Kelli Frizzell, 9.7.18

Photo by Rania Zayyat

Photo by Rania Zayyat

Kelli Frizzell is currently the Senior Director of Sales for Serendipity Wines in Texas. Kelli has traveled the world, is in love with people and culture, and is making an impact on female leadership and equality in the wine industry.

How many years have you been in the business?

Since 2010 officially, but I encourage women to challenge that question because I want to make sure that women know that just because they don't have a position or a title or have not been qualified by men, that they still really need to think about how long they’ve been doing the service of wine.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?

Honestly, it’s based around traveling as a personal “aha” when I studied abroad. We were stuffed like geese, and we got accustomed to it, and I was working at a winery for free. I was living in South Africa in 2007, and I was traveling and someone again asked me to come and help with wine and and I went and met with Mullineux. I met Chris and Andrea, the winemakers, and really got to help them in the cellar because I was free help and I was curious. I decided to go back and get in the wine industry.

Also, Nebbiolo blew my mind, all the way. Château Simone Blanc 2001.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I have a very, internal struggle right now because I have been able to become more involved in the business fortunately as a woman, but I've also been personally committed to keeping my passion. I enjoy that people still react to telling stories and experience things and are open to curiosity about a product that is beyond a brand.

Can you describe any prejudices or setbacks you experienced in this industry in regards to being a woman?

I have three different ways of thinking about it.

First is just being a beginner in this and naive to the business. The prejudice occurs when I was naive to think that I was on the same playing field [as men] and having that feeling of “Ohhhh!” I’m not the same as you,” because you think going in and working hard, you’ll be treated all the same.

The other is that I realized that myself and [other] women have to be chameleons more than men. [We have to] change ourselves within what the person in front of us we’re doing business with likes to see from a female representative. For instance, if I know a buyer is working with female sales reps, the rep needs to act the way the buyer wants them to, or play a part to get the sale.

For women not working extra hard to be consciously aware of that, then you’ll receive comments like, ‘Why aren’t you more charming like this other female,’ comparing us to another woman. That makes women judge themselves and think they aren't doing the job correctly and then it puts them against another female.

In leadership I think that the biggest challenge is to be aware that you are the only woman in the room, and to be aware of when the conversation or the rhetoric should be something that you should speak up about. I think especially over this past year, with the election and hearing the rhetoric and propaganda of how to oppress someone.

Discrimination is when you look around and you’re the only woman in the room. I think back on when I've let so many comments go. We should have a voice at the table, and if we’re the only ones, it's very hard to communicate from a neutral position. It's easier for people think your perspective is coming from a woman's rather than a business perspective. For instance, instead of saying ‘Man, they had balls to do that,’ saying ‘Man, I’m sweating my boobs off!’

I think that when women are successful, I've had experiences where I've found out later, that [men] wanted to ask me out and that they had their own personal agenda, so my business success was vulnerable to their agenda. You can’t have brains and beauty. So much energy is wasted on presenting ourselves perfectly in order for our voices to be heard.

How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?

I think the first thing we should do is go back and face the moments where we have encountered another female we've had a conflict with and self reflect on that experience, [in order] to forgive and change our consciousness by lifting each other up.

We have got to recognize moments where women need our support or our voice when they don’t have one, and I think on the distributor side in senior management, I want to be able to encourage women to have a voice, but also to be able to change the acceptance of, and make decision and calls when a female is discriminated against with customers and with other people in the industry. Right now I don't feel we can take action to change behavior because we don't have a choice.

I want progress with the social consciousness, that treating each other respectfully on either side of the business relationship is expected for everyone, and it’s not just one side or another. As a leader we need to be able to make those calls without being afraid that it would sacrifice [anything].

The power of three, credit to Karen Blackburn! She made me so aware of so many things by saying the power of three is how we can start to support each other.

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?

It’s the same as the world. When there’s more of a balance with perspective, there is more to benefit from, more ideas, more perspective, more compassion, and more productivity, because you use each other’s strengths. If you're overtly missing a unique strength from a female or male in an industry, you are missing the opportunity for growth.

What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?

I hope that women start to understand their worth.

An example is in 2016, I launched a Women in Wine marketing program in our company to focus on female winemakers and this was something Serendipity gave me the freedom to do. I was met with feedback that it was discriminating as a joke from some of the people. I hope that it’s normalized for women to actually demand more opportunities with distributors to focus, highlight, educate and show the expression of wine that is made by female winemakers.

The labels that have been put on women, and the ones that we have adopted for ourselves, need to be broken, whether it’s a ‘feminine wine’, a ‘bossy leader’, our tone...I want us to be aware of our labels and be in control.

We can’t get away from the word ‘bossy’ when we're a leader. I hope that women don’t have to apologize for their actions as leaders.

What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?

Every morning they should wake up and practice the power pose. It saved me! My friend gave me this recommendation when I was going through some really challenging experiences with leadership. It started to open me and helped me gather the energy and courage within myself. What I hope is that women do that and eventually they can walk into a room and not question themselves and not be afraid to make a mistake.

What ways would you say you are contributing to the overall empowerment of current and future women in wine?

I think that what I consciously do and feel that is essential as a rewarding aspect of my job, is whenever there is a female buyer, counterpart, or industry person, I go out of my way to make the introduction for them with the person I am with. I will give the credentials for the females in the industry before we go into business talk and it's really rewarding because I've realized that it's not until after the interaction, that you have to go back and justify.

I'm trying to think more dynamically by creating more educational experiences to industry leaders, rather than individuals in positions, because I feel that women haven’t gotten to be in as many leadership positions as men in the past.

What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?

That we have a voice in decision making, that we are allow ourselves to fearlessly contribute to the success of the company we’re working for, and that we also don't let moments pass when there is overt rhetoric that will oppress progress.

What women of wine do you admire and why?

In general, the females sales reps that I have witnessed becoming mothers. Pumping in the car to the next appointment, nailing the presentation without even a peep of complaining. I am in awe of mothers in this industry in general.

Women in my company because I think that it's important for companies to celebrate their employees. They lift me up every single day.