Four leading female wine professionals on Wednesday announced the launch of Be The Change, an initiative to address inequities in the wine industry and promote inclusion and diversity. Be the Change aims to tackle these issues by hosting innovative virtual job fairs and working towards long-term legislation change.

The initiative was founded by four industry leaders with a history of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the wine space: Lia Jones, founder and executive director, Diversity in Wine & Spirits (DWS); Rania Zayyat, founder and president, Wonder Women of Wine (WWOW); Cara Bertone, national accounts sales manager, Folio Fine Wine Partners; and Philana Bouvier, vice president of fine wine, RNDC, and chair, WSWA Women’s Leadership Council.

Be The Change will host its first job fair on Dec. 2 – 3, with a second larger event set for March 2021, at the WWOW conference. The first four-hour virtual event will connect vetted employers, who show a commitment to DEI, with up to 1,000 job seekers. Tech-focused recruitment companies Brazen and ForceBrands will provide the online platform and digital support.

“We are thrilled to introduce the wine industry to some of the most cutting edge technology out there in recruitment and hiring,” says Folio Fine Wine’s Cara Bertone. “These platforms will help us achieve our goal of creating a more inclusive and diverse wine industry.”

Employers and candidates can register for the event via Be The Change’s website from Nov. 2. For employers — or “exhibitors” — there are four levels of paid participation packages; three will grant access to a DEI benchmarking report compiled by DWS. Access to the report will help companies evaluate how they are currently performing on diversity, says RNDC’s Bouvier. All of the proceeds from the event, which is being hosted for free by Brazen as part of its “Opportunity Fund,” will go towards the DWS and WWOW nonprofits.

As a queer black woman who has worked in the food and beverage industries for more than 20 years, DWS’ Jones says personal experiences of “being a token to meet an employer’s bottom line” have inspired her to strive for more inclusive workplaces. “[Be The Change] is especially unique as we incorporate an employer vetting process to address the need for safe spaces in a diverse workplace,” she says.

To kick off December’s virtual event, Be The Change will hold a virtual roundtable discussion moderated by RNDC’s Bouvier. The panel will focus on how the wine industry can provide equal opportunities for all and will feature: DWS’ Jones; Dr. Hoby Wedler, sensory innovation director, Sensepoint Design; Stephanie Gallo, chief marketing officer, E. & J. Gallo; Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and partner, Frasca Food and Wine; and Susana Balbo, founder and winemaker, Susana Balbo Wines.

The desire to host such a panel first inspired the Be The Change initiative. During a call six weeks ago, the four founders discussed planning a round table with the “biggest influencers in the business,” in which they would highlight the changes they’re making for diversity and inclusion, RNDC’s Bouvier explains.

But during their call, Be The Change’s founders realized another equally pressing challenge brought on by the coronavirus pandemic needed to be addressed. “You have all these beautiful platforms that represent diversity, and [organizations] that are giving out scholarships and doing amazing things — but nobody has a job,” Bouvier says.

At that moment, the group realized they could tackle both unemployment and lack of diversity by hosting the virtual job fairs.

Bouvier emphasizes that Be The Change can not guarantee recruitment from its events. Still, the initiative will provide a bridge between diverse candidates and companies looking to improve on diversity in a manner that hasn’t existed before, she says.

The job fairs represent just the first step in Be The Change’s plans. The initiative’s long-term aim is to achieve legislative change regarding DEI, which it will begin lobbying for in 2021.

“Our goal is to level the playing field once for all,” Bouvier says.