BREWING UP GENDER PARITY: THE QUEST FOR BEERQUALITY
REBECCA WHYMAN •
Women are markedly underrepresented in craft beer. This is not news to anyone. But have you ruminated on just how large the gender gap is? A 2018 survey by Nielsen-Harris found American craft beer drinkers are 68.5 per cent male and 31.5 per cent female. Closer to home, BeerMeBC’s 2018 survey had those numbers at 71 and 29 per cent, with 0.32 per cent identifying as “other.” For those not so strong in the math department, that means that there are only three women drinking craft beer for every seven men. If you were a straight man looking for a date, you wouldn’t like those odds at all. And I can tell you, as one of those three women, it’s not much fun being outnumbered everywhere I go to enjoy my beloved craft beer, delightful as those seven men may be.
Drinking craft beer is the easy part—when we move into the sections of craft beer world that involve actual effort, the gender divide gets even larger. How many female brewery owners, female brewers, and female beer reps can you name? I know from personal experience that when I’m at an event like the B.C. Craft Brewers Conference I feel like I can count the number of women present on my fingers.
Current enrollment at Kwantlen Polytechnic’s brewing program is at an 82/18 split (up from 93/7 in 2014). While the gap has been narrowing over the years, it remains a very visible reminder for every woman in that program that she’s still a novelty. Moving from alewives to less than 1/5 of the brewers-in-training, women have “come a long way baby.” Too bad it’s in the wrong direction.
These disparate numbers are great news for marketers, who love an untapped population. Rather than try to understand their target audience, too often they have relied on stereotypes and gone with “pinking” beer. Case in point: Aurosa’s #beerforher in 2017. The campaign exhorted women to “toss away all preconceptions and be yourself.” But, being yourself required drinking a beer that their preconceptions said would appeal because it comes in an “elegant designer bottle” that doubles as “a vase for fresh-cut flowers.” Really??!
The numbers are a bitter enough pill to swallow, but wait, we’re not done yet. A recent Stanford University study found that gender stereotyping significantly affects the way we evaluate products. People have an unconscious bias against women-made craft beer.
The research also found that when consumers were told the woman-brewed beer had won awards, it was rated as highly as if it was brewed by a man. Winning an award vouched for the competence of a woman. I’m not sure if I want to encourage breweries to enter more woman-brewed beers into contests so they can win awards, or if I want to cry at the ridiculousness of needing outside validation to believe women can be great brewers.
On a happier note, the Stanford study discovered that gender bias doesn’t happen when the consumer is a beer expert. In that case, the beer is judged on its merits, not by who brewed it. That gives me such hope for craft beer—you go, fellow beer nerds!
So, how do we bring about gender parity? I wish there was an easy three-ingredient recipe we could whip up. Alas, I don’t think the world will become enlightened overnight. But here are a few things I suggest we could all do to bridge the divide.
Welcome women to craft beer
Let’s get rid of all the sexist beer names and labels.
Lose the stereotypes—women like hoppy IPAs and imperials too!
Invite people in. To paraphrase diversity champion Ren Navarro, it’s not enough to allow space for others in your tasting room or brewery, they need to know they’re invited, how to access the space and that they’ll be safe when they’re there.
Put baby change stations and under table hooks for purses and jackets in tasting rooms (thank you, readers, for this feedback on my previous article!).
Make your workplace more hospitable
Assume competence. Don’t wait for an award to believe a woman knows what she’s doing. Don’t second-guess her knowledge or physical ability to do the job.
Start the conversation. Invite the women currently working at the brewery to tell you about barriers you’re not aware of, and how they think they could be removed. And—this should go without saying, really—listen to what they tell you. Their experiences are valid, whether you can relate to them or not. It’s not a slight against you that you don’t know what you don’t know. But once you do know, do something about it!
Think before you speak. Stop making jokes and comments at the expense of others. If you hear someone else doing so, call them on it. It really sucks for anyone to have to laugh off inappropriate jokes to keep the workplace harmonious.
Networking. Send more of your female employees to brewers’ conferences and the like.
Be impeccable with your word
Women, millennials, and anyone wanting to be taken seriously do themselves a disservice by equivocating. Don’t offer an opinion with one hand, then take most of it back with the other. You don’t sort-of-maybe-kind-of want people to respect you.
Counteract your gender bias. Start approaching everyone as a “them” until their gender is confirmed to you (i.e. when someone tells you the new brewer at XYZ comes from Halifax, rather than ask when “he” moved here, ask when “they” moved here.) It’s a great tool for addressing gender bias, with the added bonus of keeping you from misgendering non-binary folks.
After we’ve done all the hard work, how will we know we’re getting close to gender parity? Here are some possible indicators:
Female brewers are referred to simply as brewers.
In a mixed group of beer professionals, the women are considered just as likely to be the brewmaster.
Special brew days for women are no longer needed, it will just happen organically that a batch or 50 ended up brewed by an all-woman crew, from a single brewery or as a collaboration.
I'm single. I have been for several years.
I was really enjoying my single state during those years. I did what I wanted, when I wanted. It was pretty glorious.
I've started thinking though, that I would like some companionship too.
Now that I have popped by head up and looked around, I realize I have no idea how one goes about meeting people.
I have friends. But there's not a pool of potential dates within that friend group. Or anyone with a secret stash of available friends of friends they have somehow kept from me until now.
How did I used to get dates?
I would start playing a new sport. Or go to the bar.
I'm middle-aged now. There is no bar.
I don't think.
Is there one?
God, if there is, someone tell me where it is!
I understood the etiquette of meeting people at bars.
I do not understand this whole internet dating and hooking up thing.
I wish there was a book - How to Internet Date for Middle-Aged Dummies
There is this cheatsheet, but geesh, how old do …
So, like, I haven't been writing much about beer lately.
Yeah, I still write an article here and there (note to self, get on writing that article that's due soon) but I haven't been as inspired as I once was to blather on about beer ad nauseum.
I still love beer. I still go to beer events and get excited about the latest buzz. I'm just not interested in dissecting each experience.
Part of that is due to Instagram - that stupid app changed my life! It's so much easier to just take a photo and share it there. Now you all know what I drank. No need to write about it.
Part of it is due to other things taking up my focus. Like being middle aged. I had no idea how much mental energy that was going to take!
My last article for the Growler nicely married beer and being middle aged.
And got me to thinking that maybe that is something I'd like to do more of. Talk about being middle aged through different lenses. Craft beer and tasting rooms, where to find edgy b…