Sexual harassment in the beer industry

Last month I was asked to be a panelist at Chatelaine’s Big Dish conference. Our panel was titled: Broads in a Bro’s World, and I was asked to talk about sexism, and my experience working in the male-dominated craft beer industry. I was on the panel with former chef and food writer, Ivy Knight, Jen Christie, founder of AG Women’s Network, and Momiji Kishi who owns HotBlack Coffee. You can watch the live stream of our panel conversation in the video below:

Broads in a Bro's World: Chatelaine: The Big Dish

Welcome to the LIVE "Broads in a Bro's World" session at our Chatelaine: The Big Dish event ( Four women kicking butt and taking names in male-dominated segments of the food industry share their experiences, what they’ve learned and what needs to happen for things to change.PANEL: Jen Christie from Ag Women's Network, Ivy Knight, Momiji Kishi of HotBlack Coffee, and Beer Sisters' Crystal Luxmore. #BigDish

Posted by Chatelaine on Sunday, October 29, 2017

When I posted about appearing on the panel on social media, Side Launch Brewing Company brewmaster Michael Hancock, sent me the following email, and I wanted to share it here, along with my response:

There are a ton of a great Brewers in Canada and elsewhere that are female and a handful of them I know for a fact would rather just be referred to as Brewers rather than Women in Brewing or some other similar term.  While I do not deny that there is sexist advertising and lack of representation in boardrooms in some other areas of the Brewing industry, I think it’s important to recognize that the people who do the work, the Brewers and especially those who work on packaging lines are very much from both sexes and therefore it is not really an issue as such.

That’s why I thought it was important to remind people that Brewing started with women.

Illegal Dress Codes, Sexual Harassment in Bars, The Glass Ceiling…

Here’s my email back to Michael:

Thanks for the note. I understand your point of view and I myself haven’t faced sexism as a female beer writer. I think the industry thinks of itself as very open and accepting of female brewers, and of course as a writer everyone is quite nice to me (because I write nice things about them).

However, I think there is a large issue of sexism in the beer industry that folks are quite blind to. Have you thought about most of the females who work in beer and have to trudge into hundreds of bars each day and face harassment, flirtation from male bar owners? What about the female servers who are bullied into wearing skimpy outfits because of an illegal “dress code”? Sexism in craft beer is an issue that goes well beyond the talented female brewers. I have heard of craft brewers who openly ask women if they plan to get pregnant/have a family, in a job interview. And many stories of not being taken seriously in company meetings because “it’s a boy’s club.”

Why aren’t female beer experts more visible?

Also, while there are strong and visible female brewers who make great role models, there is a huge lack of female “experts” and teachers in the industry. How many faculty at Niagara are female? Zero.* I think it is an issue that is well worth highlighting and I think too many craft brewers give themselves a big pat on the back because they acknowledge women’s role in brewing — and because they think they have an open culture. The fact is that craft breweries are growing so fast that sexism is the last thing on their minds, most don’t even have a human resources person on staff, where people who feel they’ve been treated unfairly (men or women) can go to voice complaints.

Until more women actually own breweries and make decisions things won’t change.

Look at the OCB conference this year (there are two pictures from it above). I was there. I requested to MC the conference, (nominate yourself ladies) and recommended two extremely knowledgeable American female beer experts as keynote speakers (they were not chosen). Women were grossly underrepresented as speakers and experts at that conference* compared to the number of women in the craft beer industry. And I’ve seen it across brewing conferences in the U.S. and Canada. And the sad thing is that no one cares enough to change that.

I listen to homebrew podcasts, with names like “Brew Strong,” and taglines like “Brew Like a Man,” so it’s clear that not everyone recognizes women’s role in brewing like you do. And it’s significant that there are so few female home brewers (besides the handful who brew with their husbands) because these are the guys that are starting the next craft brewery. Equality and representation is a big issue in other progressive industries, like tech and even big beer, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue at all for small breweries.

Anyway, I felt lucky to say what I had to say, especially to the talented, powerful women at that event.

craft beer leaders

Today’s brewing icons and industry leaders skew heavily male. (Yes, I do know about Kim Jordan, Ellen Bounsall and other fantastic women who people always seem to name whenever I suggest there are not that many women at the top). My point remains true: we started this shit. Men recognize that. But today, very few women actually own this shit.

*Please note this was an email response and I didn’t fact check the number of female full-time faculty on staff at Niagara College Brewing School when writing back to Michael, it was a fact I’d heard second-hand. I did write to both the OCB and Niagara College three days ago to inquire about the number of women on faculty at Niagara; and the number of female presenters at the OCB Conference 2017, but did not receive a response from either organization.

Craft Brewers need to do better

Michael and I had a chat about this exchange before I posted it on the blog, and we see it as a starting point to create a conversation about sexism in craft beer, and hopefully a space where women can speak out about their experiences, good and bad, in the industry.
Like Michael, I have heard female brewers say they’re tired of being asked about being a “female” craft brewer. And I don’t blame them: It’s a sexist act to highlight someone’s work again and again because she’s a woman first, and a brewer second. No one wants to be trotted out and put on display because, “oooh, look at this minority, isn’t it great that a woman makes beer?” But just because a handful of top female brewers are tired of being asked about being female brewers, and just because some women haven’t experienced sexism in their individual careers,  doesn’t mean that sexism isn’t an issue in brewing and we can all just wash our hands of it and get on with our days.

Women in beer are “tough”

Female sales reps, who sell kegs in bars or manage retail clients all day, told me they face sexism all of the time, and have been harassed. Some have told me that the women who stick it out just have to be “tough.” I read “tough” as code for being able to take ignore or shake off sexual harassment or discrimination in order to get your job done. Is this something that women who work in the industry should just put up with?


Have you experienced sexism or sexual harassment? Witnessed it? Or even left the industry because of it? Does your brewery have an HR department? Has it ever had a sexual harassment complaint? Or do we work in a field where sexism is just not an issue?