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CBC 2019: Diversity and Inclusion Discussions Take Center Stage

“Is it harder to talk to brown people than it is to put your entire financial livelihood on the line?” Brewers Association (BA) diversity ambassador Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham asked a crowd of hundreds of beer industry professionals during Brewbound’s first Brew Talks meet-up of 2019.

The response: applause and laughter that acknowledged the irony.

During the panel discussion on diversity and inclusion, Jackson-Beckham argued that reaching out to customers beyond “white dudes with beards” — as she famously said last year — is no more risky than mortgaging financial futures and potentially jeopardizing marriages to start breweries.

Founders Brewing Company diversity and inclusion director Graci Harkema added that brewery owners need to “get over” those fears and stop being complacent.

“You don’t have anything to lose,” she said.

Jackson-Beckham said the craft brewing industry needs to “shift postures” and reach out to new communities.

“It’s about becoming more active and less passive,” she said, adding that brewery owners should attend neighborhood association meetings and educational forums to get to know the people in the community and build authentic relationships rather than leaping in head first.

Improving diversity and inclusion within the craft brewing industry was a recurring theme throughout last week’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in Denver. During both general session discussions, BA leaders used the main stage to encourage brewers to be more welcoming to underserved populations. Left Hand Brewing co-founder and BA executive committee chairman Eric Wallace said “beer should be a great uniter.”

“All colors, creeds, genders and political leanings are welcome,” he said.

BA craft beer program director Julia Herz added that breweries need to “deliberately welcome” a more diverse customer base, while senior vice president of the professional brewing division Paul Gatza asked brewers to ensure they’re creating “emotionally safe workplaces” free of harassment and discrimination.

During the Brew Talks meet-up, Bow and Arrow Brewing founder and CEO Shyla Sheppard shared her own experience of being threatened by a bar owner who demanded she flirt with him. She stressed the importance of creating well-crafted and enforced policies for workspaces to ensure the safety of staff and patrons. She also encouraged brewery owners to empower their staff members to enforce those policies.

Beyond the Brew Talks discussions and the comments from the CBC main stage, Jackson-Beckham moderated a series of panel discussions on diversity. On CBC’s final day, she again broached the fear of crossing cultural boundaries during a panel discussion titled “From Sneaker Shops to Yarn Swaps: Making Community Partnerships to Cultivate Diversity.”

Mike Potter, founder and CEO of Black Brew Culture, said brewery owners need to be “a little more courageous and go for it.”

“We’re people too,” he said.

Beer Kulture director of outreach Toni Boyce added that the “change can’t from inside your taproom.”

“If you want to see more of us, we need to see more of you,” she said.

When breweries do reach out, Rebecca Sandidge, founder of homebrewing club Queers Makin’ Beers, said it’s “critical” that they understand those communities’ points of view, values, terminology and politics as well as the discriminatory and financial barriers those communities face.

“You can be as understanding, and as woke, and as cool as you possibly can as someone who is straight or white, but it’s not just the same as seeing someone who looks like you,” she said.

Agustin Ruelas, co-founder of the SoCal Cerveceros Latino-based homebrew club and Brewjeria Company, shared a positive example of a brewery reaching out when hiring a new brewer. He said San Diego’s Border X Brewing sought out the homebrew club’s assistance and hired one of its members, Lewis Martinez, for a position at its Bell, California-based outpost.

Beer Diversity owner Ren Navarro added that it’s important to acknowledge breweries that do create a welcoming environment and encouraged people to share their experiences on social media to get those stories to “catch fire.”

Nevertheless, for those companies that do make missteps, Boyce said “restitution” needs to be made, especially if a person is harmed.

“You need to go and make it right with that person,” she said.

Potter added that “the first steps to healing” are “acknowledgment and apologies.”

Brewbound’s Brew Talks panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the beer industry will be released as a podcast on Thursday, April 25.

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