The theme of this Women’s History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories”. In that spirit, we sat down with some women coworkers at Bell’s to hear how they built careers in the industry, what things have changed and why representation in leadership is so important for the next generation.
The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Getting into the industry
Starting a career in craft beer
Executive Vice President
I answered a wanted ad for a part-time receptionist while I was going to school for human resources here in Kalamazoo. I got the call from a recruiter who asked me a question, one which I think is germane to what we’re talking about today: “Hey, Carrie, we’ve got this great, fun environment, but I need to know if you can take a joke.” Like, not could I do good work, but can I take a joke? The impetus was that I was going to go work in a male-dominated industry and be one of very few females, which I was one of four, maybe five at the time. It just wasn’t a very potentially welcoming environment. I think there was a lot of curiosity. A lot of nice people worked at Bell’s then, and that has not changed. How people show up, how they show respect for people has certainly changed over time and in my time here. So, while I would say I created really fast friendships, it was certainly a while before I felt like I had my voice heard at an equal level.
I’ve been in the industry for a little over nine years now. I started when I was 23 years old as an unpaid intern at a small brewery in Nashville and worked my way up to being the head brewer there. There were next to no women in the industry back then. Slowly, over time, it’s increased more and more. Then I became involved in Pink Boots. That was interesting to meet other women in beer. I moved up here (to Michigan) a little under five years ago to start brewing at Bell’s and it’s been great. I feel more appreciated and equal than I ever did back in Nashville, where there was a little bit of “oh, it’s cool ‘cuz she’s a woman” type thing. Whereas here, I’m respected for my knowledge and my tenure, which is great. There’s a lot of other women here too for the same reasons.
Working in Craft Beer
Building a career in the industry
Field Quality Manager
I went to college for biology and after graduation really wasn’t looking for a career in the beer industry specifically. I just liked beer. I liked drinking it. I was hired as a QA lab tech at another brewery out of Cleveland. This was 13 years ago. I thought: “oh my gosh, how cool am I?” (laugh) You know? And I didn’t really realize until I started what all of that it would entail being the only woman in a production facility. There were definitely some struggles. There are the obvious ones that we think of, like harassment, but I think that the thing that I didn’t really see happening beforehand was being excluded from conversations and the general camaraderie. It took a long time to get a seat at the table. I think men that only work around men all the time are sometimes uncomfortable working around women or are afraid of giving the “wrong impression” if they invited me to join everyone else for beers after work.
I started just after graduating from college, studying chemistry, and wanted a job that I could use my degree in. And there was an opportunity that opened up here at Bell’s, so I applied and actually didn’t get it. But a friend of mine from school got the internship and at the end of the summer decided that he didn’t want to work here full-time. He said: “my boss remembered you from your interview and wanted to know if you were still available for hire.” And I said, yes, and I’ll be there in two weeks.
There definitely weren’t a lot of women who were working in Comstock at the time. We had a couple women who were in the packaging line, but in general it was mostly men who worked here. Things are definitely changing and it’s becoming more dynamic. But at that time, the women’s locker room’s extremely small, with like eight lockers in there compared to what we have now. That’s been nice to see that physical representation of things changing in the production facility just by the addition of lockers and spaces designed for women like our nursing rooms.
Community Engagement Specialist
I’ve spent a lot of time out in the market and at events. No one ever thinks I’m in charge or calling the shots. If we’re standing there with a group of two men and two women and somebody asks a question, a lot of people shift their attention to either of the men in the group. People will also say: “You work for Bell’s, so you’re a ‘Bell’s Girl,’’ right?” I’m glad that we can make light of that now, but there’s other beer brands where that like is an actual thing. But in all my time here, that was something very important to leadership: we are not “beer girls.”
Area Sales Manager
When I started in the beer industry almost 20 years ago, you just did not see a lot of women, period. It was definitely a male dominated industry. It was rare back then to see a female on the sales side of things, let alone in managerial roles. When I transitioned from retail to distribution, I was the only female at that company in management. That was not always well received, and I had to overcome a lot. The old saying that you must work twice as hard to get half as far, is true. It is an unhealthy culture but that is the unfortunate reality. With time, patience, and consistency in my work ethic, I earned the respect and trust of my colleagues at that company. When I left that role in distribution and moved on to Bell’s, it was so refreshing not to be the “only” anymore. I feel as though I have truly thrived during my time here.
Working in craft beer is not unlike most other technical industries. You always have questions of: am I being paid at the same rate as my male colleagues? Is my male colleague treating me this way because I’m a woman? Questions that you don’t want to have to ask, but you can’t remove yourself from asking. I spend more time thinking about questions like that than my male colleagues do. They’re not wondering if people take them seriously or believe them right off the get go. It’s something that I don’t think people necessarily appreciate. All that unsaid extra mental labor that goes into just existing and doing the same job as everybody else here.
How craft beer has changed from within and alongside other cultural movements
The industry’s very different than it was even five years ago in terms of the cultural impact. A lot more women are drinking craft beer and other craft beverages.
I’m a fan of dark beers, and when I’ll go out and order a stout or a porter, people get really surprised. They’re like, “oh, you’re a woman, so you must want our fruited sour.” I love fruited sours, but stereotyping different beer styles as “girly beers” is totally incorrect. As a woman, I can drink any style of beer, and men should be able to drink fruited sours and not feel that it’s a “girly beer” because it’s not. It’s just a beer.
I think about the first craft beer conference I went to was probably around 13 or so years ago. There were a lot of beards and beer t-shirts. I was part of an initial movement of craft HR professionals who were looking to network and get together and see how we could further things like DEI and make space for folks in the industry as a whole. I don’t just mean what the registration looked like, but who’s up on stage talking and viewed as experts in our field. Twelve years ago it was: who makes the best beer? How do you make the best beer? Who has the cool labels? It wasn’t necessarily about how do you run a good business and how do you be a good employer. And I think that has really been an important fundamental change I’ve seen in my almost 20-year career.
I think the Me Too movement has definitely been a good thing for our industry. A lot of people were suffering in silence, myself included, believing that there was a price that needed to be paid to play in this industry. I hope that going forward everybody understands that’s not the case. It should not be tolerated . People are willing to speak up. I 100% support doing the right thing and have been very happy to know that Bell’s supports this and supports us doing the right thing to make sure that no one is put in compromising positions. I hope that kind of work continues to move forward as an industry and that we will hold the people accountable when needed.
For me, it was when all of the Ratmagnet posts went up on Instagram. It was huge for this industry to create awareness. So many wonderful male allies asked, “this really happens? I can’t believe that you have dealt with this.” And it’s like, “oh my gosh, this happens all the time, you have no idea what a serious problem this is.”
One of the biggest things I think needs to be done by people who are not women is if they’re willing to make the effort to ask women when they’re in a meeting, ask for their input ask for their feedback and make the effort to learn. The only way that it’s going to get better is if it’s not always on women to be the ones pushing the boundaries. Men have to help us get there. And if they can reach out, it makes it a lot easier.
Women leaders in craft beer
The importance of women representation in leadership
The thing that really attracted me to Bell’s back then was that there were so many women in leadership positions. Even to this day, when I am meeting with distributor partners in my market, I will still often be the only woman in the room.
That’s the job of those of us women in leadership, to make that space and make sure that our early and formative experiences are improved upon and they’re better for the next generation of women, members of marginalized groups, and even men to come.
And in order to do really good work of reaching out to communities that maybe haven’t seen us before as a choice employer, we have to make sure that we’re doing that internal work. It’s understanding our internal cultures and the things that have gotten in the way of hearing and learning from each other, as well as the ways that we all work differently. We need to come up with solutions and everyday behaviors that bring all of us into this. This isn’t just talent management or HR work. It’s all of us showing up and creating a space where we can invite the perspectives of others and use those ideas for the good of the business.
We’re not meeting quotas, we’re making a lifelong institutional difference in how Bell’s looks, how our community looks and how craft beer looks. It’s hard work that can be agonizingly painful at times. It’s at the top of my list and some of the best work we’re doing right now as a team.
You’ll often hear me talk about this mindset of continuous improvement we have at Bell’s. That’s been part of our DNA for a very long time. What has been transformational for our leadership team, in particular, is that mindset being brought to our DEI work and how we can continue to do it better. We can make a better beer, we can be a better employer, we can be a better business, we can do better by the environment and our communities: if we bring that to our work, that’s what makes the difference, right? We continue to push ourselves to do better each time. And I think that that’s what’s going to make a difference in the companies like ours and others who are really committed to the work.
An important part of that work is listening to women and others who haven’t been represented in the past. We need to listen to not just their stories but their ideas as well. It’s not enough to just get people a seat at the table, but we need to pay attention to whose voices are involved in the decision-making process. I challenge everyone to ask for stories, listen to women and examine what they can do every day, just not in March, to continue advancing gender equity.