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Roundtable Discussion | How Do You Promote Diversity in Beer?

diversity in beer

It’s unfortunate that it takes public relations disasters like the recent Founders Brewing litigation and other instances of sexual harassment and sexism to open up a greater dialogue around diversity in craft beer. Over the past several months, we’re finally seeing more breweries address the industry’s lack of diversity head-on. Some are also realizing that embracing diversity in their brewhouses and taprooms has benefits beyond PR. The Brewer’s Association points out that cultivating diversity isn’t just a feel-good effort: “Research studies increasingly show that diversity and inclusion (or D&I) can help increase a business’ bottom line, drive innovation, attract more talent, attract more customers and create more opportunities for growth.”

I reached out to some people in the craft beer world to get their take on how diversity can be addressed, asking them: What are some tangible steps that can be taken to better promote a greater diversity of race, gender, sexual identity and religion in the beer industry?

Latiesha from @BeerKulture

A tangible way to promote and create an inclusive and diverse work force and community in the beer industry is not only doable but simple:

  1. First, recognize that there is a problem. Don’t excuse it, realize it, address it and then be the change.
  2. Training and education: Source talent outside of people who appear, believe or act just like you. Unconscious (and often times conscious) bias is a very real thing. In this industry and many others, that fact is very clear.
  3. Diversity is not a one-off accomplishment. It takes continual learning, growth and work. DO THE WORK.
  4. Create, communicate and live by a policy that promotes everything above.
  5. STICK TO IT.

We’ve not only said this for years, but have been an example of this. It is doable, measurable and attainable. All it takes is for you to want to do it; and then: Do it.

Bri Burrows, Head Brewer The Big Rip Brewing Co.

Bri Burrows

One of the biggest things breweries can do to promote greater diversity is to be actively inclusive year-round. Joe Gerstandt, keynote speaker and business consultant for diversity and inclusion, said it best, “If you do not intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude.”

Pride Month, Black History Month and Women’s History Month are all great jumping-off points; however, awareness needs to happen outside of these months as well. Minorities are still assaulted and discriminated against daily for things outside of their control. As the beer industry remains male-dominated, it’s important that the cis, straight, white, men take charge and lead the industry into inclusion. Breweries should be getting involved with local charities and organizations that promote diversity. They should be hosting beer groups led by women and people of color. They should be inviting diverse bands to come play music. They should be bringing in a consultant to teach their team how to be more inclusive in every aspect of their business, from hiring to bartending to social media to naming beers.

You can put a rainbow on a beer label outside of the month of June. You can get rid of your gender-specific bathrooms to show LGBTQ+ folks that they are welcome. You can pay a person of color to create your label art. You can invite your local church and your local Atheist club for happy hours.

Don’t be afraid of the inevitable backlash you will receive for promoting diversity, your true followers will sort that out for you, and you will gain more customers than you will lose by showing inclusivity. The great thing about this industry is that it’s so much more than just beer. It’s a community that should bring everyone together to talk about and drink beer in a safe space. The more breweries we see promoting inclusion, the more breweries that will follow. And if you screw up, own up to it. Admit your wrong-doings, apologize and make reparations. We understand no one is perfect, but how you handle your mistakes will make all the difference. In the meantime, buy a beer for a minority and listen to them, you will be surprised with how much you will learn.

Ken from Hop Topic

hop topic

Hop Topic wants to address the lack of diversity in the craft beer community with authentic inclusion as opposed to cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation? In a nutshell, cultural appropriation is when somebody of a dominant culture adopts elements of another culture that’s not their own. This is not to be confused with cultural exchange, which is a mutual exchange of cultural elements and lacks the dominant power dynamic. Cultural appropriation doesn’t require you to like a person or respect their identity, it just entitles you to take from them for profit. The craft beer industry is very guilty of cultural appropriation but Hop Topic believes this can be changed.

One tangible step towards authentic inclusion is to incorporate a racially diverse staff within your brewery. Customers feel more comfortable at a bar with faces that mirror their own.

Another tangible step is to host nights reflective of underrepresented groups. When have you seen a brewery host a gay pride celebration? When was the last special in honor of Juneteenth? How is the Lunar New Year overlooked by nearly everyone? Why does Women’s day go uncelebrated? These are all missed opportunities for breweries to welcome the underrepresented to the craft beer world.

A third and important tangible step is to utilize diverse marketing and social media teams to ensure a wider variety of gender, ethnicity and sexual presence represented in the industry. It’s important that breweries understand that it’s not just marketing messages that should be diverse, the marketing teams themselves should also reflect inclusivity. Additionally, a diverse marketing team helps to prevent cultural missteps before they reach the public by having an innate understanding of potentially offensive products or campaigns.

Jamel @colvinology

colvinology

Diversity in craft beer is, in many ways, a self-perpetuating problem. Microbreweries tend to pop up in predominantly white areas, or else ride into historically diverse neighborhoods on a larger wave of gentrification. Given this, the first issue is one of image. There are multitudes of black and brown beer groups with thousands upon thousands of members, but in the conversation about beer, these people are largely invisible; hell, even the jokes and memes are only about white guys. I also spend $20 on four-packs of beer that’s not markedly different than the other beer I already have. Visibility and representation are two of the most important factors in diversifying a space, and it’s so easy to do, at least on a superficial level. A better job needs to be done showcasing diverse brewers and drinkers, even on things like promotional materials and t-shirt announcements. It seems small, but it makes a difference.

Going a bit deeper, breweries must understand that unfortunately, they’re often represented by the worst of their fans. Personally, I’ve been welcomed warmly into every brewery and taproom I’ve visited. The staff and brewers are always eager to talk about their work, or just discuss beer in general, but it doesn’t take a majority to make a space inhospitable to people of color. All it takes is one idiot to say something horrible, and a couple more people to shrug and say they don’t see the big deal. The ways in which individual breweries respond to this behavior is critically important to the way that organization will be seen by minority groups in the future (Founders, for instance, is blacklisted for life). Philosopher Karl Popper describes what he calls the “Paradox of Tolerance,” which basically states that in order to maintain a tolerant society, we must be intolerant of intolerance. As such, if a disparaging comment is made publicly, on a social media platform or under a post, it must be called out publicly. The organization in question must make it explicitly clear to both the consumers and employees what kinds of behavior will not be accepted. People like the guy who sent a racist tirade to Chalonda White or dudebros who shame and demean women on instagram (after thirst liking all of their pictures back to 2015) need to know that they aren’t welcome in the community, and it must be the breweries themselves that hand out the walking papers.

Kevin from UNION Craft Brewing

A lot can be done to make beer more diverse, but I think ownership being smart and proactive can make a huge difference. A lot of breweries go into diverse neighborhoods and they need to make sure their staff and taproom reflect the makeup of the neighborhood. It can be awfully hard to be the only one in the room, be it race, sexuality, gender or ability, so by making sure you have a diverse staff helps to eliminate that. It will also help when pitching event ideas or beer names to have others with a different point of view to check you in areas you may not have sensitivity to. Also your taproom can be a starting point to a deeper involvement in the brewing industry. We’ve had a lot of people start in the taproom and then move to other positions in production or the front office, so bartender is a good place for a lot of people to learn about the industry and if you have a diverse staff there hopefully some of your team will be able to move to other parts of the brewery. The natural answer to this is well no one applies to the jobs except…. well what are you doing about it? How are you looking for staff for your brewery? Are you placing ads in places where everyone might see it? What job fairs are you going to and what contacts are you reaching out to? All of this matters, if diversity matters to you.

Brandon @blackbeertravelers

blackbeertravelers

Founders and many other craft brands have made poor decisions when addressing problems involving the diversity of cultures and lifestyles. These problems have negatively impacted their bottom line, significantly. In most of these issues, the problem could have been solved well before it reached the mainstream social media, but was not due a lack of cultural awareness or an avoidance of a cultural problem.

To help address these issues, here are some good things to keep in mind:

  1. Make good craft beer (or your craft beverage of choice): This is why we’re all here and why we keep coming back.
  2. Diversify your staff/influences and ask for their honesty opinion when rolling out an idea: They’ll be able to tell you when you’re in the wrong or when you should reconsider an idea.
  3. Don’t expect the one diverse person you know to speak for that entire population: They’re not a monolith. There is nuance in culture and people. So the more types of people you know and listen to, the better.
  4. Invest in your local community: Supporting causes and social groups in your region will help you build a closer connection to the neighborhood you create.
  5. Check your privilege at the door: Everyone has it and it’s based on variety of social cues. So be aware of yours.
  6. Listen when issues are presented: Public opinion should be observed, investigated and responded to in a manner where it shows you took time to understand the issue. Respect your customer base; it includes everyone.
  7. Express yourself through your craft: People want to see and experience your creativity through the craft. Not a gimmick where you have zero connection and you’re following a trend.
  8. Stay away referencing motifs where you have no affiliation or where there has been negative history: It’s not funny, cool or trendy to make light of this items; especially when you’re not aware of the history.
  9. Do not be racist, bigoted or sexist: People will see it and you will be cancelled, postponed and/or boycotted by the respective culture.
  10. Have fun.

Nigel @nwoodberry1966

Nigel Woodberry

As a beer enthusiast and a Black person entrenched in the beer community here in Kansas City, the subject of diversity in the industry has been on my mind way before the Founders hot mess.

Yes, it’s true here in the Kansas City metro (and most cities) that most breweries look white and male. And women are well represented in the taprooms in our area as well. But it’s obvious breweries are missing a whole segment of the population. In regards of communities of color (and others) joining the craft beer craze, most folks have not been marketed to. Big beer has all the flashy commercials and craft beer does not. That’s part of the problem. Since craft beer can be so grass roots and word of mouth, I think there’s needs to be some outreach by breweries in the form of going places that may not know about the breweries and beers around them and getting in on events that would expose those folks to the great beer that’s right in their backyard. First Fridays events could be a place to start. That may be tough for breweries to get out and do that sort of thing (I know how busy my brewer friend are!). But my goal in Kansas City is to be that “ambassador” in helping that happen. Because it needs to happen.

One thing that inspired me to do more was attending Fresh Fest in Pittsburgh this summer. Fresh Fest was the first beer fest I’ve been to where there were lots of people of color who enjoy craft beer. It was a bit shocking but amazing at the same time. It wasn’t a “Black beer fest” per se, as there all sorts of people in attendance. But a majority of minority breweries from around the country were there and the fest included symposiums on diversity, how to start a brewery and other issues craft beer related. It was really cool to see such a diverse crowd enjoying everything craft beer. There’s no reason taprooms around the country can’t be that diverse.

James @passthehops

passthehops

Incorporating diversity in craft beer is a fragile topic and hiring diverse staff needs to be approached with intent and passion from both parties. Breweries should be mindful about their staff awareness and make sure they have a successful operating team. I have had the fortune of being with my respective brewery since the beginning, and we have always had staff of many different backgrounds working cooperatively for the success of the brewery. A diverse atmosphere in my workplace is one of the best things that has happened to me, to experience many different cultures; I wouldn’t change that for the world.


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