Breaking The Bias

International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the achievements of women worldwide. It is also a day to reflect on the inequality, stereotypes and discrimination that remain. The past year saw the rise of a global movement led by Brienne Allan (aka @bravenoisebeer), exposing stories of sexual harassment faced by non-males, at the hands of males, within the brewing industry. The subsequent diversity survey launched by Beer Agents for Change back home in Australia led to shocking results. 

It's clear that gender equality in the beer world is still a way off, driven by the inherent biases still experienced daily by non-males. The firsthand stories of such experiences were the focus of our article four years ago, which included similar recollections of being dismissed, talked over, ridiculed, and, most confronting, sexually harassed.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, a campaign encouraging all people – men, women, or otherwise – to break these inherent biases preventing diversity and inclusivity. Because this theme is pertinent to all of those breaking the bias in our male-dominated industry, it is also important to recognise those falling outside the gender binary in the fight for equality.

Simply by existing as a woman or non-binary person in the brewing industry, such biases are being broken in small ways every day.

“I still get surprised looks when I’m confident using the forklift, loading or unloading trucks,” laughs Emily Reeves, brewer at Molly Rose (pictured at top of article). Emily’s previous employers include Capital and BentSpoke in Canberra and Brick Lane in Melbourne, all before the age of 27 – which represents a resume more impressive than most male brewers.

“It’s not commonly seen as a job for non-males,” she adds. “It’s intense work. You get dirty as f***, you’re on your feet all day, working shift work, regular overtime, and on top of that constantly having to problem solve.

"It's difficult, physically, and mentally. But women and enbies are here doing it. We deserve to be here. We are just as a capable and it should be seen as just as normal.”

 

 

For it to be normalised, it is important to highlight the presence of non-males in the industry wherever possible, particularly today.

“I hope that having me in the presence in the brewery might inspire other women to pursue a career in beer,” says Danielle McDonald (pictured above), a brewer at Batch Brewing Company. “I always thought it too challenging a role to master… but I wanted to learn more about beer and the brewing process, and my passion only grew.”

Strangely enough, the misconception of brewing being seemingly unattainable is echoed by Emily, too.

“It always seemed like brewers were top-tier,” she says. “The only brewers I saw were male, and because of that, it seemed like I could never do it.”

Thankfully, the balance is slowly starting to shift. For each woman or non-binary person visible in the industry, another woman or non-binary person can be inspired to do the same. 

“Things are improving, albeit at a glacial pace,” says Northdown, Craft Beer Movement and Edge Brewing Company co-founder, Michelle Vanspall. “There is a heck of a lot more kick ass women thriving and paving the way in the industry now, which can change things sooner.

"These strong leaders are either new to the force or have been on the sidelines, just getting even better at what they do, challenging views and bias along the way.”

 

Michelle Vanspall and Adam Betts of Northdown, Craft Beer Movement and Edge Brewing Project.

 

“There is a huge amount of inspiration and support,” Danielle agrees. “I can network among other industry professionals, seek out opportunities to learn and share experiences, and connect with other women via social media, online forums, and organisational groups such as Pink Boots.”

However, the onus shouldn’t lie entirely on non-males. Men too, and indeed the industry as a whole, have an important role to play in improving things for everybody. Thankfully, both Emily and Danielle have had positive experiences at their respective workplaces, and they draw on that experience in providing advice.

Emily suggests a way forward in being more tolerant of the different communication styles used by different people. 

“As women, we’re always the first to put ourselves down,” she says. “You might have the most knowledgeable brewer in front of you, but she doesn’t act like it, because she’s been put down, or criticised, or second-guessed so many times before because her communication style might have been more collaborative or more empathetic.

“We often ask a lot more questions, and the way we express instruction can be more passive. Rather than say ‘do this,’ we’ll say something like, ‘I think we should do it this way, what do you think?’

"It’s important for you to empower that communication style, to reaffirm the work being done, and to acknowledge that she is just as capable in doing it.”

“Asking for feedback is also a big one,” she adds. “If you ever wonder if you’re treating someone in the workplace right – and this stands for more than just gender – ask them what they need.”

Danielle thinks the key lies in allowing non-males across all industries to become increasingly confident in challenging archaic stereotypes. 

“I’d love to see the beer industry continue to create a community and workplace environment full of support, inclusivity, and diversity,” she says. “I also strongly believe big corporate beer brands need to stop perpetuating the idea that beer is a male beverage through their marketing campaigns.”

 

Jade McManus of Ryefield Hops; on right, enjoying the fruits of the 2022 harvest.

 

For Jade McManus of Ryefield Hops, the issue has another layer altogether. Jade does not identify as female or male, and non-binary people such as themselves are one of the most underrepresented minorities in brewing.

“The beer industry is in its infancy of understanding diversity,” they explain. “It is dominated by seeing gender as two opposing spaces and not yet opening up to all of its aspects. There is not yet enough understanding to be able to have support and representation for gender diversity across the industry.

“For me personally, ‘breaking the bias’ relates to moving away from just seeing the bias as opposite to what the majority is, that is to say predominantly white, cis-females. I see it as bringing in all genders, races, ages, and abilities.

"It’s the little things make huge differences, such as pronouns being included in emails, not just for the ‘outsider’, but for everyone. Even having all inclusive bathrooms at breweries is a massive start.”

As for Michelle, ten years in the industry has taught her many lessons. One of the most important is that she has never let gender hold her back, and she issues a call to arms for others to be better than anyone who makes you feel that gender should hold you back.

“Kick their asses with your awesomeness! Challenge their views by blowing their minds! Don’t wait for society to tell you it’s OK to shine, take matters into your own hands and do it for yourself!" she says.

“At the end of the day, if you are passionate about what you do, it brings joy to your life, it drives you, and it motivates you, then screw the nay-sayers. You do you!”

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