As diversity becomes a bigger and bigger topic in Silicon Valley, we can gain insight from an unusual profession: bartending. Today's female bartenders are actually a new phenomenon, since, as recently as early 1900s America, there were more female doctors than bartenders.

The new book Drink Like a Woman: Shake. Stir. Conquer. Repeat. dives into this cultural history. We spoke with author Jeanette Hurt about how women gained power behind the bar, the influence it had on voting, and what lessons we should take from the saloon.

What is the big takeaway from your book that you want both men and women to know?

Women have made strides in so many business arenas and professions, and until very recently - and still, in some places! - bartending has been a cloistered profession preferring the male gender. California didn't allow women to bartend until 1971 - that's not ancient history.

You say that there were more female doctors at the turn of the century than female bartenders. Were men afraid of hiring women to tend bar, were women not interested in tending bar, or a combination of both?

Neither. In many cases, it was against the law for women to tend bar. What I find most intriguing is despite the horrific conditions that led to only 147 out of 56,000 bartenders were women, there were women actually tending bar. In 1892, The New York Times wrote about a crackdown of barmaids working in dramshops; similar such stings happened in Montana, Missouri and a lot of places in between.

Not only were women not allowed to tend bar, but women were, in many places, not even allowed to step foot in saloons, as it was against the law - even if they only wanted to track down a wayward husband or male relative.

In Wisconsin, women were allowed to visit bars, but they had to enter through a back or side entrance, and they were not allowed to interrupt men drinking in the main bar. Many historic bars have these side entrances to this day, but obviously, the laws and societal mores have changed.

That's why the temperance and the suffrage movements were linked. In fact, Susan B. Anthony started out as a Temperance advocate, but then she was not allowed to speak at a New York state Temperance meeting, and that's when she got into suffrage.

Women had no rights whatsoever, and it's really hard to imagine how bad it was.  

What benefits came from having more diverse people behind the bar?

The first benefit is that you get a more delicious diversity in taste and drinks. The more people who head the party - as bartenders often describe their jobs - the more welcome different people will feel at the bar or restaurant.

Historically, bars that finally started hiring women, started seeing bigger sales. Better diversity makes better business sense.

We are seeing similar diversity discussions regarding women, minorities and other non-straight-white-male groups in the workforce. What can we learn today from the narrow minded bar owners of the past?

Don't make assumptions about what people can or can't do.

How diverse are today's bartenders? How have things changed (and not changed)?

At least 60 percent of all bartenders are women now, but you wouldn't necessarily know that from stories about "the best female bartenders in X city." And when it comes to craft cocktail, high end bars, there still is discrimination. There are award-winning bars in New York City that still don't hire women as bartenders, not to mention divey taverns in small towns (And I know of one in Illinois where the owner is a woman!). That is something a lot of women bartenders are concerned about, talking about and doing what they can to change things. Also, practically every woman I interviewed from my book - and these are women who are some of the best bartenders in the country, period! - spoke of experiencing discrimination. As Jules Aron, author of Zen and Tonic, told me "There have been times I've been hired because I'm a woman, and times I've not been hired because I'm a woman."

When it comes to men and women grabbing a business drink together, are there any special politics that come into play?

There can be, but I think it depends on the men and women involved. Some folks are straight forward, while others play games or politics. You have to know with whom you are drinking.

Who is your favorite business-savvy icon from your book?

Growing up, my two heroines were Harriet Tubman and Nellie Bly. I read just about every biography about them that I could get my hands on.

But for business savvy, I have to say, I really admire Ann Tuennerman, who wrote my foreword. She is the founder of Tales of the Cocktail, which has grown into this amazing phenomenon, as it is the largest cocktail event series and singular event of its kind in the world.

Not only is she extremely successful, but she really does her best to mentor women, and she is extremely kind and generous with both her time and her knowledge. When I grow up, I want to be like Ann!

Published on: Oct 27, 2016
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