Caffeine Magazine Article: Equality in the Speciality Coffee Industry
April 2, 2014

Really pleased to have an article published in the current issue (April/May 2014) of Caffeine Magazine.  The full article is below.  Caffeine Magazine is a fairly new, quality publication about the speciality coffee scene and the people who bring you great coffee.  Follow them on Twitter @CaffeineMag

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Picture the scene.  You enter your favourite speciality coffee shop and are greeted by your friendly and welcoming barista.  What do they look like?  Checked shirt?  Beanie?  Beard?  Sorry for the stereotype – but do most people imagine a male barista as the norm?  And is the coffee scene in general (including speciality) becoming a bit of a boys’ club?

As a relatively new industry and one that is breaking down barriers and building connections between growers and consumers we need to ensure that we are inclusive when it comes to making our industry a comfortable and attractive place for women to work – as baristas, roasters, traders and graders.  Customers sometimes seem surprised that I’m knowledgeable about, say, the technical aspects of extraction or coffee origins and processes.  Sometimes they even direct questions on these aspects directly to the only male barista of 4 in our shop.  This might be the perception of customers rather than the industry itself, but such views do prevail amongst professionals as well, and customers need to take their cues from us.

Female baristas are, unfortunately, still also judged on criteria other than their ability to pull a great shot or execute a great milk pour.  In recent weeks, I’ve seen several Twitter posts from coffee shops and roasters referring to female customers and colleagues as MILFS, BILFS and Cougars – in general tweets, promotional material and even coffee packaging.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a bit of banter.  But humour shouldn’t exclude, objectify or intimidate any portion of your clientele or workforce.  Women should feel welcome and at ease in the coffee shop environment.

Ironically women play a significant role in bringing coffee to the market.  In the countries of origin in Africa, Latin America and Asia they constitute around 70% of the labour force for picking and processing coffee.  Yet they are rarely permitted to own their own land or to sit on the board or management committee of the producer organisation and therefore have little impact on decision making processes.  In the consuming countries we rightly view this as an issue to be addressed, and trading and labelling organisations pledge to work on gender issues as part of their objectives.  Yet there is a bit of a double standard at play here – of the 15 members of the Board of SCAE, for example, only 1 is female.

In the current top 20 standings for the UK Barista Championship 2014, 6 are female, including last year’s overall third place barista.  In a recent Yorkshire-wide latte art throw-down, of 20 competitors only 3 were female, one of whom came second.  Ability is therefore obviously not the issue, so what is?  Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence, of opportunity or perhaps women just don’t perceive the coffee industry as open to them in career terms.

If we want the job of barista to be viewed as a profession in itself, it needs to be open to all.  Let’s make speciality coffee a flagship industry for equality.  We have the opportunity to reflect general attitudes, and to influence them for the good.

With a little thought and effort perhaps we can make sexism in the coffee industry as much a thing of the past as scalding hot caramel lattes.  And if you’re a woman who is passionate about coffee and would love a profession where you get to play with great equipment, with great coffee, where you can learn and improve your skills with no limitations, grab your beanie and give it a go!

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