In May, while attending the Craft Brewers Conference, I was able to ask members of the Brewers Association administration about the organization’s efforts to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.
Following their responses, I wrote this piece, pointing out the rapidly shifting conversation about gender and race and why the BA should take the opportunity to be a leader in the effort. It was recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers with an honorable mention award for “Best Beer Commentary or Criticism.”
In the months since, Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, brainstormed and wrote the column, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” pointing out what the BA currently knows, what it wants to know and what it’ll do in the coming year and beyond to better support and promote diversity in its many forms.
As a follow up to the coverage on this blog, I recently spoke to Julia Herz about her column and what she hopes it’ll do to advance efforts by the Brewers Association.
The text below is from our conversation, slightly edited for clarity.
Why did you want to write this piece?
Every week, month and year in the beer biz is always a new opportunity to comment, evaluate, pick up the stones, turn them and look at the nooks and crannies of our community. The evolution of this process was having the topic of diversity come at me week after week, month after month. I get asked about it a lot and no doubt I get asked about it because I’m a female in the biz. I comment about it a lot, but I finally reached the point where my ability to comment on it was feeling a little stale.
From your interview and a few poignant evaluations around culture and diversity in the beer biz, it was time to put forth what I wanted to say. We published that as a column directly to our members in New Brewer, but this had a broad enough appeal to publish on our public-facing website.
What was it that made you feel like your understanding was going stale? What did you want to learn more about to be able to push this conversation around diversity?
We’ve seen a lot of good evolution in beer and frankly, in diversity, over the years, but in certain arenas, we weren’t able to talk definitively to the data of where the community lies. We’ve seen different data points on brewersassociation.org, but the 2015 Yankelovich MONITOR survey was an expansive series of slides that I could point to and say ‘this is more of the puzzle of diversity when it comes to understanding beer lovers,’ but we still haven’t seen all of who is in the beer community.
In writing [the column], I wanted to put forth that beer is getting boxed into a corner of potentially not being diverse enough and I agree there’s always room to evaluate. This starts to parse out where some of the holes are and definitively put forth where I’m able to say that we have access to information of what we do and don’t know. It’s taking it a step further to show what we want to know.
Was there a personal investment in this for you?
In everything we do as an association, there’s always a way to evolve and do things better. As an individual at the Association highlighting this topic in a public way, it creates for me a deeper set of sensitivities going forward. We want to make beer better. I want to make beer better and also evolve the community to be a voice and be a part of looking at areas where we’re not as strong.
Why is now the right time to have this conversation?
Culturally, we’ve got a political climate that allows us to talk about diversity more and we’ve got a social climate that is ever advancing in the diversity arena. We have a culture that’s advancing, so why not now?
Everything has its time and place and the membership at-large is talking about diversity more. We’re hopeful to take further steps in 2017 and beyond to give us the chance to go deeper on the topic
I have a concern in representing the beverage and craft breweries, that time is marching on and beer is getting boxed into a corner as not being diverse enough. We have to be clearer on what the arguments need to be to fix that. It’s time to know more.
In advancing this topic, who do you turn to for insight or input?
We’ve gotten extremely positive feedback on the article and not just ‘cheers’ and ‘rah-rah.’ The next step is to use that reaction to pursue this in a way that is of interest to our members. Diversity is a very broad term and a very broad topic. We’ve put forth what we’ll start to do, but we want to hear more from members about what they want to know and ask, ‘as a trade association, what can we do to help you be better equipped? What do you expect us to be working on?’
What are the actionable items going forward that people might see? Now that we have an outline of what the Brewers Association would like to get done, what happens?
In 2017, we have to get a handle on who exists in our community and I think we’ll find it’s very diverse. We want to create a sensitivity so we can openly promote discussions to get sensitivity more top of mind. After that, we’ll hopefully go even deeper and see where research insights and promotion of conversation takes us. How we peel away at the onion in next steps is still to be determined.
How can you use that step to address the conversations that are taking place in the community? If people are talking about diversity and inclusion now, what are the ways in which you can engage on the topic?
As more craft breweries have come online and gained traction, there’s so much interest now about large brewers buying the small. Now we have a full trend, not just a blip. The craft beer movement is here to stay.
What we’ve learned is that the beer lover cares in many respects about who makes their beer. I think the full flavor movement comes from the localization movement and the small and independent movement has taken hold, so who makes your beer has started to matter more than anyone ever expected. That’s likely tied to this topic of diversity.
What makes beer so unique is ownership seems so important to a large percentage of beer lovers. Wrapped up in some of this is the diversity piece, the localization piece, the U.S.-owned piece, the gender piece, the neighbor-down-the-street-who-owns-a-brewery piece. It’s all part of the topic.
There’s a lot to be pursued, discussed and thought about. These are big, lofty topics and it’s a privilege to dive into them this way, but I don’t think there’s an overnight type of solution.
What is ‘diversity’ in a fair world? I don’t know that answer, but I think beer can do better.
So what happens now?
The bottom line is we are a very organic organization at the Association, but we’re membership driven. Our strategic objectives are from our Board of Directors and the membership. It was fantastic to write this and hear from the Board of Directors that they applaud it. The bigger picture direction is Board driven.
The plan will start with getting a pulse of who’s in the community. Not just production of barrelage, but physically who’s in the community. We do get a lot of calls about male and female numbers in the industry, but we do not survey for gender.
So many conversations about race and gender are taking place online and in social media. Beer can be such a grassroots industry. If someone wants to share an experience or concerns over something, what do they do?
I don’t feel like I have the Earth-changing answer. People can share the post and further the conversation so we can dive deeper and have it be more top of mind and start to get a read on people’s responses. What we’re doing in 2017 is getting a handle on where we stand and that’s a first step. A step further than we’ve walked before.
This conversation will evolve. I hope the sentiment rings true: that we can always do better in beer. The Association is here to advance the beverage and the members we represent.
Related: Commentary on the topic, “Seeking Action”
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac
Header photo via Great American Beer Festival website.