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We Should be Trailblazers

We Should be Trailblazers

Published in Leftlion

The Canalhouse was a firm favourite during my time at university. My dissertation was primarily birthed at table 108. With one assignment left to go, I went job hunting. I asked at the Canalhouse at the prime time, as summer hit and Waterfront festival teetered on the horizon. Yvette, the manager, did a dance when I confirmed my bar experience. I started a few days later, and my life as it is rumbled into action. 

The Canalhouse was the busiest Castle Rock pub, and Yvette had been the manager for nearly a decade. She was, and remains, one of the most formidable forces in the company. Her tellings-off made you stare at the ground like a forlorn child, while she celebrated your achievements – personal or professional – loudly, proudly and repeatedly. Yvette was always on the ground, leading and kicking ass. It’s important to emphasise how inspiring it is to see a woman in charge, who is deeply valued and respected. It is especially inspiring for a young woman to see, and even more so in a male-dominated industry. 

But I won’t sugar coat the truth: working full time in a pub revealed the bleak landscape for women in the world of pubs. I even wrote a blog post about it, detailing the ridiculous and grotesque comments made by punters. In the most part, it was comedy gold, but there were less humorous anecdotes. Once, Yvette had to order an entire table to leave. 

Hundreds of my colleagues don’t have the luxury of being tucked safely away at head office, like I do now. Instead, for me, and for women in similar posts, it’s the culture of industry events that we face. The lowest point in my career took place at the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival, our biggest calendar event of the year. I was working, running on nothing but caffeine and adrenaline, when a male guest of ours punched me in the chest. It was painless, physically. I soon learned it was part of a game, or assault made into a game, and he’d scored well by punching my right breast. I was baffled. I eloquently, albeit trembling, explained the meaning of consent. My bosses were horrified when they found out what had happened. They apologised and commended me for how I handled it, and the guest was never invited to an event again. 

In the years since, I’ve decided that this is where I do my best work: at my desk, where I write this, with a view of Nottingham station. You see, there is this amazing band of women behind the scenes at Castle Rock. Our operations director is a woman. She is the person who makes sure our pubs are running at their best, around the clock, and her commitment and knowledge are astounding. She’s one in a handful of women you find at corporate trade events, and she holds her own, no problem. Our office team is predominantly women, our head of food is a woman, our training manager is a woman, the manager of our tap is a woman. We’re here, going hard, you just rarely see us.   

Over the years, I’ve been able to celebrate women in the work that I do, like creating a Munitionettes beer as part of a first world war centenary collection. We invited Nottingham’s Women’s History Group and women from across the company to help brew it. My favourite photo from my career is of that morning. We’ve been able to shout about local women like Jenny Farr, Florence Boot, and now suffragette Helen Watts, as part of our Nottinghamian Celebration Ales range. I can’t make sure women have equal representation in management positions, and I can’t make decisions that close gender pay gaps, but I can do my small bit.

Thankfully, this is now an industry where women (and many under-represented groups) are making waves, claiming their space, and demanding inclusivity. It’s wonderful to have witnessed so much change in just a handful of years. Women now feature in trade articles, and national papers, and lead on social media debates. Women like Melissa Cole and Jaega Wise are setting sparks, just by making their voices heard. Jaega calls for things like meaningful statistics from SIBA (because without that, we can’t know the extent of the problem), marketing and advertising codes of practice, and for breweries to build diverse workforces. And those of us in the background can see the difference her words, and the words of other women, are making.

The call to end sexist beer branding was a turning point in the industry. I felt it building over the last couple of years – a steady tremor beneath the surface. When you sexualise the image of a woman, you sexualise real women in that industry, and you undermine our right to be here. 

At the start of 2018, I got to take on the project I’ve always wanted to: re-branding Elsie Mo. The artwork had been inspired by the images of US aircraft nose art and featured a scantily clad pin-up girl. The new pump clip pays homage to the ATA women of the second world war, who flew battle-ready planes to fighter pilots of the RAF.  Elsie is now sporting her aviator gear and, most importantly, she’s piloting the plane. 

This industry is amazing. It is creative, resourceful, and alive with energy. We all have a duty to be conscious of the industry’s past and present, and to be pro-active in making it the best it can be. We all must accept that even now, women working in this industry still face harassment regularly. Some still see women bar staff as a way of enticing customers. Women running beer tastings are questioned, women running breweries are dubbed “lady owners”, and women brewers are belittled. 

We could decide, right now, to become an exemplary industry for modern society. We could vow to make bars and pubs safe spaces for both customers and for staff. We could collaborate to create better childcare for employees and create training schemes that show budding scientists that brewing is for both boys and girls. We could celebrate, praise, nurture, and lift-up all who wish to be part of this. 

Nottingham’s craft beer scene is thriving, pulsating with life and creativity. It is a community, and together we could push for meaningful change. We could be the trailblazers for turning a traditionally male industry into an industry for all. 


We should be the trailblazers. 

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