks industry. How much of your rise, you think, has to do with just personal ambition and the ability to take risks.

Monica Berg: I like to take risks and I’m not uncomfortable taking them. But I don’t see myself as an anomaly. I think if you look statistically there are as many women as there are men in bartending. It just becomes a question of visibility when you go up the ranks. I think that you always, as you move up, have to be mindful of who you are, where you are, why you are there -working at a party or event. And you have to make the right choices not just for yourself but also for the industry.

JC: When you are young and making those choices, they aren’t always easy?

MB: Sure. When I was younger I used to think: “Maybe I should go with the flow and not say anything.” And it’s very easy especially if you travel by yourself or if you go somewhere by yourself to work. It’s difficult to be the one who always says: “You know what, I’m not comfortable with this or that’s not correct or you shouldn’t say these things out loud.” But then I would have to remind myself that if I didn’t’ say it, things would never change.

JC: Angostura is a 193-year-old brand; you are its first female CEO. When the offer was first made did you question if you could do it?

GJ: I remember calling my mentor, telling him about the offer and asking for his opinion. And he asked me why I was second-guessing myself and that a man would jump at the opportunity. I responded, saying that I was only questioning if I wanted the job. He said: “You’ve worked damn hard, you want it, say yes!” At the beginning you see, I wasn’t sure that I wanted the responsibility but I never, ever questioned if I could do it.

JC: I think it also speaks to the importance of having the right people believe in you at the right moment. Is there anything you found difficult to let go? Seems to me that every move up the ladder comes with a trade off.

GJ: Letting go of the marketing role was tough. I was really now starting to see things that I spearheaded really develop and get to a higher standard, like the Global Cocktail Challenge which I had done 5 times. I was also enjoying seeing our rums do well on the international market and win a lot of awards. So it was like letting a baby go. I wrote a letter to the marketing team and in it I expressed that I was very happy to see that ‘the child’ was walking.

JC: This is a very interesting time for women all over the world. We’re in the middle of some kind of social renaissance it seems and our self-awareness and recognition of our value are coming to the fore. Was there ever a time in your careers that you had to fight for equal pay?

MB: With regard to asking for what I was worth that’s a skill I only recently acquired and to be honest, that is solely thanks to Alex, my partner. At times I would work for nothing and say: “But they’re nice people. I’ll just help them a little bit but then people took advantage of that.” Alex taught me how to say no if someone wasn’t willing to pay for my work.

JC: Because work costs money.

MB: Yes. That’s basic and when I started asking for my worth, it worked. I started getting what I asked for. Sometimes I would say to Alex: “But that’s a little too much,” and Alex would reply: “That’s what I would ask for.” And I was like, “Okay then.”

GJ: Prior to Angostura I was a consultant so I had already learned for ten years to say this is my fee and if you can’t pay it, I will not take on your work. In my career though I’ve had someone come to me to discuss her salary and I was really shocked when I saw her qualifications, her talent and learned she was on the lower side of what she should have been making. And I was amazed that the person who was keeping her in that range was her female boss, only a few years older than she was.

MB: I think it’s a myth that women have each other’s back. I was reading some research and majority of women interviewed actually more than 60% of women said that they prefer male boss compared to a female boss because they think that they would be more fairly judged by a man.

GJ: It’s kind of a hunger game and it is positioned to set one against the other. We compete with each other because we`re told that there is only room for one woman and you want to be the one, perhaps. But the reality is that there should be more women. So where possible I always try to start out with a 50/50 gender split.

MB: Maybe women need to be hungrier because when I send out an email, I send a message to a lot of people for a job and typical bartender will reply within maybe 24 hours but sometimes within those 24 hours to see how hungry some people are and how relaxed others are I look at the timing. Sometimes the responses come more slowly from women.

GJ: I think the problem is not necessarily the lack of ambition but if you don’t have strong mentors or people of position that have come to a particular role not because of who they are, but what they offer, then you can’t imagine yourself ever coming to the same position because nobody told you that it was possible.

SL: Not seeing people in positions has never held me back. I just believed that I can do certain things and I would love young girls to feel that they can attain anything and not just think, “Oh I want to be a pop-star.” I want them to feel that they can leave a great legacy behind. With Cocktail Lovers we’re trying to do more of an education thing. We’ve done a women’s issue and a colour issue, we want all people and all genders, but particularly people of colour and women to know that the drinks industry that it’s actually a really good industry to be in and that it is a really viable career where you can make good progress.

JC: Maybe we don’t see it but I think feminity has a lot of power. There is a lot of allure and I guess from where you sit there is privilege. How do you define male vs. female privilege?

SL: There is a thing of male privilege but I actually think there is female privilege as well. Most of the times I’m just Sandrae and I get on with being Sandrae but actually a lot of the times I use my position being a black female to my advantage because I’m the only black female in that situation. Of course, you know, that’s a privilege I’ve earned.

JC: Monica, were you aware of the shift when you went from being a bartender to being a female bartender

MB: I became a female bartender when someone decided that I was good at bartending.

JC: Did you embrace it?

MB: Not in the beginning, no. Again it was the privilege because in the beginning people openly use to ask me to be part of their experience or opening. I used to be in excited about all the invitations and then I took a step back. I don’t remember what happened but for some reason, I asked, “why are you inviting me?” And they said, “Because we need a woman.” And I asked them if that was the only reason for the invitation and they said yes. At first, it was not cool with me and I didn’t want to be a part of it and I stopped doing everything. But then I saw that instead of inviting someone else they didn’t invite anyone.

JC: Did you feel a sense of responsibility to shift your perception?

MB: Yes. Sometimes it’s better to be present and to have a voice than to not be present.

GJ: You know in terms of privilege you are correct. In my role, I could go out for dinner every night and not pay the bill even though I’m the one inviting the client to dinner. Do you define that as a privilege? I’m not sure but when I look at privilege I don’t think in terms of male privilege or female privilege but definitely in terms of your background. I mean it shapes and colours the life that you live, the school you go to, what you’re aware of and what you’re not aware of. I looked at my three children and how I brought them up is different from when I was growing up. Again, you know, it’s not necessarily something that I accept but I know that it exists.

JC: I couldn’t end this wonderful conversation without raising a toast, at least theoretically. After a long day, what’s your favourite after work cocktail?’

SL: Mine is a dry gin martini. It’s refreshing in a good way. It makes me smile and perks me up before my meal. I feel that I’ve deserved it at the end of the day because I can sip, enjoy it and just chill into the next part of my day.

MB: For me, it’s a glass of champagne. I only need the bubbles.

GJ: I really like a daiquiri and with 1919 it is quite possibly one of the best drinks. I told Sandrae the best one I’ve had is the one she made for me because she put extra bitters in it and usually people don’t do that and so she sort of educated me.

MB: If I was living here it would probably be the 1919 with coconut water. I was not a massive fan of coconut water before now, but it really works with the 1919.

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6 Comments. Leave new

Marlene yeates joseph
March 8, 2018 2:23 pm

As USUAL, an EXCELLENT, delightful , awe inspiring iNTERVIEW with REMARKABLE women , co nducted by an Amazing Host/ess

Forward Forty
March 9, 2018 2:26 am

Thank you MArlene

Nateisha Williams
March 9, 2018 11:29 pm

What a refreshing read. No pun intended. I was totally engrossed in this conversation as though i had a seat at the table. Well written. Great content.

It was indeed a wonderful read, made me realized that no matter where you are in the world, are what area of work you are in , ONCE you are a woman we all go through the same if not similar EXPERIENCES, my common FAULT is not knowing what to charge for my services and not knowing when or how to say no, and I too have a friend in my corner pushing me to know of my worth and work value. I am a ceo who owns and operates my events and entertainment management company and many a times I Find mysrlf treating my clients as if they are my friends while selling mysrlf short. so it was really a great read hearing of the different backgrounds and EXPERIENCEs yet as women/ CEO, we have many things in common, and what pulled me here is the fact that I enjoy COLLECTIng wines and SPIRITS from all over the world as I LOVE entertaining guests and often times enjoy a relaxing drink in the comfort of my home, so now i am wondering if in my past life i were a bartender. Lol Great work ladies cheers to you all and your amazing accomplisments and extraordinary businesses, do continue to CHANGe the world.

Wonderful article i thoroughly enjoyed.

Forward Forty
March 14, 2018 12:48 pm

Glad you did Ulric, was there a specific part that resonated more than others.

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