Can Racial Reform Help the #MeToo Movement Reach Craft Beer?

So often we read about the stereotypical brewer dude—the white, bearded one with the tats, whose assumed cis/hetero status we take for granted. We trot him out to acknowledge that not enough women, people of color, or those who identify as gay or nonbinary work in the industry. It’s a tired trope, sure. But how often do we actually dissect what it means for underrepresented brewery employees and beer drinkers?

For Natalie Phillips, it means her former boss, who owned Ohio’s now-closed Actual Brewing Co. got away with raping her in his taproom, she says. It means that practically no one at the brewery supported her when she reported it, and it means that she quit and left brewing because the company’s board couldn’t figure out what to do so for too long it did nothing. 

The accused man has denied the charges.

I profiled Phillips in a Forbes story we hoped would initiate a cryingly overdue dialogue about the clueless, ghoulish, or worse encounters women in the beer industry repeatedly suffer at the hands and mouths of colleagues, managers, distributor reps, account owners, and regular customers. But my March 6, 2020 article lamenting craft brewing’s lack of a #MeToo moment suffered from unfortunate timing. COVID-19 hit America’s collective reality that week, followed by the protests against police brutality and the ensuing global movement for racial justice in late May.

Frankly, I’m disappointed by the missed opportunity for a #MeToo reckoning, but I feel tentatively optimistic as I applaud the work that’s started around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Not only is racial and ethnic DEI critical to the functioning of a healthy society, I humbly hope a rising tide for Black and brown people might raise all women’s ships along with it.

I embrace that possibility because DEI education doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The work of inclusion is designed to include everybody.

“If you are making a move that results in an organizational culture where people develop a sense of belonging and empowerment, by virtue you will be respecting people’s humanity and dignity,” says J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, the Brewers Association diversity ambassador and founder of Crafted For All, a consulting agency and DEI educational resource center. “It’s impossible to treat someone equitably and also make them a victim of sexual violence.”

Jackson-Beckham numbers among the DEI specialists that breweries and allied organizations are looking to for help in auditing their business practices in an effort to seek out differing perspectives and approaches to making everyone—on all sides of the brewhouse—feel valued. While DEI experts don’t replace a human relations department, they ideally build on its goals, signaling that a company is trying to offer or enhance a channel for employees to pursue accountability for others’ misdeeds. Using this “gut-check time,” as Jackson-Beckham calls it, to incorporate or boost such a structure could make a fundamental difference to everyone’s security and comfort, including women.

Noting that Actual, like so many other craft beer businesses, had no official mechanism for reporting her rape, Phillips feels it’s crucial to have a safe place to go where an empowered employee is protecting and fighting for those with any type of workplace concern.

“I think we would have a lot more people coming forward [with grievances],” she says, “because they wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and alone.”    

Tara Nurin is the beer and spirits contributor to Forbes and a freelance journalist for myriad publications. The volunteer archivist for the Pink Boots Society, she is writing a book on the history of women in beer for release in the fall 2021.

Author: Tara Nurin

Freelance journalist, craft beer columnist, writer of all things food/drink/destination. Founder of Beer for Babes, New Jersey's only women-in-beer group.

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