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Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Regine T Rousseau of Shall We Wine On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male Dominated Industry

An Interview With Ming Zhao

In the United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as a strong woman in a male dominated industry.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Regine Rousseau.

Regine T. Rousseau, wine and spirits expert, writer, presenter, and media personality, focuses on making wine knowledge accessible to people at all proficiencies. She is the nominee of 2020 Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards, Wine Educator of the Year, a WSET Level 3 with Merit, an International Sommelier Guild Level II, and Executive Bourbon Steward, Stave and Thief. Regine has traveled around the globe sharing her wine and spirits expertise. She has authored or been featured in articles in the The Drop, New Yorker, Wine Enthusiast, Pix Wine, Black Enterprise, Black Food and Beverage, Wine Spectator, the Zoe Report, Forbes and Chicago Tribune.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

In 2013, I found myself at a crossroads. I was unhappy working for a consulting firm where my talents were underutilized. I desperately wanted to get back into the wine industry, where I worked as a wine salesperson between 1998–2001 and first explored the idea of a wine events company called, Shall We Wine. Although I left the wine sales industry in 2001 to work in pharmaceutical sales, my passion for wine flourished. I continued to study and sample countless wines from around the world — that was the fun part. As faith would have it, I left the consulting firm in 2013 to start a new chapter in my life by creating a business plan that resurrected Shall We Wine as a strategic marketing company. In addition to providing in-store demos for wine and spirits brands, I harness my creativity and marketing experience to uniquely showcase wines and spirits on television and at immersive experiential events for consumers.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I remember printing my first business cards. The cards read, “Shall We Wine, In-store Demos, Events and TV.” I was not appearing on television at that time, but when I handed my card to prospects they would question me and say, “what station are you on?” I would smile and say, “wait for it. It’s coming.” I started with a YouTube channel featuring “wine 101” content and wine reviews, which gained momentum because of the receptivity and engagement with the content. Within a few months, my manifestations were realized and I had television appearances featuring wine and spirits in my hometown of Chicago, DC and Atlanta.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three characteristics that are instrumental in my success are my strength, my vision, and my commitment.

My strengths come from my immigrant roots and gives me the ability to be steadfast in the creation and execution of my vision! As Haitian American, like many children of immigrants and people of color, I was taught that I had to work harder and smarter than my peers. I have approached every aspect of my business with the thought, “they can out-fund me, but I will not be outworked.”

Experience has taught me: to succeed you must have a strategic mindset. It is important to leave room for spontaneity, but goals and a tangible plan to execute are essential in achieving meaningful progress.

I admit there were moments when I thought about quitting. Moments when I wondered if I could make a greater impact working for someone else’s corporation. Moments when I thought my life would somehow be easier if I had a regular 9:00–5:00. What keeps me committed is seeing this company enrich my life and the lives of the hundreds of contractors we hire. We impact the lives of the consumers we reach, and we drive growth and differentiation for brands we represent.

Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?

Acceptance has yet to be realized. It will take the representation, inclusion and success of many more Black faces and women in this industry before I “gain acceptance.” I, and other women and people of color have shifted the perception that we don’t belong. We are chipping away at old paradigms; Julia Coney who founded Black Wine Professionals, an organization that highlights Black professionals in the wine industry. We chip away by being true to our vision, as Theodora Lee, the owner of the award-winning wine company, Theopolis Vineyard, has demonstrated. We chip away by earning high achievements, as Jill Zimorski did by becoming one of the few female Master Sommeliers in the world. We chip away by creating organizations that support women in the wine and spirits industry like Dream Big Darling founded by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, that support new entrepreneurship in the industry like Rania Zayyat’s initiative through the Lift Collective, and by sustaining profitable businesses like my own: Shall We Wine. By chipping away, we are creating cracks that others like us will emerge through. As more emerge, acceptance will be inevitable.

What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?

Equal pay. I don’t think I need to say more here. I could add, “show me the money!” or “Cut the check!” But you get my point.

Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

The five things you need to survive as a woman in a male dominated industry are vision, focus, tenacity, allies, and a sense of humor. Without these five things, the journey will be more difficult and less fun. I would not be here without the support of my allies, both men and women. I leaned on them for advice, for contacts and contracts. A few days into the pandemic, our book of business was erased. My professional network became my board of directors, making introductions to corporations that helped Shall We Wine pivot to virtual events. Furthermore, they are my advocates, sounding board, and create moments where I can let my hair down and have a good laugh or two. This is key for success and survival.

If you had a close woman friend who came to you with a choice of entering a field that is male dominated or female dominated, what would you advise her? Would you advise a woman friend to start a career in a field or industry that’s traditionally been mostly men? Can you explain what you mean?

I would tell her, “don’t quit your day job!” At least until you and your business are ready. We know that women owned businesses are less likely to get funded. Funding is one, if not the most important, aspect of running a business. You can have a brilliant idea, however, without the people and resources to properly execute, your business can not fulfill its potential. I encourage solopreneurs to think of their jobs as an angel investor. If they can use their income to hire someone and get the business off the ground while they work to grow and get more capital, it will save them headaches later. To be honest, I marvel at how far I have come with little capital. I have seen tremendous growth in the last few years, when I was able to get a SBA loan during the pandemic and grants prompted by the inequities revealed by the murder of George Floyd. I would tell women going into business, “you got this!” It’s not easy, but we are built for this and more!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a glass of wine with Martha Stewart. I have studied her path. I would appreciate her advice on building my brand and cultivating partnerships with other brands.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Ming S. Zhao

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.