Good Beer Hunting

Brewers Association Report Shows Lack of Diversity in Hires, Offers Path Forward


After a year and a half of planning and polling, the Brewers Association (BA) announced its first-ever Brewery Operations Benchmarking Survey, which measures diversity in gender, race, and ethnicity across ownership and staffing of member businesses. 

Given the historical predominance of white men as both consumers and employees within the BA-defined "craft" segment of beer, the trade organization was upfront that "anyone scanning it will conclude there is work to be done, and we as a craft beer community can do better." In some instances, the lack of parity is stark: ownership among non-white entrepreneurs was listed at 9.6% compared to a national average of 29%, as measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to the BA survey, 88.4% of owners were white (about 2% didn’t answer the question).

“I don’t think there was any question we were going to do this survey and find something different than this industry is dominated by white males,” says Kevin Blodger, co-founder and head brewer at Baltimore's Union Craft Brewing, as well as an at-large representative on the BA’s Board of Directors and chair of the BA’s Diversity Committee. “But at the same time, there’s also something to be hopeful about.”

The apples-to-apples comparison of the BA’s numbers and stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers a mixed bag, but Blodger’s optimism isn’t off-base. For example, the BLS maintains a "bartender" category among its data set, while the BA has a "service staff" categorization, which includes managers and non-managers. When lining the two up alongside each other, employee demographics don't look terribly different.

Click to enlarge

The BLS’ closest comparison for those involved in brewing is “beverage manufacturing” staff, classified across all categories as “(1) those that manufacture nonalcoholic beverages; (2) those that manufacture alcoholic beverages through the fermentation process; and (3) those that produce distilled alcoholic beverages.” Makeup of the BA’s “production staff” (brewers, non-brewers, managers, non-managers) showed significant differences, especially in race and ethnicity. 

Click to enlarge

While it’s an entirely different story from serving to production staff, the cross-section of these two roles really matters. Blodger notes that, for many people trying to get into the beer industry, starting out behind the bar or as a server is the pivotal first step. So while those who are making beer are still mostly white and male, the potential to change that is high.

“Now that the industry is paying more attention to this, I think how we talk and support these changes is only going to continue to grow,” Blodger says.

And that could be particularly important, as the imbalances seen among production staff (or brewery owners) are emphasized by how homogenous a typical entry point for the profession has become: homebrewing. The Brewers Association's partner organization, the American Homebrewers Association, has historically tracked age and gender, but not race and ethnicity. The closest potential quantitative result for this comes from prominent home brewing site Brulosophy, which found in a 2018 survey that 98% of respondents identified as male and 94% as white or Caucasian.

Now that there are numbers from BA members to guide next steps, the organization is ready to get proactive. Blodger says the committee is preparing a pilot mentorship program set to launch in late 2019 or early 2020 that will partner aspiring industry pros with experienced taproom staff to help bring women and people of color into the industry. Final details are being worked out, but Blodger says it’ll initially take place in Boulder, Colorado (the location of the Brewers Association’s HQ) and invite participants to complete an application process to be set up with a mentor.

This program will supplement the BA’s work from the past two years, which includes a host of initiatives to support inclusivity and equity, from a series of best practices resources to a Diversity Event Grant Program and a new code of conduct for official BA events.

While these kinds of steps are a help, the overall disparities in staff demographics are not lost on the BA. In a blog post reflecting on the results, BA program director Julia Herz notes that the ongoing work around diversity and inclusion "is not about optics or grandstanding" and these findings should create "meaningful action" among members. 

Further research and results should improve from here on out, says J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, an assistant professor of communication studies at Randolph College and Brewers Association Diversity Ambassador. As a benchmarking survey, she says, this sets a tone that could encourage more people to participate in future versions, but also take action that will lead to progress.

“No single study or research methodology is ever going to tell the complete story of anything, particularly when it comes to complex human beings,” she says.

Having these numbers available for the first time means that the conversations she has with businesses and trade groups around the country suddenly change. For example, along with tailored demographic information for a city or market based on U.S. Census data and drinker surveys, she can now add a third piece of info: how a company's staffing reflects the people around them. That new layer of information offers a way to talk about how a brewery can more holistically think about its people.

"It allows us to have these conversations in more precise ways," she says. "As someone who's attempting to do that, I'm really excited to be able to deliver these numbers because there is inherent value in being able to stop talking anecdotally and start talking in concrete terms."

This perspective—and that clearly shared by the BA—adds pragmatism to the complex topic of hiring and inclusion that many agree on: change needs to happen, and it’s time for breweries to help lead the way. 

“We know that we’re not going to look like what most of us want this community to look like, but we’re extraordinarily invested in change,” Jackson-Beckham says. “By acknowledging that’s true, and if we want it to be different at any time in the near-to-distant future, we just have to step up.”

Words by Bryan Roth