Shaking & Stirring: The Women Who are Changing Our Industry


Image source: Her Spirit

Walk into any bar or nightclub and you’ll see many women greeting, seating, drinking, dancing, and serving. But how many bar owners and club managers have you seen lately? Probably not many.

I met one last year at the Nightclub & Bar Show while waiting for a taxi. She had saved up the money she earned tending bar, found an angel to mentor and fund her (who happened to be a male customer of the bar), and was about to open her own establishment. Sadly, I didn’t get her business card. But if you happen to be reading this, please get in touch! I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

Women are opening businesses at the highest rate in history. Women own 36% of all businesses, and experts like Geri Stengel, a contributor to Forbes, say that we are entering the golden age of women entrepreneurs.  Yet, women’s status in the industry as owners and senior executives still has a way to go. The reality is that women-owned businesses (even outside our industry) tend to generate less revenue than their male-owned counterparts. Only 2% of women-owned businesses break the million-dollar mark.

Women-owned spirits brands are starting to emerge, especially with the growth of the small-batch and craft movements. Inspired by a brewery tour, entrepreneur Kjersten Merila is about to launch her own women-targeted liquor brand. Called Her Spirit, the company will donate 50% of its profits to women-led ventures. “Although the first product won’t ship until Spring 2017, we’ve already gotten great press and an outpouring of love and support from women in the industry,” says Merila. “We’re targeting the everyday woman who works hard and loves a great cocktail every now and then…and it will taste even better because she knows she’s supporting the next generation of women entrepreneurs.”

Ebony Howard has worked in the nightclub industry for years, starting as a server and working her way up the ladder. Currently at LIV nightclub in Miami, she has seen changes since 2004, “when no women had leadership roles in nightlife.” Howard notes that in the past few years women have started to make a career out of the nightclub and bar industry and are pursuing management positions.

Making the move from behind the bar to the management office is not an easy path, however. According to Howard, “Women are usually just considered pretty faces in the nightclub and bar industry. It’s one of the few industries that appearance can matter more than qualifications or education.”

This sentiment was echoed in a recent article in the Washington Post. The women who work in bars and clubs are beginning to raise issues of gender bias and create support and discussion groups to compare challenges and solutions.

As in all industries, a key to overcoming bias and inequality is for women to publicly raise issues and support one another as they achieve industry success.

Women owned and operated businesses are springing up throughout the nightclub and bar world, from spirits brands to server-friendly and comfortable uniforms like those designed and manufactured by Waitressville, to technologies that connect bars with customers and fans with each other. We expect this trend to continue as women develop the confidence, savvy, and funding to assume entrepreneurial and management roles. We’re looking forward to seeing more “shemillionaires” in the years ahead.

Let’s keep the conversation going! I’ll be moderating a women’s panel at the Nightclub & Bar Show in 2017. Please e-mail me at [email protected] if you have a story to share or recommendation for panelists.