Why the beer industry needs to opt into DEI now
Diversity is, apparently, going out of fashion. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine ‘people are sick of talking about diversity, equity and inclusion’. Yes, that’s right – equality is so over. The concept that all human beings all in fact merit the same worth should be treated as such and have the same rights has gone the way of batwing sleeves and clutch purses. Inclusion, it seems, is so last season. A mere two minutes of watching the news or reading the paper quickly cements this rather grotesque sentiment. In a matter of days, we have seen three black people murdered in the US for nothing more than the colour of their skin, and it has taken nothing short of mass protest for any kind of remotely meaningful action to be taken against the perpetrators. We can ask why, why now? We can blame the angst and frustration wrought by the pandemic. We can pretend that this is just a bad time to be black, or to be female, or gay, or trans, or disabled, as every minority watches their rights and representation come under fire from one state or another under the guise of tackling the pandemic. We can make empty noises about dealing with all this ‘when things are better’. But the reality is that the question is that the pandemic did not create the ability for this to happen. The question we need to ask is how? How are people allowed to target minorities in this way so flagrantly in our society and quite simply get away with it? How is it that they even think this is something they can do without repercussion or censure? The why is right there is Forbes magazine – we live in a world where both businesses and individuals see diversity as a fad, an optional extra, something they might get around to later, maybe.
For George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there is no later. Someone, somewhere made a decision to put off tacking the difficult, awkward, gnarly, uncomfortable world of unconscious bias and open prejudice. Real, meaningful action came too late to save these lives, the lives of actual people who actually died because these issues were not addressed in the homes and workplaces of their killers. ‘Diversity resistance’ – a conscious and deliberate push-back against positive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training, is on the rise. Worse than losing interest, people have decided that diversity training is just not important and that it isn’t a legitimate use of resources, especially when so many businesses are so stretched in the current climate. DEI training is increasing becoming a band-aid slapped on in a haphazard fashion as a post-crisis PR exercise, relegating it to the status of an empty gesture that’s destined to fail: too little too late. In the beer industry Founders is, of course, the obvious case in point.
But what does all this have to do with beer? No one is dying in the beer industry. It’s not our fault that ignorant, brutal police officers and other individuals are committing racially motivated murder. What possible relation could this have to our own lack of diversity and inbuilt reluctance to do anything about it? Everything. Absolutely everything.
Whether you work in the beer industry or are a regular beer consumer, this is your landscape, your everyday, your home-from-home. This is the world that you inhabit, the world you see as normal, and if that world is not reflective of the wider world at large it becomes easy to forget that other people, different people, exist. If they cease to exist through their absence, then their concerns, needs and ultimately their voices disappear from that landscape and unconscious bias self-perpetuates in their absence. Without visible representation there can be no equality. Without sports stars, singers, TV presenters, doctors, lawyers, astronauts from different backgrounds out there in the world where they can be seen and heard, any workplace, any environment becomes de facto segregated. We are lucky in the beer industry to have many powerful, vocal diversity advocates who have created positive initiatives and aren’t afraid to speak out in the media, but we cannot lean on them as our conscience, applauding their work while doing nothing to actually support it. Representation is essential for any kind of meaningful equality, and that’s as true in the brewery, in the taproom, as anywhere else. And it can’t wait til tomorrow. Or next week or next month or next year.
It is not a side issue, a superfluous add-on, the ketchup on the fries. It is at the heart of everything we do and who we are and who we want to be, and progressive processes to ensure equal representation across our staff and consumer bases need to be built into our business models with the same care and dedication that we address the assembly of our kit or the temperature of our mash. Because our breweries are our homes, and equality begins at home. It’s about more than the ‘pink pound’ or the ‘brown dollar’ (and don’t even get me started on how wrong those terms are). Yes, reaching out to diverse demographics is good for business, but this is about who we want to be, what we want to stand for. If we want to be part of the solution or part of the problem. Whether we want those ignorant bigoted cops to come into our brewery, our space, our home and enter an environment that enables their prejudices or one that challenges them. Whether, ultimately, we really believe that all humans are created equal, or whether as an industry and as individuals, we are just paying lip service to diversity when it’s on-trend, and we’re happy to let it quietly fall by the wayside when the conversation moves on to something else. Do we really believe in this or is it just about keeping up appearances? It’s good, it’s right to be shocked and horrified by the appalling ways in which people are dying right now as a direct result of unchallenged prejudice, but are we willing to actually do our part to counter those beliefs on our own doorstep?
These are awkward conversations. These are uncomfortable actions. This isn’t easy, but neither is being part of a minority. We don’t actually enjoy banging on about our rights the whole time y’know. We don’t want to be the PC party poopers constantly challenging your use of pronouns, upbraiding you for your thoughtlessly inappropriate humour. We didn’t ask for this role in life, trust me we would much rather be, well, just like you, the default, the ‘normal’ around which everyone and everything else is benchmarked. But we don’t get that choice. If we become complacent, take our eye off the ball, people die.
This is not an over-reaction. How you run your business, how you talk to your friends, the assumptions you make when you meet a stranger correlate directly to the levels of violence against minorities that is allowed to take place in our society. Moss grows fat on a rolling stone. Yes, the ultimate responsibility lies with our leaders but in the so-called democracy it’s us that (in theory) put them there – they represent our beliefs, our values and our biases. If you’re not consciously pushing for equality you are promoting inequality – doing nothing is de facto acceptance. Don’t wait til the economy is better, til you’re less busy, til you’re firefighting a crisis on your own turf. What we do in the beer world goes out into the rest of the world. Our spaces should be safe spaces, welcoming spaces for everyone, and now is the time to make positive changes, to show that you are an ally and to be part of the solution.
May 30th 2020