When the #metoo movement swept across the country in 2017, women everywhere recognized their shared experience of discrimination, harassment, and abuse in the workplace.
With female actors and musicians leading the way, many women in other fields began to share their stories. In 2021, the craft beverage industry faced its moment of reflection. It was sparked by an Instagram post from a Salem, Massachusetts brewer.
In an interview with WhatsUpNewp, Rhode Island Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Action (RIDEA) co-founder and industry professional Jamie Buscher explained what happened.
“I’ve been in the beer industry forever. It’s no secret that the beer industry is white male dominated,” she began.
“Last May, the Head Brewer at Notch Brewing in Salem MA, Brienne Allen, who was working there at the time, had to deal with a contractor who kept making inappropriate sexually driven comments toward her, misogynistic comments. She went home one night and on Instagram posted the question ‘Have any other women in the beer industry had to deal with sexism?’”
The social media response was overwhelming.
“At the time she had around 3000 followers and overnight she got hundreds of stories. Within two weeks she went from 3000 followers to 60,000 followers. She received thousands of stories from women from all over the world,” Buscher explained.
Many women in the Rhode Island craft beverage industry also shared their stories. Out of this experience, the Rhode Island Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Action (RIDEA) committee was created in 2021. The group was formed specifically “to promote a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the beverage industry.”
Buscher shared examples of the kinds of abuse women face in the craft brewing industry and beyond.
“Everything from general sexism, not being taken seriously as a brewer, comments like ‘you don’t know anything about beer because of your sex,’” were widespread, she explained. “It ranged all the way to actual sexual assaults happening in brewhouses and taprooms to women getting fired when they get pregnant. All sorts of varying degrees of sexism and sexual harassment.”
The disturbing reports sent shock waves throughout the craft beverage industry.
“When the #metoo movement first happened it hit the entertainment industry the music industry and a little bit of the culinary industry, but no one really talked about beer or wine or beverage management,” said Buscher.
“So myself and a few coworkers got together, we didn’t know what to do, but felt like we should do something. Erica Tessier – who is the business operations manager at Craft Collective, and a co-owner and co-brewer at Origin Beer Projects – and I decided to have an open call event where people from the industry could come, and talk about what’s going on, and vent about our feelings. We got about fifty people for that first meeting,” said Buscher.
After much discussion, RIDEA was born. The advocacy organization is currently promoting several initiatives.
“We decided that there were three major goals. The first was a scholarship at Johnson and Wales for women who wanted to pursue careers in the beverage industry. Johnson and Wales has a wine program, they have a brewing program, and they have a beverage management program.” The scholarship program is open to anyone, although Buscher encourages people from diverse backgrounds to apply via a blind essay where they talk about their experiences of discrimination based on race, sex, gender, or orientation.
Funding those scholarships was the biggest hurdle.
“We decided to do a festival and also develop a “collab” beer,” Buscher explained. The new brew, Silence is not Golden, will be released this Spring. Meanwhile, the first RIDEA Festival, scheduled for May 14, is in the works.
“The festival is at Isle Brewers Guild in Pawtucket. Michelle Leach, the general manager at Isle, is one of the founders of our RIDEA. We’re inviting all local breweries to attend, but we’re going highlight breweries that are either owned or operated or that have head brewers who are female, queer or people of color,” said Buscher.
“If you don’t check one of those boxes you’re still invited to participate and be a part of the festival. We ask people to sign a contract that says they are committed to preventing discrimination in the industry. And post something public to your social media that says essentially we’re committed to this and here’s how we’re doing it.”