Is the beer industry unwelcoming?

About five years ago, I chaired a panel held at CAMRA’s Manchester Beer Festival which discussed the way women were treated in the beer industry, and by pubs in particular. What was said could have been predicted, indicating that the situation really hadn’t changed since the 1970s when CAMRA was formed. Sadly, it also reflected that good policies on their own aren’t enough. This was summed up by a director of a small local Manchester pub chain who said, “In preparation for this session, I spoke to a number of our female staff. 50% of them said they that they been touched or spoken to inappropriately but our staff complaint figures didn’t bear this out. When I asked why they didn’t report it (in line with our policies) everyone said they accepted it as part of the job.”

The lack of change in the attitude towards women was recently reflected in the boycotting of last year’s Mikeller’s Copenhagen Beer Celebration by a number of brewers, including Kernel. What was reported in January’s BBC programme on BrewDog appeared to reinforce this. Manchester’s Marble Brewery also came under similar fire last summer, resulting in the resignation of a (female) director. If even half of the reports are true, it is worrying that the industry is risking the alienation of half of their possible employees and customers.

But equal opportunities policies and practice apply wider than just to females. The brewery industry lacks people from a BAME background. I can think of only three people from a non-white background at a senior level in a London brewery and two of these are at Wild Card (Asa and Jaega); the other is Farooq at Portobello. In the USA, certain organisations, such as the American Brewers Association, are tracking these numbers, although there is nobody doing so in the UK (or Europe). How do we know if the industry is improving if nothing is actually measured?

The situation is far worse for LGBQT people. Any tracking of this group seems to be ignored and the discrimination shown can be equally intimidating. A couple of years ago, an article by Emma Inch (who is currently chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers) was one of the most powerful I have read on what it was like to be thought to be different when visiting a pub.

However, it really isn’t all doom and gloom. A workshop on whether the beer industry is welcoming, put on by the European Beer Consumers’ Union and which I chaired last autumn, brought together people from all over Europe to discuss equal opportunities in the beer industry. The select panel was made up of Jing Chen, co-owner of the Black Lab Brewery and Bistro in Barcelona, Gordon Keen from Laines, Aniko Lehiten, Chair of Olutlitto (CAMRA’s equivalent in Finland) and Cian Duffy, an Irish pub historian. There were some great stories about initiatives, from Jing explaining how women were key to the running of her bar to Laines, who had set up an apprentice scheme called ‘All for One’ targeted at under-represented groups. However, in Finland, the main issue seems to be getting women interested in beer at all!

Initiatives such as the International Women’s Beer Day, where female brewers across many countries brew a particular beer in celebration of the brewster, generally had a low awareness. The Pink Boots movement in the USA has been promoting women in the beer industry. Latterly, again in the USA, the Brave Noise collaboration was set up with the aim of sharing women’s stories of sexism and misogyny. The latter are now trying to make inroads in the UK and seem to have also spread into other equal opportunities areas such as race and LGBTQ as well. Park Brewery in Kingston on Thames have become engaged and have put a statement on zero tolerance on their website (see page 38). Similarly, the London Brewers Alliance is currently working on a code of conduct and a complaints process.

CAMRA has been ahead of the game. It once had LAGRAD, the Lesbian and Gay Real Ale Drinkers group, which was active for many years but sadly disappeared around 2017. In 2014, CAMRA also brought out a charter which outlined how volunteers and customers should behave, particularly at events. It also has a code of conduct, which every member signs up for and it is currently conducting a survey on diversity. Unfortunately, with CAMRA membership being over three quarters male, I suspect that the results are likely be biased, while the replies from many female members could be written now. It is unlikely to make pretty reading.

And what about people with disabilities? Although apparently few and far between, there are some great initiatives such as that set up by Ignition Brewery in Sydenham which ‘employs and trains people with learning disabilities to brew and serve great beer’.

So is the beer industry unwelcoming? In most areas of equal opportunities, it is probably no worse than many other industries but when it comes to the treatment of women, it usually scores worse. But, as said earlier, and as many beer companies have shown, you can have lots of good policies and procedures but if they aren’t followed, and there is no leadership from the top, they really aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

Christine Cryne