It’s been one year since New Zealand’s beer industry started having some difficult conversations. Since May 2021, thousands of people from across the world have shared experiences of sexism, bullying, harassment, and even assault within the beer industry, after an Instagram post by American brewer, Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet), went viral. New Zealanders, most of them women, began sharing their stories too, and it soon became clear that our beer industry had some work to do.
So, a year on, what action has been taken to make our beer community a safer and more inclusive one?
One of the first visible actions was taken by three members of the New Zealand Pink Boots Society, who created the @NZBeerFam account on Instagram. Pink Boots committee members Alix McEntegart and Alyssa Hodgson say the social media account is separate to the society but was created with its support.
Its purpose is to provide a safe space for people to talk. “It was set up with a victim-centered voice and approach, never intended to be a substitute or pathway to legal action (though that was never ruled out). We asked people what they wanted to happen.”
As soon as the account was created, people began sharing stories of mistreatment anonymously. “It brought light to a number of issues within the brewing community — by having more conversations and letting members know that it is ok to share your story, we will begin to see ongoing change in the community, for the better,” McEntegart and Hodgson say.
Within the past 12 months, Pink Boots has established a strong relationship with RespectEd Aotearoa, a charitable trust which works to prevent sexual harm through education and training. They partnered together for Beervana 2021, holding a panel discussion and co-hosting a stall at the festival — the proceeds of which will go towards future RespectEd panel events.
The Brewers Guild of New Zealand also took immediate action following the revelations on the @ratmagnet and @NZBeerFam accounts, encouraging their members to review their internal practices, and supporting them in building appropriate standards of conduct and employment agreements.
At the time, then-executive director Sabrina Kunz created a framework plan alongside Pink Boots to outline the steps both organisations planned to take to address the problems within the industry. The framework is published on the Guild’s website.
In it, the Guild committed to taking a number of actions by the start of 2022, including: ensuring harassment and other conduct was captured in health and safety industry survey questions; exploring “courageous conversation” training and skill development; publishing a dedicated webpage with links to resources, and establishing an email address to gather feedback, ideas and women’s stories.
Kunz stepped down near the end of 2021, with Melanie Kees coming into the role. In response to questions about what actions within that plan the Guild had taken, Kees said it was difficult for her to comment fully as it was before her time.
But she says the Guild is committed to supporting the movement. “Last year, we ensured that our website had relevant bullying and harassment information, as well as offering our members a safe channel to privately share their stories, ideas, solutions or to ask for advice,” Kees says. “Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the Guild never received any communication through the email@example.com email address.
“I am pleased that we have continued conversations in the industry, and we will soon be announcing a new collaboration that we hope will support and help educate our members and industry to work together to continue to develop a safe, inclusive environment in our brewing industry.”
It’s not clear if the Guild has included questions about harassment and other conduct in industry surveys, nor what’s come of plans to explore courageous conversation training and skill development among its members.
Some of the work Pink Boots planned also has not gone ahead. The framework plan says Pink Boots would establish regional get-togethers to allow people to share their feelings and ideas in a safe space. That’s not yet happened although the commitment was made just a couple of months before the Delta Covid-19 outbreak sent the country into lockdown.
McEntegart and Hodgson say Covid-19 is a reason why the @NZBeerFam Instagram account is also become less active. “Our Pink Boots committee and the sub-committee who decided to start the account are all volunteers. During the Omicron wave, the emotional labour required for this work got on top of everyone a bit.
“We have still been checking messages, but as many of us have families and have been stuck at home, it just got hard. We also want to know more from our members about what they want to see happen in this space.”
McEntegart and Hodgson would still like to see more done within the industry to ensure a safe and inclusive environment, including every bar and brewery creating a code of conduct, and committing to education programmes. But they are quick to point out that work should not just fall on the few. “The hope is that doesn’t fall exclusively on women, non-binary people, people of colour and other minorities. We want to see all kinds of people coming forward and being a part of this conversation.”