Sexism in Beer: What You Can Do

Tonya Cornett of 10 Barrel

This is the final post in a four-part series on sexism in the beer industry. The introduction is here, followed by part two, the experiences of women, and part three, a brewer's perspective.

As I was working on this project, nearly everyone I spoke to hoped that I would include a forward-looking post on what we can do to hasten the change toward more equal workplaces. What follows are suggestions offered during my conversations with women. Throughout this series, I've hoped to emphasize the good that comes from hard discussions. This arises from my assumption that most of the people working in and around beer genuinely want things to improve for women, and are just looking for tools to begin building that world.

Yesterday, Allison Higi offered three suggestions of her own, and today I'm adding a few more I heard in my discussions. Consider these an invitation, not a scold or a command. I'm dead certain the list is not exhaustive, so please add your own suggestions in comments. Finally, while these suggestions are mostly relevant to men, they're not exclusively so. One thing I heard from a number of women is that other women engage in many of the same behaviors that they want to see end. We all live together and create our culture, and we can all play a role in changing it.

1. Be an ally.
When women look around the workplace or pub, they don't know who they can trust for support. One of the most common pieces of advice women offered is the simplest: be an ally. In yesterday's post, Allison Higi introduced this advice with a story about a coworker. In another example, a brewer was meeting with a homebrew club and getting heckled by a slightly drunk man. He was making jokes with uncomfortable sexual innuendoes. The men in the group were silent, leaving her to fend for herself. "Why didn't they say anything?" she wondered. In a final example I mentioned in part two, a woman subjected to harassment at work found no support from coworkers, even women. Being an ally means visibly supporting women. It doesn't require shaming or aggressive confrontation, just steady support. Cultural norms can shift very quickly when people come to understand that certain behavior is unacceptable.

Veronica Vega of Deschutes. Source: Bend Bulletin

2. Treat women like you want to be treated.
A woman I spoke to, exasperated that the concept of sexism should be so hard to understand, said, "It's like the golden rule; just treat women like you want to be treated." So much of the inappropriate behavior is easy to recognize if you're looking for it. We all want people to assume we're knowledgeable, capable people. We don't like to have people condescend to us or assume we're dumb or uninterested. The urge to mansplain--by all accounts a very common practice--would arise far less often if men assumed the same things about women they assume about other men. As a man, I can urge my cohorts to examine these unconscious habits. Many of them seem benign from our perspective--we're just trying to help!--but we would find similar behavior directed at us challenging and offensive.

Listen to women. Their experiences will surprise you, and you will find yourself learning from them. As one example, women's palates are generally considered to be superior to men's, and they are often more trained than men's. Ask women what they're tasting; let them inform you. One brewer suggested that women may be less rigid in their thinking--they don't stubbornly stick to their guns. Whether that's an empirical fact or not, just thinking it may change the way you relate to women. By bringing women into the conversation, opening our ears and closing our mouths, we allow women to find their voice--and we probably learn something along the way.

3. Hire more women.
One of the biggest reasons cultures feel so masculine is because they are. As one of the women I spoke to mentioned, the men in her brewery now police themselves and try to avoid saying offensive, sexist things. This is an example of norms shifting, and it will happen more quickly and more organically the more women are present.

4. Promote women to leadership positions.
Sexism and sexual harassment are fundamentally problems of power and its abuse. While the presence of women will change culture, putting women in positions of power--brew masters, CEOs, editors, owners, managers--will help shatter the current negative stereotypes of women. This isn't just a symbolic gesture, either; leaders in organizations create the formal rules about how things are run, and women have not been in positions to make these rules. Placing women in leadership roles is a huge barrier to overcome, and it is a constant struggle for women to rise to the highest levels. It is also the way we will know we've truly transformed the culture.

From left: Natalie Baldwin, Lee Hedgmon, Whitney Burnside, Lisa Allen, Marie Kusa, Sonia Marie Leikam, and Lauren Schwartzburg.

5. Consider women's perspectives.
When the women I spoke to described the need for more allies, they often described awkward situations where men didn't seem to know what to do. They suggested men use their imagiation and try to see it from women's perspective. If applied routinely, this kind of thinking could have profound organization-altering effects. A few examples describe how this process might work.

  • How does sexist/sexualized imagery appear in advertisements or on labels? So often, the instinct to use label with a woman comes from the perspective of a man and his sexual interests rather than an image about how women would represent themselves. There can be a fine line, but there's also an obvious solution: ask women at your brewery and elsewhere whether they find images offensive and listen to what they say. Dumping a sexist label won't lose you business; but using it will.
  • Would this be a fun activity? One example I heard about involved the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland in 2015 in which a brewery wanted to go on a tour of local strip bars. Women were cajoled, ribbed, and pressured to attend from men who urged them to be a "good sport," but it's hard to imagine this would have been tops of any list the women had come up with.
  • Is this workspace adequate? Breweries are almost always designed by men for the use of men--which can be a problem when women arrive. As one example, one brewer mentioned a changing room that wasn't divided by gender. (They'd never had a female brewer.)

6. Make environments more welcoming.
On Twitter, the writer Carla Jean Lauter recently posted a tweet thread full of great advice about how to make pubs more welcoming. Much of her advice could be applied to any place women frequent. Among the suggestions she offered were: clean stuff (especially bathrooms); put purse and coat hooks on walls and underneath bars and tables; try not to have hidden pockets where women might be trapped, or if you do, visit them regularly; include amenities in bathrooms like feminine products; and put baby-changing stations in men's rooms. This list exemplifies the steps to go through in implementing #4, and can be employed in the office, brewery, pub--anyplace women visit.

Kim Jordan, co-founder and former CEO of New Belgium

7. Write about women.
This final point is a note to myself--and perhaps other writers--but it illustrates the challenges women face. I currently have a handy roster of brewers' names I can ping whenever I have a question about brewing or want a perspective for an article. They're all men. This is an example of the old-boy's club at work. I haven't updated my list to include women, and in failing to do so, I also fail to elevate their voices or help them establish themselves as experts. This is institutional stasis and bias at work. All journalists can play a role in normalizing the idea of women as brewers.

As I draw this series to an end, I would like to make one final acknowledgement. Everything in these four posts has been intentionally focused on women. Of course, women aren't the only people who find themselves outnumbered in the beer industry. It was beyond the scope of this series to discuss race, gender, and sexuality, but many of the lessons women raised would be echoed by other marginalized groups. Perhaps we can elevate the voices of others who will tell us their experiences.