This post is the second in a series. Read "Off-Flavors: Dispelling Myths About Organizational Equity and Inclusion Work - Part 1" here.
4. Off-Flavors: Acetaldehyde, Hydrogen Sulfide, and Soapiness
E&I Myth: "Equity and Inclusion Work Will Produce Immediate, Definitive Results"
In today's post, we explore three off-flavors commonly detected in beer and what they can teach us about commonly held myths about equity and inclusion work. Acetaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical compound that is produced by yeast during fermentation. It presents as the taste/smell of green or rotten apples or freshly cut pumpkin. Acetaldehyde is generally converted to ethanol alcohol during the fermentation and conditioning process. Hydrogen Sulfide is the chemical that gives sulphur its distinct rotten egg smell. I remember impatiently cracking open the airlocks of carboys to check the fermentation progress during my first few attempts at lager brewing and being met with face full of awful--a smell that was an unholy cross between a struck match and raw sewage. I was told to be patient but was tempted to dump each of those batches then and there. I'm glad I didn't. The CO2 produced and released during fermentation carries most hydrogen sulfide away. Soapiness is detectable as a detergent-like flavor or an oily or fatty mouthfeel. This flavor is produced when fatty acids in trub undergo a process called saponification, literally breaking down to produce soap...yum.
Though these are very distinct off-flavors, they have two important commonalities. First, the development of each off-flavor involves naturally-occurring chemicals and compounds. There are no outside interventions, no flawed processes, no inferior equipment, no spikes in pH or mash temperature to blame. Acetaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide, and soapiness aren't indicators that something went wrong. They just happen.
These off-flavors also share a common means of correction. Brewers have to develop an accurate set of expectations about the role and effects of time. In the case of acetaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, conditioning or lagering is key. There are a number of changes to my brew day that significantly improved the quality of my beers -- temperature control and careful attention to water composition are two -- but the simplest and most inexpensive tool I used to get better results was patience. Avoiding the production of soap in beer also requires a recalibration in how a brewer thinks about time. Saponification is most likely to occur when beer is left in a primary fermenter too long. In contrast to the sour apple or sulfur bomb that needs more time to mellow, that ale that has shaped up so nicely can't be left unattended forever. If you don't rack it to a secondary fermentor, you might end up brewing a Tide pod IPA.
The lesson we should take where myth meets metaphor is twofold. Too often, we operate with a pair of flawed assumptions. The first is that organizational equity and inclusion work will produce immediate results. Some of this is attributable to a problem I have written and spoken about frequently, the "one-and-done" phenomena. Remember that mandatory sensitivity training webinar that did little more than insult your intelligence and waste your time? Do you remember any follow up, continued conversations, changes in policy, additional resources, collaborative initiatives? No? Then, my friend, you have experienced the one-and-done and probably have a sense of just how ineffective this approach can be.
However, even when implemented as series of well-resourced, long-term efforts, equity and inclusion work often does not yield immediate results. As a professor of Communication Studies, I read and teach what research reveals about the process of attitude change. My colleagues in psychology engage in similar work on the process of behavior change. I will spare you a trip into land of social-science theory and practice and summarize the most salient point. Both change processes are intricately tied to aspects of human development and cognition that begin at birth and evolve over one's entire lifespan. The kinds of attitude and behavior change that is at the core of equity and inclusion work are difficult to inspire and involve complexities that are too numerous to count. Making headway, naturally, can take considerable time to achieve. Equity and inclusion work is challenging at best. It asks people to engage in uncomfortable self-examination, to expend effort to achieve results that they do not perceive will directly benefit them, to think and act in ways that might make them targets for those who take exception to anything that might be labeled as "political correctness," and to commit to these efforts authentically. That is to say, discomfort, resistance, skepticism, and even backlash are all naturally occurring byproducts of the equity and inclusion work. Like acetaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, we need to expect their presence and give them time to be inevitably reabsorbed or scrubbed out of the environment. Remember, this work is cumulative. A labor force or customer base is not going to immediately "get woke" the moment an organization undertakes equity and inclusion work. But given time, off-flavors dissipate and beautiful corporate cultures are allowed to shine.
The second assumption is that organizational equity and inclusion work produces definitive or permanent results. Equity and inclusion work must be ongoing work. Positive results wont last if they aren't maintained. Beware that success can breed complacency and keep in mind that equity and inclusion are about relationships. Keep your relationships with your employees and consumers from "going soapy" by remembering that the best relationships are actively maintained.
NEXT: 3. Metallic and Solvent-Like: "Membership in a historically underrepresented or marginalized group makes one qualified to lead diversity initiatives."