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16 October 2020

Embracing diversity and inclusion in Scotch Whisky

Embracing diversity and inclusion in Scotch Whisky
The Scotch Whisky industry's recent launch of a Diversity & Inclusivity Charter is a chance to build on the ongoing conversations across the sector about how we welcome colleagues from all backgrounds, says SWA Chief Executive Karen Betts.

Last month, the SWA – on behalf of the Scotch Whisky industry – launched a Diversity & Inclusivity Charter.  It reflects the work we’ve been doing with our member companies for some time on workforce and skills, and on diversity and inclusion as part of this.  We had planned to launch the Charter in the spring in a series of in-person events, but COVID-19 put paid to that.  As it turned out, however, the digital launch created a more inclusive opportunity, more easily involving people in our companies across the UK and all over the world.

Businesses in all sectors have, of course, known for a long time that diversity is good for business resilience and the bottom line.  The evidence is clear that decision making is strengthened by taking into account a genuine range of views and that organisations are more successful as a result.  Our industry is no different in this regard, and so the business case for fostering change is clear.

However, there’s much more to it than that.  Beyond the business outcomes, diversity and inclusion very much brings our humanity into the workplace.  The most inspiring thing for me in the Charter’s development and its launch is the conversations it has started across the industry about how we embrace equal opportunities, fairness and the respect for others.  So many people in different roles, from a range of different backgrounds and nationalities, and with a variety of perspectives participated in our online launch events.  There was a great deal of experience to listen to and to learn from.  The challenge for us is now building on that engagement, momentum and goodwill.

The most inspiring thing for me in the Charter’s development and its launch is the conversations it has started across the industry about how we embrace equal opportunities, fairness and the respect for others.

See a copy of the Scotch Whisky Diversity & Inclusivity Charter here

What’s striking in those conversations is the difference made to people’s lives – inside and outside work – when diversity is valued and celebrated at work by co-workers through to senior leaders.  People’s view of their workplace and their role can be transformed.  Undoubtedly one of the reasons that better business decisions are made when there is more diversity is because, in a culture of openness towards everyone’s difference, people thrive and are happier, creating a virtuous circle with benefits in all aspects of people’s lives.

Of course, our industry hasn’t nailed it overnight.  What the Charter has generated is collaboration across the sector about how best to embed policies and practices that support diversity and inclusion.  Our member companies, of all sizes, have a huge range of experience – from those who have had active policies on diversity and inclusion in place for years to those who are much newer to this.  The exchange of experience has been great to see.  Some companies will certainly reach the Charter’s milestones sooner than others.  But everyone is on the journey.  And that is, intentionally, a clear statement of our values, of who we are and what we strive to be.

In acknowledging that the industry is on a journey, I want also to recognise that we haven’t always got it right.  And that our journey will inevitably have its ups and downs in the future.  Scotch Whisky is rooted in traditions that reach back over hundreds of years.  There is a culture around whisky to which we have contributed, but do not control.  And that culture exists differently in many countries around the world where consumers have enthusiastically adopted Scotch as their own.  Cherishing traditions while also modernising has its tensions.  We recognise this and we are ready to engage with anyone who feels we’ve fallen short of our values – through progress on diversity and inclusivity, through our Code of Practice for marketing or otherwise.

Meanwhile, I’m excited about the industry’s future and the futures of all those whose commitment, energy and enthusiasm create so many unique and diverse expressions of Scotch Whisky.  For everyone, all over the world, to enjoy.

- Karen Betts, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association