Women Dominating in Male-Driven Industries

share this:

Caley Shoemaker, Head Distiller, Hangar 1 Vodka, Alameda, CA

How did you get interested in distilling?
“I sort of fell into it. I have an art degree, and I spent a lot of time working in art galleries, but when the recession hit, the gallery work wasn’t really there. So I was looking for a job as a stopgap, and there was a distillery in Colorado that was hiring. I started doing tours there part-time, just to sort of fill space, and I just fell in love with the whole process. I kept begging to apprentice and finally got to learn how to distill, and I’ve learned a ton of things since then. It was one of those things I would have never guessed would [be] my passion, but it ended up being that way.”

Was it hard to convince them to make you an apprentice?
“Yeah, it definitely took some convincing. I was working with a bunch of guys, and there was one other girl, and that girl only did admin stuff. They were a little bit skeptical. But, you know, it took one day of being super-shorthanded and they were like, ‘Well, we really need the help, and Caley really wants to learn,’ and they actually gave me a chance and saw that I could pick it up real quick.”

What’s your day-to-day like?
“It’s a little bit nuts because I have so many different responsibilities…filling the still, running the still, keeping track of alcohol production and quality control. Today, I’m installing some shelves in our laboratory area. Wednesday, I’ll be switching out some equipment. You’ve got to be handy and able to repair stuff, but you’ve also got to be good at math to calculate tank volumes. It’s fun because it’s really varied from day to day.”

Are there challenges inherent to being a woman in the industry?
“Being a woman in any management position, I think, definitely has its challenges. There are frequent times when I’m managing vendors who are men, who automatically assume that I don’t understand. I mean stupid stuff, like boiler installations, or steam piping; there’s a note of condescension that comes out a lot that I find frustrating. Women naturally want to be nice, and sometimes I have to push out of my comfort zone and be a little more firm than I want. I think there are two perceptions for women: You’re either a pushover, or you’re bitchy… How [to] be that cool in-between is definitely my biggest challenge.

“When it comes to distilling itself, I think that it’s a great spot for women; we have such great sensory abilities, so casing and blending and all that is something we’re naturally great at. And I think that men distillers in general are really accepting.”

Would you recommend other women get into the industry?
“Oh absolutely. I think it would be great. Even with a few women distillers, we’ve got this little group, and we all get to know each other and talk via social media and at events. It’s really fun to see, sort of the brotherhood of women — or sisterhood, if you will.”

What’s the worst part of your job?
“I absolutely hate scrubbing floors, and I hate having to do admin, invoice preparation, and whatnot. So I’m looking forward to having more employees to help me out with those things, but I’ll never stop doing them, because you’ve got to do everything.”

And what’s the best part of your job?
“Oh gosh, I don’t know. There are so many things I love to do… I really like that I go to work, and when I go home, I know that I’ve made something…I’ve accomplished something tangible that I can see.”

THIS STORY made better BY Straight

learn more