Expert Topic Maintaining DEI Programs at Your Brewery

Photo © Brewers Association.

Building something takes time. Maintaining it takes effort. The past five years in the craft beer industry have been tumultuous, filled with constant challenges. Some have been unexpected, others long in the making. In response to societal changes and demands, the craft beer industry finally took a long overdue look at its hiring, consumer, and business practices and appeared to decide to take action. But as with many cultural movements inspired by current events and popular demands, sustaining that momentum into the future and to a point of real, consequential change requires attention and dedication.

For decades, the craft beer industry called itself an open tent but it was one filled with largely the same people. Sparked by numerous events at breweries around the country, craft breweries actively sought to diversify their membership and to be more inclusive to the larger public. They watched industry leading breweries such as Founders Brewing called to account for alleged racist and discriminatory work practices. And then watched as the brewery attempted to account for its actions and take remediative steps, including hiring a full-time director of diversity and inclusion.

Eleven months later, that director, Graci Harkema, publicly resigned from the company and in a social media post, explained why. She criticized Founders for a variety of reasons, including that management failed to listen to her advice, for failing to take proper steps in the wake of a discrimination lawsuit, and not following proper DEI principles it espoused. “Your actions have explicitly shown you are more interested in the optics of my face than the impact of my voice,” Harkema wrote in her resignation letter. “I have dedicated myself to a life and career of equity, ethics, integrity, and morals. I cannot represent a company who doesn’t stand for the same.”

Even the industry’s efforts towards educating the wider craft beer industry on the importance of DEI have not been without controversy. At this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, many attendees criticized one particular seminar that promoted the idea of privilege as a “leadership superpower,” run by a white woman. Many other voices challenged the Brewers Association’s (BA) decision, made several years ago, to hold the conference in Tennessee, a state with a history of adopting anti-gay, anti-trans, and other discriminatory legislation. Another invited presenter left the conference early for personal safety fears and over the BA’s handling of the issue.

Starting a DEI program is a first step, maintaining and growing it requires renewed effort. Let’s explore how your brewery can help build its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Dedication To DEI Efforts Requires Effort

Many breweries get criticized for only publicly supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts when they are calendar events, such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month or during Black History Month. Diversity efforts need to be continually engaged and reevaluated throughout the year. Highlighting and extending efforts during select months can be part of programming, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus of your efforts. To fully embrace DEI efforts, they need to be integrated into the company’s DNA, with senior leadership focused on the stated goals and modeling proper behavior for employees and customers.

The Top Down Approach

A common criticism of DEI efforts in any industry, but certainly within craft beer, is that staff often publicly and openly support such efforts but management and ownership fail to prioritize them. At any company, if the leadership doesn’t prioritize a goal, employees often fail to value it. Brewery leaders need to regularly communicate with their teams about the status of efforts to achieve the company’s DEI goals and efforts and make themselves open to hearing criticism and suggestions for improvement. To the extent your efforts aren’t achieving the desired effects or can be improved, leaders should listen to their team members and work to address concerns.

Keeping Track Of Progress

It has been easy in recent years to publicly launch a DEI initiative, keeping the momentum going is the challenging part. In order to keep the company and its leadership accountable, and to make sure the press release isn’t the last step taken, breweries need to have a completed action plan, including clear and trackable metrics for determining the success of its efforts. Setting goalposts and guardrails

The 2022 CBC in Minneapolis hosted the THRIVE Workshop, a daylong conference within the conference dedicated to DEI , human resources, and wellness topics for brewers, and sponsored by ProBrewer. The presenters at the conference, including J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, an Equity and Inclusion Partner with the BA, helped breweries create an equity scorecard to track their progress. She and others recommended the goals be “aspirational but achievable” and that they describe the state “when DEI work is fully realized.” They also advised leaders to create thresholds for nonperformance, including describing a “state that poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of employees, the community, or the business.” The efforts can be as straightforward as using Census data to benchmark local demographics. This allows leaders visibility into the makeup of its local community, which they can aim to have reflected in its staffing and its taproom attendance.

Dr. J acknowledged at THRIVE that judging the progress of a DEI initiative can be a challenge but can be overcome with some planning. “If you are a small organization, I think some metrics that you can start thinking about on your scorecard would be recruitment and employee experience,” she told attendees. “I think those are two that are pretty easy to get a hold of without having a whole lot of extra dedicated staff to work on.” She recommended breweries first focus on their recruitment. In considering the key performance indicators for DEI efforts in recruitment, she suggested the scorecard could first consider the pipeline: who is applying for jobs, not just who gets them. She recommended that brewers can divert people to an anonymous demographic survey when they complete their application or by aggregating and reviewing zip codes from applications, compared to Census and demographic data, to get an idea of the makeup of applicants.

The second area they recommended for a trackable metric is employee experience. She pointed to the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey (Q12), a twelve question survey designed to measure employee satisfaction and concerns. Gallup suggests this tool is not a one-time effort but can help create a conversation between staff and leadership based on the results. It allows employees to communicate their needs and gives managers an opportunity to address them.

“The cool thing is that it’s benchmarked against millions of people who have taken the Q12 before so it’s very easy and offers really useful information, a very good benchmark to work against,” Dr. J said. “You can just say, ‘hey all, we’re gonna take the Q12,’ half an hour, right, and it’s done, you’ve done it for the year. It’s a really useful tool. These are two things that smaller organizations can do.” The scores can then be broken down by demographic categories, including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and veteran status, among others.

For smaller companies, Dr. J recommends that breweries consider utilization frequency and audience for scorecards and measures judging DEI efforts. Consider how the metric analysis is going to be used, how it will be tied into the company’s efforts, and setting goalposts and guardrails for when success has been achieved or further efforts are required. “It’s really about does action need to be taken?,” she told THRIVE attendees. “That’s our kind of big thing.”

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