In recognition of IWD, we’re celebrating a multitude of women from around the world who are making their mark in the very much male-dominated drinks industry.
Today, March 8 marks International Women’s Day – a time to recognise female trailblazers, to agitate for political change, to connect with women’s history and to take action for gender equality. It's an annual event rooted in history, first celebrated in the early 1900s after a woman called Clara Zetkin suggested the idea at a conference of working women.
Now, a century later, International Women’s Day is still desperately needed. While much has been done to improve the lives of women in Ireland, there is still more to be done. The issue of gender equality in the workplace is one such area that needs attention.
The drinks industry, like any traditional sector, has a history of being male-fronted enterprises, but remarkable progress has been made thanks to a generation of brave, forward-thinking women. This week on foodandwine.ie, we’re celebrating such women from around the country who are making their mark in the very much male-dominated drinks industry. From what it's like to be the only woman in your workplace, the challenges they face and advice they'd give to other women, we chat with some inspirational women who work in all aspects of the drinks industry to share their stories.
Today's instalment comes from Lynsey Campbell, Lead Cellar Brewer at Whiplash Beer. Previous to Whiplash, Lynsey worked in beer sales, but this was short-lived as she knew she wanted to be on the production side. She was initially knocked back by her employer at the time, as she was "too small" and not "strong enough" for the job. Undeterred, Lynsey took on a job in a brewery taproom, just to get a foot in the door to the production side of things. In just two years, Lynsey worked her way up the brewing scene and recently became Lead Cellar Brewer at Whiplash Beer. Here, she shares with us what it's truly like to be woman working in beer.
Q: How did you decide on a career in beer?
"So basically, I kind of started my ‘beer career’ – as I like to call it – when I was working behind bars in Australia and New Zealand. At the time, craft beer had just started to become a thing. I had never really been a big beer drinker but these new beers were coming into the bar that I would have to sell so I tasted one...and that was it! I moved back home to Glasgow and I was approached by a beer company to join their sales team. But very, very quickly, I realised that sales was not the job for me.
I went to my boss at the time and told him I didn’t want to do sales anymore but was interesting in a job on the production side of things. But they told me that I was ‘too small’ and that I wasn’t ‘strong enough’ to be involved in brewing. He wouldn’t even give me a chance. But as soon as that happened, it really ignited a fire in me. I wasn’t going to be told I couldn’t do something because of my size.
I then just started applying for jobs - any job at all that would get me in the door. It look maybe about eight or nine months before I even got called in for a trial with a brewery, let alone land a job. But I kept on persevering and eventually it paid off!”
Q: Can you describe what your day-to-day looks like?
"So I am the lead cellar brewer here at Whiplash Beer so basically that means I look after what happens on the cold side of brewing aka what happens after the beer has been brewed.
Once the beer has gone into its fermentation stage, I look after it from there. My day to day mainly involves assisting the brewer, getting everything cleaned for them, prepare for the brewing day, clean the vessels the beer is going to go into, I add the ingredients like the extra ingredients that are added to beer to bring out unique flavours, I transfer the beer to new tanks, I add carbonation to beer as needed. To be honest, I do a lot of cleaning because what people don’t realise is that cleaning is like 90 per cent of brewing in general.
I like to joke with my friends who want to know exactly what it is I do by telling them I'm the beer's carer!"
Q: What are the ups and downs of your career?
"One of the biggest ups of my career so far has got to be getting the job as lead cellar brewer here at Whiplash. I’ve known the guys from Whiplash for a long time from the beer festival circuits and when they offered me the job to come work for them and move to Dublin, that was such a high. Speaking of, the countless beer festivals are always a high - I’ve never had a bad experience at a beer festival, they’re a great side to the job. I’ve also gotten to do some international travel which was amazing but what I really love the most about my job is that no day is the same and every day truly is a school day.
But I’ve definitely had some low points in my career, too. It is a very male-dominated environment and I would say there was a couple of times at the start of my career when I would be struggling to understand certain things and falling behind and that was tough because it made me believe I wasn’t good or smart enough to be doing this as a job. Being told I wouldn’t make it in the beer industry was definitely a down point also. But I’ve proved that I can.
There have definitely been a lot more highs than there are lows though."
Q: Did the industry being so male-dominated put you off from pursuing a career in beer?
"No. Honestly? No.
If anything it made me more determined to join the industry. I don’t want it to be so male-dominated, there’s no reason for it to be like that. I want to be part of the change, the movement.
That said, it can be intimidating at times - but only if you let it. There’s a lot of brains and everyone has their opinion. There have been times where I’ve doubted myself and I think sometimes men can be so confident in themselves that it can almost make you feel the opposite but you’ve just got to realise that you are right and believe in yourself.
But the thing with it being so male-dominated is that it’s a lot of fun. At Whiplash, I’m one of two women that work here - everyone else is male. And I’ve worked at other breweries where I’m the only woman and you really don’t notice it. There’s just something about brewing that everyone working at the brewery becomes family and I’ve just never really experienced any sort of intimidation by it being so male-dominated. I really don't think about it."
Q: Are there any challenges with being one of few women in your day to day job?
"Not really, no.
But I would say I have been treated differently at times in my career because of my gender. With things like heavy lifting or jobs that involve manual labour, I have had times where I haven’t been allowed to do certain tasks purely because they don’t think I can because I’m a woman – and I can.
That can be extremely frustrating.
I do feel like there’s an assumption that because I’m a girl, I’m not able to do certain things which just isn’t the case. But in those circumstances, you just have to stand up for yourself.
It’s great at Whiplash though because the only time that happens is if and when I ask for help. I’m talked to the same, treated the same. Whiplash really is a shining beacon of hope for how women should be treated in any job. "
Q: Why do you think there are so few women in brewing?
"It's a confusing one to me, to be honest. It was women who first started making beer so why or how it went from a female creation to being clouded by testosterone doesn't make sense to me. I would say a possible reason for there being so few women in brewing could be intimidation by it being such a manual job.
In my opinion, it should be a 50/50 split. I can't wait for it to be a situation where it's no longer 'women in beer' and it's just 'people in beer'. I suppose when you look at bigger international breweries, it can be hard to be a woman in that environment as they mightn't have a voice or they're just not recognised because of the size of the breweries but that's what is so beautiful about the craft beer industry. We're small and niche and there are so many great opportunities for women within it."
Q: Do you think brewing will become an industry women want to or aren’t as hesitant to join?
"Absolutely. The way that craft beer industry is growing and it's exposing women to beer that they may have never drunk before because beer was deemed to be such a 'man's drink'. Craft beers are introducing a new flavour range to women especially. So I think because of that, we're sure to see a surge of women joining the industry – or at least I hope it will."
What advice would you have for women out there now who are thinking of pursuing a career in beer?
"I wouldn't let the idea of it being a male-dominated industry put you off. I mean, you’ve got to have a strong personality and you can’t be timid - that’s for sure. You need to have a strong sense of self too, to know what you’re doing and believing in your ability so that you can’t be put down - that's massive. But the best advice I could give is to just go for it.
In normal times, I'd say to attend as many beer festivals as you can. It's a great way to network, to get know brewers and learn about the craft. It's how I got my job with Whiplash! But until its safe enough to attend festivals again, I'd say focus on building relationships. Use social media, message a brewery you love and ask questions. Show you're passionate and the interest is there.
And most importantly, don't take no for an answer. Determination and passion will get you there – I'm a prime example of that."