Craft Beer for All

Off-Flavors: Dispelling Myths About Organizational Equity and Inclusion Work - Part 1

04.25.19 12:11 PM Comment(s) By Dr. J.

One of the things I love most about being a homebrewer is ruminating on how so many of the processes involved in producing a batch of beer are excellent metaphors for other aspects of life. These metaphors run the gambit from the technical to the spiritual and inspire me to see the world in new and interesting ways. I offered one such metaphor in a recent article in The New Brewer:

Don't mistake friendliness for inclusivity.

This suggestion challenges the commonly held belief that being decent and kind  is equivalent to being diversity-minded. It is not. Often times, the lack of overt  bias or hate speech is taken as evidence that product or space is equitable and  inclusive. This is akin to concluding that a lack of off-flavors results in a flavorful  beer. The two are at least on some level related, but are by no means equivalent.

This blog post is the first in a series that will unpack some of the most unproductive myths about organizational equity and inclusion work by extending the metaphor of off-flavors. As I suggest above, recognizing and correcting off-flavors isn't the same as producing a beautifully flavorful beer, but it's a necessary part of the process. Similarly, dispelling myths about equity and inclusion work isn't the same as implementing equitable and inclusive organizational practices, but it's a necessary first step. Or rather...a necessary first five steps. 

5. Off-flavor: Salty
​E&I Myth: "There are universally applicable ways to take advantage of opportunities to be more inclusive and equitable."

When detected as an off-flavor, saltiness in beer is often the result of being heavy-handed with brewing salts. I made this mistake as a novice brewer by following a completely natural and logical impulse. I asked a fellow brewer what they did to produce a positive result and then copied their procedure exactly, assuming that doing so would allow me to achieve the same result.

The problem, of course, was that this fellow brewer and I lived in different places and used water from difference municipal water supplies. His municipal water was essentially naked and he relied upon a cocktail of salts just to drive a decent mash. My municipal water fell on the other end of the spectrum and adding copious amounts of calcium chloride, gypsum and/or sodium bicarbonate resulted in disaster. It wasn't until I got in the habit of ordering detailed municipal water reports that I started to understand how to use brewing salts to my advantage. I eventually achieved the positive results I envied in my fellow brewer, but I ended up needing to take entirely different steps to get there. 

The myth that there are "one size fits all" ways to seize the opportunity to diversify an organization's brand, labor force, or customer base might be one of the biggest hurdles to authentically engaging in inclusion and equity work. It is completely natural to want for concrete examples or to assume that replicating another organization's proven path to success is the best way to proceed. Keep in mind, however, that outcomes are inextricably tied to starting points. You can't chart a successful path forward without a thorough understanding of where you are starting out. 

Before charging headlong into "diversity" efforts that may or may not be effective, make sure you take the time to discover:
  • What is the demographic and psychographic make-up of your labor force and surrounding community? 
  • What are the needs, desires, and situational constraints of those who produce and consume your beer? 
  • What is the current state of your organizational climate and your relationship with your community and customer base?
  • What resources do you have access to that can be leveraged in service of inclusion and equity work?

Remember, your opportunities to cultivate diversity are specific to your context. Before you can make change, you need to understand what is "in the water."

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