What we owe each other: the need for greater reciprocity

A call to end gaslighting in the wine and spirit trade

Baked into our business are multitudes of insidious inequities. These are not limited to the abuses leveled by individuals or the systemic issues of sexism, racism, and gatekeeping. The wine and spirit industry allows for the perversion of power in ways much less obvious, but every bit as exploitative and demeaning.

Here some are commonplace examples:

  • A buyer wastes the time and sample budget of a sales rep because they just “want to taste some new stuff.”

  • A sales rep uses an allocated item as leverage to sell an unrelated product that doesn’t serve the buyer’s needs.

  • A manager asks questions of a job candidate that the manager would be unprepared to answer themselves.

  • A portfolio manager ghosts a supplier or visa versa.

  • A company tells its employees they are family, when a corporation is incapable of love.

These forms of gaslighting debase our trade and serve as fuel for greater injustices. Whenever power serves those above instead those below, it is a betrayal of hospitality, the very bedrock of our business.

How then do we begin to right these wrongs?

We must recognize our constant and unwavering responsibility to one another. This begins at the top. Those who lead must serve; this is the way leaders can show respect.

The notion that the “buck stops here” doesn’t reside solely with decision-making, it begins with ownership and management answering to those who keep the place running: the customers, salespeople and administrators. This requires salespeople—the conduit for all three parties—to work together to voice concerns and achieve collective goals. In environments where sales reps compete for accounts and allocations, this is difficult, if not impossible. When systems aren’t installed to fairly and consistently assign accounts and apportion allocations, the center will not hold. Don’t confuse a convivial work atmosphere with a fair one.

We must collectively demand reciprocity. This can take many forms, but fundamentally relies on speaking truth to power.

Demanding reciprocity will feel awkward. This will always be challenging; it can sometimes be painful, especially when done alone. It won’t always aid your career. Those in power will view such pleas as acts of defiance, they will be uncomfortable being made to feel vulnerable. They will reactively think you are trying to bring them down to your “level” instead of embracing the notion that you could want so much as to rise up to theirs.

“You can't take criticism from people who are not being brave,” says Brené Brown.

The fact is that we all have agency.

We can reject allocations; there are other wines and spirits we can buy and sell. We can reject the very premise of those interview questions we find disrespectful.1 We don’t always need more customers; we often need better customers. We don’t need to work with importers or supplier who don’t value the two-way nature of partnership. We don’t need a company’s “love;” we have families and friends.

When we allow ourselves to become slaves to sales instead of advocates for one another we reinforce the structures that can make this industry hideous. It shouldn’t be a radical idea that valuing another human’s worth might be good for business, but somehow it still feels that way. It’s time for that to change. It’s been time for far too long.

1

I recognize my privilege in even feeling comfortable enough to write such a statement. I know that others in dire need of a job will not always be able to take such a position which is why those of us who can afford to need to take a stand.