Diversity in craft beer has been a long-standing discussion among industry professionals and consumers alike. As with most loaded topics, it has prompted many to share starkly different perspectives on everything from its importance and approaches to its manifestation. Though
diversity and inclusion in craft beer employment have been the epicenter of nuclear debates, one piece of the puzzle has been missing – the data. Recently, that has changed. The Brewer’s Association conducted a survey to benchmark the demographics of employees and owners in the industry.
The data supports the anecdotal claims that the craft beer industry is predominately white,
with very few who identify as Black or African American. The highest percentages of Black
employees were in the areas of non-brewing production staff and non-managing service staff. Though the values show underrepresentation of Black people in the industry, no one seems surprised. Robyn G. Williams, a Black craft beer employee in New York City stated her reaction to the data, “Initially, I thought, ‘that’s really terrible,’ but [the numbers] pretty much reflect what you see.” Phillip Owens of Bauhaus Brew Labs in Minneapolis, MN wasn’t shocked by the data either, “I’m not surprised. Everywhere I’ve worked [in the brewing industry], I was always the only Black guy.”
Among the most glaring of the data points reported was the lack of Black employees in
management positions. White employees make up at least 80% of management in all reported categories, while Black employees represent less than 2% of management in each category. White employees also comprised a greater percentage of management than non-management in two of the three categories. Owens partially attributes the underrepresentation of Black people in brewery staffs to this disparity, which illustrates a lack of Black people in leadership – an area dominated by whites in the industry. “[Managers] are quick to hire an all-white staff. They don’t see it as a problem,” he says. “If there were more Black people in leadership positions, there would probably be more Black hires.” He also mentioned that Black managers he’s encountered haven’t been given the leeway to make a meaningful impact when it comes to hiring a more diverse workforce. Williams echoed Owens’ sentiments, “You’re always gonna hire someone who looks like you. Everything is just based on who you know. Breweries are opening in dense urban spaces and not hiring people from the community. They’re not hiring people who live there locally.”
Research shows that racial similarity biases are common in hiring practices and vary based on
interview structure and the level of racial homogeneity in interview panels. With craft brewing being less formal compared to other industries and overwhelmingly white, interviews are likely less formal and conducted by white managers, resulting in the hiring of more white employees.
Other noted barriers to entry for Black employees were lack of exposure and awareness of
opportunities in craft brewing. When asked about barriers to entry other than hiring practices, Williams responded, “Not knowing that breweries are spaces that regular people can work at.” Williams cited her own experience attending culinary school as formal education for working in the hospitality industry and mentioned that she and others were of the impression that formal training was required to gain entry-level employment in brewing. Owens also noted that Black people “don’t see craft beer as an option” when it comes to employment. “It’s not the highest thing on this list for us to be doing when you’re worried about getting pulled over and profiled just getting [to work],” he states, as it relates to the context of the day-to-day struggles Black people face.
In discussing where the onus lies for increasing Black representation, both Owens and Williams indicated that the responsibility should be shared between Black folks looking to get into the industry and breweries themselves. Both mentioned that active recruiting of Black candidates as an approach breweries could take to increase representation. “It would be really dope if there were brewery job fairs in dense areas,” says Williams. Offering entry level positions other than serving was another suggested approach. Although Owens believes that entering the industry through jobs in the taproom can be viable for those with retail and hospitality experience, he also acknowledged that it’s not the best fit for everyone. “Some people don’t want to be talking to people all the time,” he says, as he suggested programs to introduce Black people to brewing. Although Williams has a strong sales and hospitality background, she also asserted that breweries have positions better suited for those with other things to offer. She cited the plethora of manual labor required in the business that might be translatable for people without education or service experience. “If I can carry around heavy trays of dishes bussing tables, I can lift malt bags,” she says.
When asked what Black people looking to enter the industry can do to better their chances,
Williams points to learning all you can about beer as a strategy. “Make yourself as marketable as you can. Don’t wait on anyone to give you that knowledge,” she says. “Don’t get pigeon-holed.” Owens says to express a passion for beer, “Just show up and express your interest. Create the opportunity.”
One point many people agree on is that there is much work to be done if the industry is going to reflect more representation for Black folks, who according to the survey, are the among least represented in the industry. It is imperative that Black perspectives are considered by industry leaders if they are truly to understand the barriers of entry Black job seekers face. Preparation is vital prior to entry into any industry, but its value decreases exponentially when inclusion isn’t deliberate. How can Black people be expected to spend inordinate amounts of time and money preparing for opportunities that the industry has no intentions of extending to us? Educational and training programs are only as useful as the opportunities that follow, and the data paints a grim picture – even for those of us already in the industry who may be looking for advancement or community. I think Phillip speaks for many of us when he says, “I don’t want to be the only Black person in the taproom anymore.”