By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Women beer professionals from all over the world are converging on San Diego for the Pink Boots Society’s 10th Anniversary Conference & Beer Festival June 2-3. In addition to the decadal birthday celebration, the conference brings together all-female faculty — a first for beer conferences — who will lead workshops and discussions on a range of topics.
Yet the conference represents far more. It kicks off the future of what executive director Emily Engdahl calls a “sisterhood” of craft beer professionals in the 1,200-member organization, which has 50 chapters in 10 countries from Australia to Spain.
Engdahl first became involved with Pink Boots in 2013. The Society had recently received 501(c)(3) status, and Engdahl wanted to help out at a fundraising party held that February. By June she had assumed her role of executive director (though she also has a full-time career as an office manager and fiduciary at a family business). “I’ve seen these women not just on a professional — but personal level. They come together,” says Engdahl. “I loved the tribe, everyone I met, the camaraderie, the amazing wealth of knowledge I found in the beer industry.”
And yes, that includes the pink, which has also made the organization a sometimes-lightning rod for controversy.
“I take issue when people tell us we shouldn’t be pink. If you are a feminist, why the hell would you let anyone tell you what color you’re supposed to wear?” says Engdahl. “I love pink. It’s one of my favorite colors.”
She also points out that in the 18th century and until World War I, pink was a masculine color: softer than the more aggressive red, but still manly. Girls wore blue. “We are reclaiming pink. It’s the ultimate feminist movement to wear pink,” says Engdahl. “Just as you shouldn’t tell a girl she should only like fruity beers and not stout, why would you tell a girl she shouldn’t wear pink if that’s the color she wants to wear?”
Pink Boots evolved out of co-founder Teri Fahrendorf’s 2007 road trip, where she worked to connect with female brewers and help further their careers all while donning a pair of brewhouse-ready pink boots (a pre-trip gift from Fahrendorf’s mother-in-law). While traversing some of America’s 1,511 craft breweries, she kept hearing the same thing from the women brewers she met: “I thought I was the only one.”
Fast-forward 10 years, and Fahrendorf can see how much has changed. “We were pioneers,” she says. “Having Pink Boots, whether members or not, gives women confidence to shoot for the top. Some women don’t need it, but some do. Sometimes it takes a very simple role model. We’ve changed the dialogue, and the dialogue now includes women.”
From fewer than two-dozen women at their inaugural lunch in 2008, Pink Boots had grown to about 2,500 members in 2015. At that point, membership was free (though many members would donate funds) for women making any portion of their income in the beer industry. In 2016, Pink Boots made some big changes: they established a more organized board, started charging membership dues and gave chapters more control over money and communication. And to qualify for membership, a 25 percent income threshold was instituted.
“We wiped out our entire membership database,” says Engdahl. “Now we’ve already rebuilt over half those numbers. It’s a more professionally and educationally centered organization.” By 2018, Engdahl estimates membership will be above 2,250.
With U.S. craft breweries potentially topping 6,000 by the end of 2017, Engdahl is not surprised by Pink Boots’ growth — or the number of women joining the industry, though how that’s happening has changed. People often found a job in craft beer either through family business ties or via a winding, indirect path. Now Engdahl sees young adults enrolling in college or vocational programs specifically to launch careers. “Brewing and brewing science is a viable lifestyle, one you can enter deliberately and with intent,” she explains. “That’s very exciting and very different from any other way that we’ve seen brewing become a vocation before.”
The anniversary event was made possible thanks to “an amazing team of women who dreamed up this whole conference,” says Fahrendorf. As the Society’s most active chapter, San Diego was a natural location. But in addition to providing education and motivation, Engdahl wants women to come out of the conference knowing “they can do what they want to do in the industry and nothing holds them back,” she says. “I want these women to be seen as role models and as heroes in the industry. Breweries exact a lot of social change, and I think it’s important to remember the social magic we do in beer.”
As Engdahl looks ahead to the next 10 years, she hopes she will be able to look back and see that Pink Boots has changed the industry and overall awareness of broader societal problems that can make it difficult for women to advance. “I want it to not matter if you’re a man or a woman in the beer industry. Do you make good beer? Are you a nice person?”
She also suggests ways men can support women in craft beer. “Speak out and make sure you are being the best feminist you can be. It doesn’t have to look big or heroic. It just has to be the normal everyday things we do to encourage society toward equity,” says Engdahl. “Make sure your daughter isn’t getting left out of STEM in middle school. Get your sister a homebrew kit. Patronize businesses that support Pink Boots and tell them you are glad they support women in the beer industry. For associations, ask for more diversity in the board and in presenters.”
Pink Boots, though, isn’t about special treatment — it’s about equity and betterment for all. “I hope I can work myself out of a job,” says Engdahl, but cites educational system deficiencies, sexual harassment issues and inequality around the world as proof we’re not there yet.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Effective May 1, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company has a new leader. In her five years at the company, though, chief executive officer Cheryl Collins has already been an integral force shaping the brewery’s culture. Now she’ll set the company’s overall course.
“Our core purpose has been, and will always be, to perpetuate better living,” says Collins. “My chief role in guiding and molding Ninkasi will be to continue our pursuit of perpetuating better living by building an effective team that aims to create an exceptional customer experience by producing quality craft beers.”
Co-founder Nikos Ridge stepped down as CEO to take the role of president and will continue to serve on the board. “The first 10 years of Ninkasi were about inventing ourselves as a company,” says Ridge in a press release. “The next chapter of Ninkasi is about taking the capabilities and teams we’ve built and aligning them even more to better serve our customers and craft beer fans.”
Since its founding in 2006, the 11-year-old brewery has grown to 103 employees in Eugene and other states. In 2016 Ninkasi produced approximately 100,000 barrels of beer and had sales of $30 million, and the Brewers Association ranked Ninkasi the 33rd largest U.S. craft brewery, up from 36th in 2015.
With more than 10 years of organizational leadership and development experience, Collins began at Ninkasi in 2012. A recipient of the Recruiter of the Year award from the University of Oregon, Collins has also been recognized as Manager of the Year by the Willamette Chapter Credit Union Association, and she holds two national awards from the Credit Union National Association for development and execution of training programs. Industry publications look to her leadership on small business best practices, and in 2016 Collins was the keynote speaker at the Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit.
Her time at Ninkasi, though, awakened Collins to the joy underlying craft beer. “It started with Ninkasi, the first time I heard a brewer describe what they had made,” she explains. “You could feel the passion that went into it; they talked about it similar to an artist talking about a painting. It was contagious. As I expanded my palate and began visiting other breweries, I noticed this trend throughout the industry. There is such great passion we all have in craft beer, how could you not enjoy it?”
In her role as chief people officer, Collins shook up the company — and the industry — with a radical proposal: get rid of performance reviews. The company agreed, leading to an ongoing evolution in how Ninkasi employees and management collaborate on professional improvement. The change was just one of many ways Collins modified company policy and practices to ensure that they built and maintained a cohesive, mutually supportive company culture — instead of being mere tools of employee compliance.
“My background and education is rooted in understanding and building organizational cultures,” says Collins. “Above all else, if leaders do not understand the importance of impact of culture, then everything else becomes more challenging. By being able to lead the organization with respect to culture and how we operate as a business, we will be able to position ourselves in an even more viable position in the future.”
As vice president of organizational development and chief operations officer, Collins spearheaded implementation of both cultural and operational initiatives. She instituted programs for employee recruitment, training and onboarding programs; continuous improvement strategies and best practices across brewery operations; team-building activities to nurture organizational culture; safety protocols and initiatives; leadership development programs; employer branding; and overarching company strategies.
“Cheryl has worked closely with every department across Ninkasi and is a pivotal force in pushing our teams to their full potential,” says Ridge. “Her leadership, coaching and strategic focus make this transition an obvious step forward.”
Now Collins expands her role to direct and lead the company both in its day-to-day operations and to guide long-term strategy. “I look forward to continuing our commitment to our core purpose — perpetuate better living — and working with our teams to develop innovative approaches to how we do business,” says Collins. “The door is open for new and innovative methods for how we operate as a business. We a have a team of creative and dedicated people who have made Ninkasi what it is today, and I’m excited to continue to help us improve and remain leaders in the industry.”
The craft beer industry is experiencing upheavals. Some independent brewers have been acquired, others have closed. And Collins knows she’ll encounter hurdles during her tenure as CEO. “Of the many challenges we face in the industry, the ones prevalent right now are the increasing number of breweries in the market and the impact of localization, both of which present growth challenges for most breweries,” says Collins. “As the industry continues to shift and change we will navigate these challenges through staying true to who we are at Ninkasi and listening to what our customers are saying.”
Whatever challenges come, she knows she can rely on Ninkasi’s collaborative culture. “People — both women and men — are passionate about craft beer, and all of us strive to make the industry better.”
As she takes up her duties as CEO, Collins will continue to lead with a belief that operations and culture are interdependent, and that the success, growth and health of one depends on the other. “It’s inspiring to be a part of a community with the level of commitment and engagement we see here at Ninkasi,” explains Collins. “You feel, believe and know you are part of something bigger than yourself; that level of inspiration is what we strive for every day.”
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