Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Teri Fahrendorf, who started the Pink Boots Society in 2007 after a road trip to check out breweries all over the country. Again and again, she said, she encountered women who worked in craft breweries who had never before met another female brewer, let alone one with a couple decades' worth of experience. Immediately, they wanted to know who and where the other female brewers were, so the Pink Boots Society – named for the boots Fahrendorf wore on her road trip – was born as a list of women brewers throughout the country.
"They weren't getting something they wanted, which was communication with a woman in their field," Fahrendorf said. "The fact that I had been a brewmaster for 19 years opened their eyes. Watching them get inspired by my story in turn inspired me to want to mentor all of them. I can't mentor all of them, as much as I try." Eventually, the organization started holding annual, national meetings and made decisions about who the Pink Boots Society should include and what the organization should focus on.
Members ultimately decided to be as inclusive as possible: any woman who earns her income from beer is welcome. While that means novice or aspiring brewers have to look elsewhere to get started, the Pink Boots Society's 850-woman roster includes brewery accountants, beer truck drivers, beer writers, bartenders at beer-centric pubs. Women who work in large breweries are just as welcome as women who work in small ones. The organization has decided to focus on expanding educational opportunities for its members: annual meetings include talks on brewing techniques, and the organization is working to get nonprofit status and raise funds for scholarships for female brewers to go to brewing schools and build on what they already know about beer.
But the secondary benefit is the social aspect of the group: at meetings, Fahrendorf said, members always pass a mic and introduce themselves by what they do, then sit down to listen to the presentation. Afterward, during the social hour, they rush across the room, she said: "They're dying to talk to someone who has a job like theirs."
Fahrendorf grew up in a beer-loving German-American family in Wisconsin and started making her own wine in college using Welch's grape juice, sugar and yeast, only getting interested in home brewing after a move to California in the 1980s, where she worked as a Cobol programmer. While attending home brewing conferences and contemplating a career move, Fahrendorf said she never met any other female brewers, but did make the acquaintance of John Maier, then assistant brewmaster at Alaska Brewery, now brewmaster at Rogue. He'd made the jump from working in tech to working in beer, and Fahrendorf figured, if he could do it, she could do it too.
Until the 18th century, when brewing went from being a domestic task to a commercial enterprise, making beer was the job of the woman of the house. While the perception of the beer industry as a boys' club persists, numbers are hard to come by: the Brewers Association doesn't keep tabs on its membership roles by gender, nor could the Siebel Institute of Technology, the oldest brewing school in the country, tell me what percentage of students in its brewing classes are women.
Whatever the numbers say, Fahrendorf is focused on raising the profile of women in the industry, putting them in contact with each other, and connecting them to opportunities to get better at their jobs. "We like to say that there's no gender-based glass ceiling for women in the beer industry, there's only an education glass ceiling," Fahrendorf said.
Previously: Boozing it up in the animal kingdom