Let’s just say it: Sexism in beer is nothing new. Back in ye olden days, brewing beer was primarily women’s work, but as the industry grew larger and vastly more lucrative, ladies were systematically shunted to the side. According to an oft-cited Stanford University study, in 2014 only 4 percent of U.S. breweries had a female brewmaster or head brewer.
That has real financial implications in a multibillion-dollar industry responsible for more than 150,000 jobs. It also has social ones. A survey by the Brewer’s Association found that 72 percent of female craft beer drinkers were “frustrated by brands that treat people like me as an afterthought.” No wonder—misogynistic marketing campaigns clearly tailored to a male audience don’t exactly feel like an invitation to women drinkers. And even after all these years, the image of the brewer as a bearded, Caucasian man persists.
Now, a new study by behavioral researchers at Stanford University indicates that there may be a reason why that image is so hard to let go of, even as the reality slowly shifts. The study concluded that not only were consumers willing to pay less for a craft beer if they believed it was brewed by a woman, but they also tended to have lower expectations about it.
We’ve looked at craft beer and cupcakes, but this could extend to any type of product from academic research to entrepreneurship. And that has very serious implications for all of us.”
“Our research suggests that customers don’t value and are less inclined to buy traditionally male products if they think they’ve been manufactured by women,” said Sarah A. Soule in a statement. “There’s an assumption that your woman-made craft beer, screwdriver, or roof rack just won’t be as good.”
First, the researchers asked 150 participants to rank products on a scale as either masculine or feminine. Next, they asked a different group of 200 participants to make value judgments on the items the most “masculine” item—craft beer—and one considered most “feminine”—cupcakes—based on packaging.
It’s worth noting that this is a small sample size and that although the study contained a randomly selected mix of male and female participants, no effort was made to determine whether the results differed statistically by gender. Nevertheless, the findings are troubling enough to warrant extra research.
In the end, the study found that no one really cared whether a man or a woman was behind their cupcake, but in the case of a craft beer, it mattered quite a bit. Simply put, women producers paid a price for attempting to enter a male-associated business, while men suffered no ill consequences for attempting the reverse.
“What we’re seeing here is that woman-made goods for sale in male-typed markets are being penalized for no reason other than the fact they are made by women,” Soule says.
If this is accurate, it goes a long way to explaining the nagging gender gap in business ownership in this country, despite a 58 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses since 2007.
“We’ve looked at craft beer and cupcakes, but this could extend to any type of product from academic research to entrepreneurship,” Shelley J. Correll says. “And that has very serious implications for all of us.”
As frustrating as those implications may be, it isn’t all bad news. If researchers slapped a Great American Beer Festival gold medal on the bottle, participants were more likely to praise it, regardless of the brewer’s supposed gender. Awards are, obviously, merit-based and no brewery should receive one just because the brewmaster identifies as female. Still, it’s heartening to believe that more balanced media and industry coverage might have the power to help people overcome their internalized biases.
“We’re not recommending awards ‘quotas’ per se, but these organizations need to understand the important and helpful role they can play in changing perceptions and driving us forward toward a society where the odds are not quite so stacked against women,” says Soule.
The best part? As Soule noted, “Beer snobs also are unaffected by the gender of the brewer.” In other words, informed consumers know that damn good brewers come in all genders.