Widening the Welcome

In a predominantly white and male industry, there are still some clear, common-sense avenues for getting more people—and more kinds of people—to apply for jobs and give your taproom a try.

Kate Bernot May 21, 2020 - 11 min read

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Last year, the Brewers Association completed its first benchmarking survey on the diversity of owners and employees in the craft-beer industry. The numbers were not surprising: “Brewery employees are disproportionately white relative to both the general U.S. population and where breweries are located.” Only 11.6 percent of brewery owners and 11 percent of brewers identified as a racial category other than white.

Just 7.5 percent of brewers identified as female, although the survey found the ratio of males to females was roughly equal among brewery service staff. (A fraction of a percent of staff identified their gender as “other” or “non-binary.”) Summarizing the results of this benchmarking survey, BA Craft Beer Program Director Julia Herz writes, “There is work to be done, and we as a craft-beer community can do better.”

The BA has put resources behind diversity and inclusion efforts, including a Diversity Events Grant Program. It published a five-part series on diversity best practices, and it instituted a code of conduct for large events such as Great American Beer Festival. Other groups—such as the organizers of Pittsburgh-based Fresh Fest, the nation’s first festival of black-owned breweries—have helped to keep diversity and inclusion top of mind for brewers.

Yet perhaps nothing did more than Founders Brewing’s public and protracted racial-discrimination lawsuit—followed by the resignation of the brewery’s diversity and inclusion director, Graci Harkema—to convince breweries that attracting and supporting diverse employees and customers must be a real priority.

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Small breweries may find it a challenge, though, to take pragmatic steps in hiring and retaining racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ individuals. But turning intention into action isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s a business necessity.

“Especially at this time in the beer industry, in order to continue to generate sales, we can’t continue to focus on one type of person,” says Harkema, who since leaving Founders now runs the diversity and inclusion consultancy Graci LLC.

The good news is that there are resources for brewers looking for assistance, as well as case studies that suggest successful ways forward.

Casting a Wider Net

In August 2019, Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewing held its first Tapping Opportunity, an “inclusive job fair and networking event” that brought together about 100 job seekers and four area breweries. The job fair, backed by a Brewers Association grant, aimed to expand the pool of applicants that breweries normally see, while educating the public about the variety of jobs available at local breweries.

“We tried to showcase that there’s more to this industry than just pouring beer and making beer,” says Marissa DeSantis, brand-marketing supervisor for Great Lakes, citing roles in accounting and supply-chain management as examples. “There is such a wide variety of jobs available, and that requires a wide variety of backgrounds and people and experiences.”

Brewery job postings tend to attract people already familiar with the industry, so DeSantis and Becca Ritterspach, Great Lakes’ talent acquisition and development specialist, promoted the event through other forums, such as local service centers and neighborhood social-media groups. Ritterspach says the event was a success, not just because it brought diverse applicants to the fair, but also because those applicants shared with breweries some of the obstacles and barriers they face in terms of employment in the brewing industry.

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“You hear a lot that breweries would love to hire more women, say, but they’re not applying. The fair was our way of asking, ‘Why aren’t they applying?’” Ritterspach says.

Once candidates are hired, it’s also Great Lakes’ goal to retain their talents by creating an environment that supports employees’ specific needs. To that end, the brewery has prioritized diversity, inclusion, and cultural sensitivity in its frontline manager leadership and development training program.

“It’s not enough to promote diversity here, but we need to make sure our leaders are supported in creating an environment that respects that talent and keeps it here,” Ritterspach says.

Removing Biases from the Hiring Process

The cofounders of Redemption Rock Brewing in Worcester, Massachusetts, knew from the day they opened their brewery in January 2019 that it would strive to be a “mission-driven” brewery. The team, led by CEO Dani Babineau, began brainstorming ways it could fulfill its social and environmental obligations as a certified B Corporation.

“Being brand-new and small, we looked at the aspects that would be easier things for us to tackle,” Babineau says. “We’re not in a LEED-certified building; we’re not Patagonia; we’re not New Belgium. But for us, governance and diversity and inclusion and how we treat employees were things we could do with very little money, and just putting time into it.”

One opportunity came as Redemption Rock began hiring its taproom staff. The team decided that in an effort to remove biases from the process, it would use a model known as “blind hiring,” in which screeners or management identify applicants only with numbers rather than names or other demographically identifying information.

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To adapt this strategy to its own purposes, the brewery randomly assigned each of the 28 applications an ID number. It then conducted second-round interviews via Skype chat, so that brewery staff were unable to hear the job seekers’ voices or see their faces. Finally, the brewery narrowed its pool down to nine applicants who were invited for in-person interviews and graded with a scoresheet. Although the initial pool of 28 applicants was split evenly between men and women, all nine of the final candidates were women.

Babineau says the brewery was careful in the way it worded the job descriptions and the questions on the application. The posting didn’t ask for a resume; instead, the questions focused on character traits, life experiences, and the types of tasks the applicant enjoys. The posting also deliberately omitted qualifications but described the tasks involved in each job.

“We describe the job and try to get people to self-select into that position,” Babineau says. “We try to reframe the idea of who’s qualified. If a brewery is hiring for an entry-level brewery position, think about how much experience that person really needs. Do they need to have a college degree or have worked in a brewery for 10 years to be a glorified janitor?”

Breweries tend to prioritize experience, Babineau says, but she’s found that any new staff—experienced or not—require training on the brewery’s processes, equipment, and brand. Sometimes it can be more work to teach a new hire to “unlearn” past knowledge. Redemption Rock trains its taproom staff on beer and brewing, so that skill set isn’t expected on Day One, and Babineau says that the learning process can actually help staff better relate to customers who might be new to craft beer.

Redemption Rock’s leadership found value in the blind-hiring process, even if it required more logistical effort than traditional interviews. They used that method again recently for a new round of hiring; because some of the applicants were taproom regulars, concealing their identities in early rounds removed some of the pressure to hire a familiar face. They’re still working out certain kinks: How, for example, do you determine whether a candidate’s grammar or spelling errors are the result of carelessness or a result of learning English as a second language?

“It’s definitely more work having to put more thought into it, but I think we got better employees because of it,” Babineau says.

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Inclusion

There are obvious connections between the people whom breweries hire and whom they attract as customers. It’s not a one-way street, either. There is good news for the leaders of small breweries who doubt they have the bandwidth for formal diversity and inclusion programs: They can ask for help.

“One of the easiest ways for a small brewery to be more equitable is to partner with local community groups, especially those that focus on underrepresented demographics,” Harkema says. “Whether through volunteer opportunities, sponsorships, or events, you’re naturally building a pipeline based on a relationship that’s real, rather than just trying to poach a woman or person of color from another brewery.”

She suggests starting with chambers of commerce (including specifically black and Latin American chambers), economic development groups, and LGBTQ resource centers. If your brewery has staff from minority backgrounds, ask them what types of events or partnerships they’d like to see and what organizations are on their radars. That has the dual function of connecting your brewery with underrepresented communities and demonstrating to staff that their talents and perspectives are valued.

If nothing else, Harkema says, a brewery should at least make clear that it is a safe and welcoming place for all people.

“Have menus available in Spanish or have staff who are bilingual,” she says. “Something as small as having gender-neutral bathrooms can be so important. In the Denver area, I’ve seen breweries do something as simple as putting a little sticker on their doors that says, ‘You are safe here.’

“Demonstrating your brewery is a safe and equitable space—not just from an employment standpoint but from a consumer standpoint—is where it starts.”

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