Brewers association

Embracing diversity in the beer industry

The issue of diversity in beer comes up time and time again. Admittedly, this is not an easy subject to broach, both factually and emotionally. With the groups under the diversity umbrella representing multiple factions, including ethnicity, gender, and even religion, things aren’t neat or easy to tackle.

Also, there is no comprehensive dataset to give us a proper picture of where the challenges lie. Sometimes the media asks questions related to the beer community and who actually works in beer. Other times the questions focus on the beer lover and who they are. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how many of our stakeholders or beer lovers are male or female, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, LGBTQ+, millennials or baby boomers. Anyway, I repeated over and over again in the file: “Beer has no gender or ethnicity.” But a sound bite cannot turn the tide. Or can he?

Part of the definition of diversity is “variety”. Craft brewers have mastered the variety of brand offerings, crafted beer styles, brewhouses, brewpub menus, beer labels, and more. However, especially lately, I’ve found myself fumbling through cringe-worthy diversity-themed interviews that have left me lacking the confidence to speak on the subject.

It is right to want beer to represent our diverse population equally. We need to do a better job of attracting a diverse group of consumers, community workers and owners. Still.

Diversity among craft brewers

The 2016 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award in the Wines, Spirits and Other Beverages category went to Dave Infante for his Thrillist article, “There Are Almost No Black People Brewing Craft Beer.” Here’s why.” One of Infante’s main takeaways was “…craft beer is white because the entire American beer industry has always been white.” He also wrote, ” Although craft beer is not the source of the problem, I think it could be a small part of the solution.” Yes!

Indeed, when I look around me Craft Brewers Conference (13,000 people in 2016), the majority of faces looking at me are white and male. Yet during the years of the World Beer Cup (which we hold every two years), I see a more diverse group at seminars and trade shows. Attendance at the Craft Brewers Conference does not accurately represent a cross-section of all craft beer employees. With over 120,000 full-time and part-time jobs tied to the craft brewing community, factor in the 1,700 breweries and you get a whole different bunch. In 2015, 78.5% of adults of legal drinking age lived within 10 miles of a brewery. These adults, of mixed race and gender, are the ones recruited for brewery and brewery jobs, right? What is stopping this same group from becoming the future leaders of the beer industry?

In 2014, a team of Stanford researchers surveyed over 2,500 breweries and found that 21% had at least one woman in a senior position, including CEO, head brewer and brewmaster. Compared to similar industries, this number is actually relatively high.

Using data from the Center for American Progress on the Women’s Leadership Gap, here’s how the craft brewing industry compares to other industries based on Stanford data:


Diversity in beer advertising

Beer advertising has a checkered past. Remnants of outdated and inappropriate advertisements are rife across the internet and in many basements of bars and beer halls. Their presence still hovers, casting a shadow over the image and message of modern brewing.

If you look at beer advertising today, most of it is much more culturally and gender inclusive. This is the right direction to take if we want to expand our customer base and our job base. From a personal point of view, I often say that what feels good tastes even better; but sadly, even today, I see elements of beer that just don’t sit well with me. These elements attract media attention through shame and sensationalism. Even a sexist beer label, logo or advertisement dilutes the integrity of our beloved beverage.

Most in the beer community would agree that beer is all about being social and connecting people, and alienating half of your potential customers is shortsighted. Prior to the 1990s, which saw the rise of the internet and the popularity of microbrewed beer, advertising based on sexism was prevalent.

However, with the viral voices of today’s social media channels, I also see checks and balances at play. Voice consumers are forcing many brands in many industries to develop consciousness. Integrity is the metaphorical stick for the average craft brewer and beer lover.


What we know

  • There are conversations about race, ethnicity and gender taking place across the country. This topic also applies to our beer community.
  • On the other hand, the diversity discussion is not limited to beer.
  • Beer should be race and gender neutral, but we understand the realities of the current industry landscape.
  • The challenges of our culture are related to socio-economic factors. This also spills over into beer.

What we want to know

  • The data shows us trends for craft beer enthusiasts, but does not show us trends for brewery employees. We want to solve this problem.
  • Do you see a distinct lack of diversity (both in terms of gender and race) in your dining rooms and among your job applicants?
  • Is diversity something you expect from your professional association and dedicate resources to it?
  • As a business association, what could we do to help you better equip yourself to continue to diversify your community?

What we plan to do

  • Promote diversity discussions in the craft brewing community. We heard loud and clear from our members and the brewing community on this topic.
  • Begin quantitative survey work on diversity within the brewers association. The information can be used as a baseline to identify future success or lack thereof for inclusive efforts across the craft community.
  • Watch what other associations are doing with our membership in the American Society of Association Executives.
  • Engage in regular discussions with our creative team when it comes to showcasing images of various brewery staff and beer enthusiasts.
  • Continue to work with onsite and offsite data companies to quantify the craft beer market with respect to women, people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, income groups, and technology usage.
  • Operate with the belief that there has been a significant increase in the number of women starting, owning and working in breweries and enjoying craft beer with continued opportunities to come. Additionally, we will reinforce our belief that there is a significant opportunity to make progress with entrepreneurs, employees and customers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, who can, through the strength of their diversity, benefit the community of craft brewers for decades to come.

As Simon Sinek, keynote speaker at the 2015 Craft Brewers conference, shared, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. We in beer would be naive to think it’s just what’s in the glass. What many think they buy from breweries is not just the drink itself, but who the producer is and what the brewery is all about.

So let’s admit as a community that we don’t have everything right. It’s good to want to know where we can improve, and it can help us on a more inclusive path. Let’s not be defensive. Let’s just be open to forging a more diverse pathway that prioritizes inclusive brand advertising and continued avenues for the most qualified (regardless of race or gender). By doing so, we can organically staff the positions that continue to drive the great beverage of beer forward.

A version of this article originally appeared in the November/December issue of The New Brewer—a bimonthly journal published by the Brewers Association.