A year ago, the craft beer industry – here and overseas – was grappling with its #MeToo reckoning. A flood of stories and allegations sparked by a call out on Brienne Allan’s @ratmagnet Instagram account ultimately saw some prominent figures removed from positions at brewing companies around the world; in some cases, the ripples are still being felt.
In Australia, a group of women with decades of experience in a range of roles – many of whom we’d spoken to for articles examining the issues of sexism, harassment and assault in the local industry – came together as Beer Agents For Change. They have since launched the first survey into discrimination and diversity in the Australian beer community, with sobering results, and will soon unveil a pledge too.
Over the past 12 months, the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) has launched a new Code of Conduct, all of which suggests an ongoing movement towards a safer and more welcoming community for all. Yet how far have we really come?
Here, Tiffany Waldron – a co-founder of Beer Agents For Change and president of the Pink Boots Society Australia – suggests that, a year on from that reckoning, the industry remains very much a boys’ club.
There is a long history of blokeism in the beer industry.
Expected even, since beer is for a “hard earned thirst”.
From a consumer perspective, the number of women-identifying beer drinkers has hovered just under 20 percent for as long as I’ve lived in Australia. It’s a situation arguably driven by the ads of the 80s, and the accompanying lack of acceptance of beer as a “ladies’ drink” in this country.
But working in this industry – one in which independent brewing companies alone employ close to 9,000 people – it’s been a boys’ club for a long time. In fact, in a survey of those working in the beer industry in 2021, the term “boys’ club” was mentioned by respondents well over 30 times, despite appearing nowhere in the questionnaire.
I always knew this to be the case; in fact, being able to roll with the “boys” was probably helpful when getting into the beer industry in the first place. And it wasn’t detrimental… at least at the beginning.
But the older, wiser and more experienced I become, the more I see that opportunities just aren’t open, or equal, for everyone. There are so few role models in leadership positions in our industry for someone like myself – and I will mark my privilege here as a straight, white woman – it’s become almost comical.
And as I look to find a pathway for someone more senior in the Australian beer industry, it has become apparent this might be a bigger problem than I’d encountered when entering the industry.
Scrolling through LinkedIn, where I have so many beer industry connections, feels like it could be set to the theme song for that defunct show Two and a Half Men. You know the one: “Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men.”
Over the past few weeks – a time when there have been some major events taking place in the wider industry that have brought many people together for the first time in more than two years – I’ve been taken aback by what I’ve seen.
A top dog in the beer industry retired and shared a series of photos highlighting impressive moments from across his long career – including the incredible locations and events to which positions of power can take you. There were dozens of people featured across these large group shots – and not one single woman. Literally, not a single one.
Seriously? At all of these events that included the most influential movers and shakers, at the tables where decisions were made, no one thought it was ever strange not to have a woman in the room?
Next up: a large conference overseas, a place where you’d find the suppliers, owners, managers and employees of every type of beer business imaginable connecting and networking. I scanned group shots from events shared by a number of attendees and guess what? I counted five non-men across the lot.
The cherry on top: photos from a post-conference trip, out on the town in a glamorous location…
You see where this is going, right?
To all of those who have witnessed diversity in the Australian beer industry increase over the past decade, it’s true: we are making inroads to include more women and people from diverse backgrounds. I see this in my role with Pink Boots Society Australia and also in the discussions taking place within the IBA’s Diversity, Wellbeing & Culture Committee.
Yet my observations over the past few weeks have made it clear how far there is to go: when you take stock of the leaders making decisions and notice no one but the “male, pale, and stale" crowd is in the room; of how the doors – at least on the surface – remain closed to anyone outside that crowd.
As the beer industry prepares to gather for its biggest awards night of the year, the Australian International Beer Awards in Melbourne, which this year take place in the wake of a Federal Election that has returned the highest number of women and non-white elected officials to both houses, I have a simple request – and yes, that includes you over there.
Look around at every room you’re in. If everyone there looks like you, you’re doing it wrong. Be the courageous one and call it out. Do better.
The Beer Agents For Change will soon launch their Pledge for Commitment To Change.