Rania Zayyat is aiming to turn the wine industry on its head.
In 2018, Zayyat founded Wonder Women of Wine (WWOW), a non-profit organization with the mission of advocating for gender equality in the wine industry. The goal is to empower women to adopt leadership roles in all facets of the industry and, at the same time, to empower men to be voices for and drivers of this mission, too.
Currently, more than 50 percent of hospitality industry professionals are women, yet women only occupy 23 percent of leadership positions in the industry. What’s even more disturbing is that, in 2015, female sommeliers reported earning $7,150 less than their male counterparts. WWOW is endeavoring to come up with strategies to even this out.
Zayyat is also the creator of the WWOW conference, an annual two-day event held in Austin, Texas, where industry folk and wine enthusiasts come together to discuss the gender equality issues plaguing the wine industry (and many others, for that matter), but more importantly to talk solutions. This year’s event will be held on March 28 and 29. Tickets are available now.
After reflecting on her 15-year career in top restaurants in Houston and Austin (she’s currently the wine director at East Austin’s Bufalina), Zayyat felt called to action. “I really wanted to do something positive for women after the #MeToo movement started,” she says. “I wanted to create a network and environment for women to feel supported and encouraged and connected.”
WWOW is now in its second year after a successful inaugural summit in 2019. The many panel discussions will cover topics such as entrepreneurship, how women can identify resources and secure funding to start their own businesses, and how to establish positive company culture. VinePair’s own editor in chief, Erica Duecy, will moderate a key panel titled “Shifting Feminism: Bridging the Intergenerational Gap.” The event will also touch on health and wellness and how it relates to the gender-equality conversation, as well as sexual assault in the industry, with a focus on providing solutions and action items for everybody — both men and women.
“We really want men to know this affects everyone in the industry and we need their support as much as possible — to make it as important to them as it is to us,” says Zayyat. “We want them to know they’re more than welcome.”
A huge part of increasing recognition and awareness of the inequalities faced today is the research initiative WWOW is working on in conjunction with The Wine Nerd to collect data on the state of gender in the wine industry. The first round of data will be presented at this year’s conference.
This year’s WWOW conference will include networking and scholarship opportunities (WWOW awarded $12,000 in scholarships last year), as well as the largest tasting of wines produced by women-owned wineries and female winemakers in the country.
Attendees will walk away from WWOW with tangible ways to help close the gap in leadership — as well as how they can put their money where their glasses are, by connecting consumers and restaurant professionals with female winemakers and women-owned wineries.
“We want to support them not only by talking about their wines but by putting money in their pockets through consumer engagement,” says Zayyat. “It’s about bringing together people who don’t get as much recognition as they should.”
At the same time, women are currently responsible for 60 percent of wine purchases and 80 percent of wine consumption in the United States — a $34 billion industry. “It’s an important demographic for people to pay attention to and support,” says Zayyat.
Since launching the organization, Zayyat has already started to see movement in wine lists. Sommeliers at restaurants like All Together Now in Chicago, Rebel Rebel in Somerville, Mass., and DecantSF in San Francisco are making a concerted effort to create balanced wine programs that have as many (if not more) wines made by women or from women-owned wineries. Zayyat also points to Amy Bess Cook, founder of Woman-Owned Wineries, who’s created a national directory of women-owned wineries in the U.S. (of which there are more than 550) and has a wine club that supports these women, as a source of inspiration and hope. A few examples include Martha Stoumen of Martha Stoumen Wines, Brianne Day of Day Wines, and Ashley Trout of Brook & Bull.
WWOW is also leading its own community initiative partnership in Austin with local restaurants and retailers to commit to pouring and selling more wines from women-owned wineries and winemakers.
And for Zayyat, this year’s conference is gearing up to be even better than the last. “We’re really excited,” she says. “We’ve put a lot of work and thought into making this the best event it can be and we’re so grateful to everyone who has supported us so far.”
This article is sponsored by the Wonder Women of Wine.