We live in a fairer society than ever before, and yet for professional women, the majority of industries still present an unacceptable imbalance, both in terms of pay and advancement opportunities.

According to PayScale, women in the UK still earn £5,000 less than men on average per year. Fortunately, news from within the drinks industry appears to point to a potential change in how business sees women and approaches diversity.

British multinational alcoholic beverage giant Diageo recently published a gender pay gap report, a requirement of companies who employ 250 or more individuals. The report reveals that across England and Wales, women at Diageo earn 9.8% more than men. This is on top of the news that the company already has one of the highest ranked boardrooms in terms of gender parity for FTSE 100 companies.

Beyond Diageo, other drinks industry veterans have also pledged their support to a fairer sector for all. In 2016, Coca-Cola was among 29 companies who signed an equal pay pledge operated by the White House, agreeing to conduct annual wage analysis, and to review employment procedure.

Earlier this year PepsiCo was included on the Times’ list of ‘Top 50 Employers of Women’, and Anheuser-Busch ran a 2016 US-based television advert stating that “Bud Light proudly supports equal pay” – though The Washington Post at the time criticised the company for poor workforce gender composition, and several historic pay-gap scandals.

The long road to gender parity

“We are proud of the progress we are making at Diageo with gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation and we want to go further,” commented a Diageo spokesperson, “Creating a truly diverse and inclusive culture is not only the right thing to do, it supports the success of our company.”

And it appears as though this isn’t just company rhetoric; a 2015 report by McKinsey looking at 366 companies across the US, the UK, Canada and throughout Latin America found a correlation between companies that commit themselves to more diverse leadership, and success in the market.

In April 2018, Diageo’s board will reach full gender parity, when non-executive director Ursula Burns will join the company. “40% of our global Executive Committee are women and more than 30% of our global senior leadership team are women,” said the spokesperson, “Achieving gender equality and developing a strong, talented pipeline of future female leaders underpins our firm belief that a more diverse and inclusive workforce accelerates business growth.”

In the UK, equal workplace opportunities are protected under the Equality Act 2010. Men and women should have an equal chance to apply and be selected for a new position, promotion, or training opportunity, yet as of 2017, only 19% of senior business roles are held by women, with this figure declining from the 21% of 2016.

A company women want to join?

Beyond pay and promotion, Diageo also claims to be place a considerable focus on favourable workplace conditions. “We will deliver more opportunities for women working in Diageo’s businesses and our goal is to make Diageo the company women want to join,” said the spokesperson, going on to highlight the organisation’s continuously reviewed maternity, paternity flexible working and part-time policies.

The news from Diageo should be welcomed by the drinks industry, but the drinks giant should also be cautious how in touting its diversity statistics. The pay gap highlighted by the company’s review did highlight that Diageo Great Britain’s pay is gender-positive, but also brought to light the pay gap of Diageo Scotland, a separate legal entity but still under the Diageo brand. Men at Diageo Scotland earned 16.7% more than women. The precedent set by Diageo Great Britain is incredibly positive, but let us hope Diageo’s Scottish branch doesn’t mar any potential progressive movement in the drinks industry as a whole.