If I’m honest, whenever I am asked to do an interview, or give my perspective or opinion on the “issue” of women in brewing, my response invariably begins with a sigh. In fact, I probably sighed when Josh asked me to write this blog post. I sigh because I hate that it’s an “issue”. I sigh because I don’t have all the answers. I sigh because really, there is nothing about brewing or serving craft beer that should make it a male dominated industry. And most of all I sigh because it makes me a little bit sad that in 2018 we are still talking about gender equality. For a long time after I became a brewer and brewery owner in 2013, my standard response to these requests was along the lines of “why does anyone care what sex I am, as long as my beer is good?”. I didn’t want to talk about it, because I felt like talking about it validated the perspective that it was an “issue”. And I didn’t want it to be.
When I was about 6, my father went away on a business trip and came back with a pink t-shirt for me. On the front was a rainbow, and the words “Anything boys can do…girls can do better”. I’m sure he has no idea how that t-shirt shaped my view of the world, but those words served me well as I pursued a career in engineering, and later as a brewer and entrepreneur. Because of my experiences as an engineer who did a lot of field work in the oil and gas industry, I am used to being the only woman in the room or around the table in a meeting. I am used to having to prove myself as equal rather than it being assumed. I am not fazed by being a woman in a man’s world, in fact I probably prefer it by now. But I know that’s not necessarily the way all women feel, and I know from experience that gender and power dynamics can be frustrating, frightening and extremely tricky.
As the years have passed I have come to realize that my position as co-owner and brewer at Boxing Rock has likely made things a little bit different for me than many women in brewing industry. I have the luxury of dismissing those that don’t respect me, and of standing up to those who objectify or insult my feminine side. As a brewery owner, I no longer fear repercussions to my career or livelihood. I also know the man who I started this business with sees me as his equal, respects me and will support any defense I mount of my gender and position. The more time I spend in this industry though, the more experiences I have or hear about that disturb me. I’ve had suppliers and customers express surprise and disbelief that a woman owns a brewery…and brews beer. I’ve had suppliers make inappropriate comments or suggestions. I’ve heard stories about female staff at breweries being physically and verbally assaulted by customers and even by colleagues from our industry. I’ve seen beer names and labels that objectify women. I’ve had all manner of inappropriate things said to me when I’m anonymously pouring beer at beer festivals. So yes, I will grudgingly admit, there is an “issue.” But what do we do about it?
I’ve been grappling with the answer to that question for a few years now, both as a woman in the industry and as the President of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS). I am proud that CBANS made a motion at our AGM in June 2017 that encourages members to “uphold the fundamental principles of inclusiveness and equality to all in our day to day activities”, and to “pledge zero tolerance of discrimination in marketing practices”. I think as an industry association this is a great place to start. By making this motion we as an industry said we are willing to talk about this issue, explore it and debate it. It is important to start the conversation, because if we don’t talk about it within the industry, the assumption is that the status quo is OK. And it isn’t. If you have the appetite for a full exploration of sexism in beer marketing, and how it feels to be a woman in this industry, this piece is a pretty thorough look from this time last year. And CBANS got a mention in a follow-up piece from the same blog last summer.
The next part of my answer is that I want all the men who love craft beer, and who think women are their equals to stand up and say so. If you see a man treating a woman in a way you think is wrong, don’t look the other way, don’t be a silent bystander, say something. And then tweet about it: #HowIWillChange. Because one thing I know from experience is that nothing changes for a man who doesn’t respect women and our contribution to the world of craft beer if he is called out by the woman he doesn’t respect. But I believe a whole lot can change if another man tells him that what he is doing or saying isn’t right.
The truth is, there are no easy answers. Everyone has a different perspective of what is right and wrong when it comes to power and gender and equality. But we can only move forward as a society if we are diligent about questioning our assumptions and being open to other points of view. It might seem like I am calling on men to come to our rescue, but I can assure you I am no damsel in distress. I am calling on men who love and respect women and the craft beer we brew, pour and serve to stand beside us as equals, to have hard conversations with women and other men, and to join us in challenging the craft beer industry in Nova Scotia to be a safe and inviting place for everyone.
Co-owner of Boxing Rock Brewing