Before I start, it’s important to acknowledge this has been written from a place of privilege, and will be inherently biased from my lens as a white, cisgendered, middle-class and university-educated woman. This issue is far more complex than it appears and so this will be a long one.
As the only woman currently serving on the OCB Board of Directors and the only woman in most OCB government meetings over the last year, I feel compelled to speak-up given this week’s photo-op controversy. Not only am I often the only woman in the room, I am the least experienced member serving on the board today. Being underrepresented makes it tougher for me to speak-up, something I’ve never been naturally good at, unless I have a very strong point of view or a bulletproof argument. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing and is exasperated when you’re the minority in the room. Seeing as I haven’t slept in two days with this on my mind and more importantly, that other marginalized groups have been deeply hurt by our industry this week, this felt important enough for me to talk about, even if my writing is full of holes, unpopular or creates unwanted backlash for my business. My hope is that honest and transparent conversation will always trump perfection if it comes from a good place with an open mind and a desire to make things better for everyone.
One of our core organizational values at Left Field is Community. We believe deeply that beer is for everybody. We aim to use beer as a tool to build community and to support those in need. Understanding this core value (amongst others) is part of our hiring and on-boarding process and we work hard to uphold it in everything that we do from big events and fundraising initiatives, to our physical space, to simple language choices and rules of engagement that we use with each other in the workplace and with our customers every day.
We take this value seriously and engage in these efforts because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s what we believe in. It reminds us that business and beer are powerful tools that can be used to drive social change and that we have the power to create joy through inclusion, diversity, caring and looking out for one another.
Over the last few years, we’ve made a number of conscious changes to try and become the most diverse, safe and inclusive space we can possibly be. There is still a ton of work to do and this work will never end. At the risk of grandstanding, I’m going to share some of our wins because I’m really darn proud of my amazing team’s accomplishments;
– We funded three post secondary scholarships totaling $8,000 for LGTBQ youth through our Pours For Pride initiatives
– We’ve donated over $14,000 to our local Women’s and Family shelter to support the most vulnerable people in our community
– Small but important – We’ve changed the gender field on our personnel and new employee intake forms to ask for pronouns instead of M/F
– We changed our single-stall washrooms to gender neutral washrooms and made our signage stencil available to anyone in the industry who wanted to do the same with their own spaces to make them more inclusive. Other breweries in our neighbourhood have joined our efforts.
– We brewed a beer with the SOBDL of which we’ve committed to donating 50 cents from every can to the Canadian Women’s Foundation
– We’ve invested in brewery-wide Safer Bars and Spaces training led by marginalized women and feminized people to help end sexual violence in the hospitality industry and to generally make our space safer and more inclusive
– We’ve developed and are about to post signage throughout the brewery to articulate this mission and to welcome customer feedback on ways in which we can continue to become more inclusive, comfortable and safe for all beer drinkers
– I passed a motion to have the OCB by-laws changed from he/him pronouns to they/them
I was invited to Saturday’s roundtable at Bench but was unable to attend, which I was actually really bummed about because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in so many government meetings over the last number of months. It’s fascinating to me that such seemingly simple conversations about our industry’s challenges and barriers with the handful of people who hold the power in this province can create change so rapidly.
The unfortunate reality is that if I had been there, I would have been in that same photo. At first I let out a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me or my brewery and I felt lucky that we were able to skirt the situation, that we weren’t being called out on social media and that we weren’t at the centre of this outrage that has taken our little beer community by storm. The reality is that those feelings of good fortune fizzled out really quickly for me and being lucky suddenly didn’t feel so great as I watched fellow board members and their breweries become the next to get tossed into this growing dumpster fire. It didn’t feel good because I knew how easily it could have been me and I know and respect the good work and good intentions of these people and their businesses. None of us are perfect, but we are all working our butts off trying to get better and trying to make the industry a better place.
The reality of how this debacle was able to unfold is what really leaves me feeling uneasy. I’ve had moments myself feeling uncomfortable with being seen in the lobby at Queen’s Park before government meetings or avoiding a photo op that might imply some alignment of views on anything other than the beer industry and have been afraid of becoming the target of backlash that might put my own business at risk. I’ve also shown-up blindly and unprepared to a ton of government meetings, not fully knowing who I’m meeting with, their beliefs or the implications that those beliefs might have. I don’t want to make excuses, but this is a reality of a small business owner being stretched between running my business and actively participating in industry betterment efforts. I’m asked to be there to speak about my business, the industry and our challenges and I often don’t find time to prepare for the meetings much beyond that. I enter them trusting that our Government Relations partners have done good leg work to get us in the room with the right people. The truth is that working with a government that is willing to make changes in our industry but who’s world views on most other topics don’t often align with my own personal beliefs is a daily moral dilemma.
As an industry, our livelihoods are all at stake if our collective voices are not heard as part of these ongoing industry consultations. At the risk of sounding unpopular, I believe that when invited, we have to take the meeting. I believe that meeting with politicians and stakeholders who have opposing viewpoints to have civil conversation is part of the democratic process and I have taken many closed door government meetings with various PC MPPs this past year. A number of these meetings have directly resulted in positive regulatory change for our industry, especially for smaller breweries like mine. Some recent examples include larger pour sizes, extended hours, expanded grocery and convenience and LCBO agency store distribution, pausing excise tax rate increases and (hopefully) many more to come. While many of us may not have chosen the current leaders, we have to work with them. And, for the first time in a long time, they are really eager to work with us. My mission is to make the beer industry a better place and I can’t do that if I don’t take the meetings.
That said, the fact that the OCB took and posted this week’s photo at Bench Brewing, celebrating our partnership with government and implying any sort of support for the non-beer-views of MPP Oosterhoff as they relate to abortion, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights or anything else, without any anticipation of any criticism or blowback was a colossal, tone-deaf mistake and has become a major PR blunder. As a board member, I am sick with disappointment that this has happened under our watch. Despite not being present for the event or photo, I also take some accountability for it, as clearly we as a board should be asking more questions and managing photo-ops, meetings and social responses with a higher level of scrutiny. I’m feeling defeated at this setback for our association and upset at how this incident has grossly overshadowed some of the really great progress that we’ve made recently and that I’ve personally worked really hard on. Beer drinkers, industry members, beer writers and fans have the right to be pissed off. Surely, we can do better than this and surely we can be more socially and self aware.
To be perfectly clear, I strongly disagree with MPP Oosterhoff’s stance on women’s rights, abortion, and LGTBQ rights. The fact that someone in power holds these views in today’s world terrifies me.
So what do we do about it?
I can’t stress this enough. We are better together as an industry. The OCB is not Scott Simmons, the OCB is us – big breweries and small breweries, member breweries and non-member breweries alike. Regulatory change benefits all breweries whether you paid your dues or have sworn off the association altogether. Scott is the OCBs only full time employee and he works for us, under our direction. Like any employee at your brewery, he is only as good as our direction and leadership.
The OCB has long suffered from the perception that it only exists to serve its largest members and the small to mid-sized retail-focused breweries. In many ways and in my opinion, this has carried some truth over the years, but that’s not inherent in its mission or structure. In fact, I felt so strongly that this was the case that at one point, that we withdrew Left Field’s membership when we felt the value just wasn’t there. After a reduction in fees and a change of heart, we rejoined with the goal of getting more involved and working to be the change that we had long wanted to see. I learned this year that the OCB actually has some rock-solid bylaws and board structure rules that prevent it from only representing one size or one type of brewery. It is incredibly balanced. We can all get out of it what we put into it. The association currently has a huge gap in membership representing less than ⅓ of breweries in the province with the vast majority of non-members being breweries under 5,000h, and likely under 2,000hL annually. Of course the association doesn’t represent the needs of small brewers – most of us aren’t at the table.
I strongly believe that quitting the OCB is not the solution. The solution is to join the association and to do something. The tools and structure are all there, we just need to take a seat at the table and speak-up for what we believe in. Join or chair a committee, initiate a survey or some research, proactively share some information or tools that can benefit others, spearhead a new initiative, work with your size category representative to propose changes to whatever it is you don’t like about it. Push, challenge and question our leadership and our vendors. Expect them to do more, to do better and guide them on the priorities that are important to you and your brewery. If you’re a brewery under 5,000hL annually, give me a call and let’s have a conversation about your priorities and I’ll take those to my next board meeting.
Better yet, get involved in the upcoming election and all of the elections after that. Invite your local candidates from all levels of government to your brewery. They’re not answering? Do it every week until they’re tired of hearing from you. Ask for change. Tell them where you agree with them and challenge them where you don’t. Create a space for your customers and employees to engage in civil discourse and to meet the candidates themselves. Leverage your voice and your platform to drive change.
Here are some ideas of what you can be doing with all the big bucks you will be making as a result of new regulatory changes like bigger pour sizes, longer hours, increased distribution, halted tax increases. If you felt uncomfortable dealing with a government whose social and political views may have been different than your own, use that newly found revenue to do some good and invest in diversity, equity and inclusive initiatives both internally and externally.
Make a List of Resources
Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I always find that making lists helps me feel better. In the spirit of doing something, please take a moment to send me your favourite resources on diversity, inclusion, representation or anything else you think might contribute to making our industry a safer, more inclusive and more welcoming place. I’ll add them here to this list for us all to share. Here are a few of our favourites to get started;
– Check out the many diversity resources available from the Brewers Association
– Consult the diversity resources within our own province by reaching out to the wonderful Ren Navarro
– Participate in events that create space for underrepresented groups, like the SOBDL festivals and Pink Boots Society events
– Invest in inclusive training initiatives for your employees, like Dandelion Initiative’s Safer Bars and Spaces training or Challenge Accepted‘s equity and inclusion training