You don’t exactly hear beer people talk much about a glass ceiling in the brewing industry — maybe it sounds too “corporate.” But we are starting to talk more about the relative lack of diversity in this largely white, male-dominated business.
The Brewers Association (BA) Diversity Committee, for example, first convened in spring of 2017. It developed its Advertising and Marketing Code to address labels and branding that are sexually explicit, lewd or offensive, which most of us understood to mean those beers that tend to assume their audience was men who enjoy the sexual objectification of half the American population.
Craft beer people tend to be pretty good individuals with positive goals for their businesses, their employees and their communities, so while it may be surprising that sexist practices still exist in 2017, I don’t think it necessarily owes to malicious intent.
Instead, I think the diversity conversation leaves many white, male brewery owners a little flummoxed. They don’t actively oppose women or minorities opening breweries, but they have their own businesses to run. They’re more than happy to welcome peers of all sorts. They just don’t know where those people might come from.
Advice from the corporate context
As part of its initiative to close the gender gap in the manufacturing workforce, the Packaging & Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN) — sponsored by PMMI (i.e., the folks who put on Pack Expo) — invited its members and the press to attend an exclusive breakfast featuring Tana L. Utley, vice president and head of Caterpillar’s Large Power Systems Division.
Utley directed her talk, “7 Dance Steps for the Glass Ceiling,” to processing and packaging professionals, many of whom work in the kind-of-beer-related industries I’ve been reporting about at this year’s Pack Expo Las Vegas. While the address was designed as advice to women, her remarks emphasized the subconscious, cultural nature of glass ceilings. That is, glass ceilings are by nature invisible. They’re not about panels of male executives agreeing not to let women advance further than middle management. Rather, they’re about habitual attitudes, practices and assumptions of male business professionals that, even without meaning to, can often exclude women.
There’s no reason not to believe this can be possible for white men in craft beer, so I think her dance steps ought to be enlightening for men and women both — speaking as a white man, anyway. In the following synopsis, I’ve also tried to distill some lessons for male business owners or managers who may supervise female team members.
7 Dance Steps for the Glass Ceiling
1. Remember you’re always being watched and judged
Now, before you men get defensive about what it’s like in your brewery or factory, remember that this is a woman who had to work her way up from engineer to vice president. Utley is speaking from a position of success and power, not, say, from embittered failure. She’s describing what she’s seen, not looking for someone to blame.
Her point here is that you as a woman want to avoid getting too comfortable at work because double standards can pop up and trip you when you least expect it. To be clear, she said, “You can still be yourself, but you should be your best self. You want to be the kind of person other people want to be around.”
The lesson for men: Don’t be a jerk and treat women differently than your male colleagues.
2. Know The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Maybe the fellas weren’t expecting this one, but if this ancient book had wisdom for business books a couple decades ago, then that should apply regardless of gender, right?
Some key principles from Sun Tzu include:
- Know yourself
- Identify, choose and accept the trade-offs in both work and life
- Know your workplace and how they view women, their corporate priorities
- Seek opportunities to use your strengths to help your company reach its goals (this one may be somewhat controversial). She suggested that you should “volunteer for the not-so-hot projects, and you’ll get on the hot ones,” or, put another way, “always have your hand up.” Of course, if you do that, you’ll be in danger of over-committing yourself, so refer to the second bullet point.
The lesson for men: Include women in your philosophical conversations about the nature of business and how to succeed in it.
3. Think of your career as a capital letter T
The point here is that you first build up in your area of expertise and make your contribution as a specialist. In her case, as an engineer she helped create more fuel-efficient diesel engines and to bring Caterpillar closer to being a zero emission company. Once you have that foundation, then you can seek to broaden out in leadership and management roles.
The lesson for men: Let your female (and male, for that matter) employees develop their strengths and look for ways to entrust your most experienced women with greater leadership and responsibility.
4. Trust = competence x intimacy
If you’re building that foundation of expertise, you’ll develop your competence, but trust also requires being on genuinely friendly terms with male colleagues. As they get to know you better and be more comfortable around you, they’ll trust you more and include you in more of those informal conversations where surprisingly important things get decided.
Utley acknowledged that some men can be intimidated by competent women. It’s not fair that you as a woman may need to act in particular ways — such as using relaxed and open body language — in order to put more powerful men at ease, but you may choose to do so if it is for the mutual good of your company and your career. The men will hopefully come around.
In the Q&A, she said this is the one piece she would have worked on more if she could do it over again.
The lesson for men: Competent women are good for your business. Make friends with them, and you’ll find them great team members. Yes, they may want to advance closer to your position or beyond it, but that should make you work harder to be better at what you do rather than try to keep someone else down.
5. Get the personal stuff right
Utley wants women to think of themselves as whole people and to have full emotional, social and spiritual lives. She also knows from experience that you can’t have it all. She advises you look for mentors who get it right and learn from them. For her part, she cultivated friendships with people who shared her interests so she could, say, exercise with her friends. Then she would outsource (i.e., hire someone) for whatever she could, including dry cleaning, housecleaning, grocery shopping.
“I have a friend who says, ‘If a problem can be solved with money, then it’s not a real problem,’” she quipped. Maybe it’s a little easier for a VP of Caterpillar and her friends to say that, but you get the idea.
One important subpoint here is that you need to forgive yourself for the things you just can’t get done. It’s going to happen, so you can’t let yourself get weighed down by it.
The lesson for men: Women are whole people. Do I really have to say that? Actually, maybe the lesson is that men are whole people, too. It’s as okay for you as a man to want to have quality family time as it is for a woman.
6. Continuously evolve and experiment
She means this both personally and professionally, but she is particularly concerned about women who leave the workforce when they begin a family and simply abandon all hopes of returning. She urges women who would like to one day return to full-time work to look for ways you can still be active in your community or in some form of productive work outside the home. It may be small at first, but you can build on it over time.
The lesson for men: We men should also be evolving and experimenting personally and professionally, too. But women have the babies, and we shouldn’t hold that against them. Look for ways to work with your female staff who have children. Maybe full-time doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find meaningful ways for them to contribute their unique talents and gifts.
7. Give back by being a mentor and role model
Utley believes the best way to get more women in a given industry is for the women leaders who are already there to take an active role in raising up the next generation of women leaders.
“We need a million points of light,” she says.
To become a light, you need to connect to your inspiration and then look for ways to encourage and empower the women coming up behind you.
The lesson for men: Senior women (i.e., senior leadership) spending time and energy with younger women is not a conspiracy to replace you. It’s just them recognizing that it can be hard to be female in a male-dominated space and thus it’s important to have solidarity. If you as a man can get the other lessons right, this shouldn’t even be a real problem.
Utley closed by presenting a little personal prompt: “What does your glass ceiling look like, and what is it like to dance on it?” If you can write down an answer in a couple lines, it can become your personal mission statement.
If you’re a male in a leadership role, you could ask yourself the same question, i.e., “What does the glass ceiling look like in our company?” And you’d probably learn something from doing that.
Honestly, though, I think you’d learn more from asking your female team members. You might not like what you hear, but you’ll become a better company because of it.