Until late last year, I was a rare breed: a mother working in beer. I’d been in or around breweries for nearly a decade—writing about the industry since 2008 and working with the Rogue Ales & Spirits marketing team from 2013 until November of last year—when I had a kid.
Becoming a mom in the brewing industry meant spending hours working in a warehouse after late nights with a newborn, going to after-hours events with a baby in a car seat, and overall just existing in a male-dominated environment where no one wanted to talk about breast pumps.
Being a mom in the beer industry made me realize that there aren’t many moms in the beer industry. Midland Brewing Company’s Leah Witkoske is one. A single mother of two boys, she has been brewing professionally for three years and recently joined the Midland team in Midland, Michigan as a brewer.
“I think there is a little bit of stigma around kids being in the brewing industry, but only from the outside of the brewing industry,” Witkoske says.
It’s true. The team at Rogue was a lot like a family. They were as excited to welcome my son when he was born in April of 2018 as I was. When I decided to tell my boss at Rogue that I was pregnant, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After four years at the brewery, I knew we had some work to do to make the brewery a mom-friendly place.
The company didn’t have a maternity leave policy—or really any form of family leave—in place. There also wasn’t a “mother’s room” or any private room with a lock on the door other than the bathrooms. I worked in a warehouse with makeshift offices and meeting rooms. It wasn’t exactly the warmest environment.
Before I came along and got knocked up, Rogue hadn’t needed to consider mothers working in their breweries. Just like most of the industry, my former employer’s team had long been primarily male. Women, and especially mothers, just weren’t a huge part of the brewing labor pool until recently.
Amanda McLamb, Co-founder and Owner of Resident Culture Brewing Co. in Charlotte, North Carolina is not only the mother of a three-year-old, she’s also expecting another in August. “I have the luxury of being in charge of making the rules about what a mother can and can’t do on site,” she admits. “I can take the challenge of working with my child under my arm and feeding my baby at my job.”
While I didn’t have the same situation, I was still comfortable talking to my employers about the support I needed. My becoming a mother changed Rogue as much as it changed me.
The hardest part about being a mom in the beer industry is that there aren't a lot of other moms, in my experience, on the brewing side.”
“Brewing seems to be an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry,” McLamb says. “So those pieces haven’t necessarily really been thought about yet and the sense of urgency to put them in place, because it’s not so top of mind, is pretty lacking.”
Essentially, the lack of moms in brewing historically has translated to an industry that wasn’t built for moms.
“The hardest part about being a mom in the beer industry is that there aren't a lot of other moms, in my experience, on the brewing side,” Witkoske says.
As of 2014, women made up 29 percent of the brewery workforce, according to a study at Auburn University. Today, according to data from the Brewers Association, men still dominate in most brewery roles but we’re making headway. For instance, the Pink Boots Society, an organization of women who hold down all types of jobs at breweries and brewpubs, boasted 404 members in 2010 according to Craftbeer.com. Ten years later, the organization has just under 2,500 members.
There’s even less data on how many of the women in the beer industry are mothers. That’s likely because many moms in beer aren’t keen on advertising that part of their lives.
“I used to find it hard to talk about my kids because my coworkers wouldn't have much to say about it,” Witkoske says.
The people I worked beside day in and day out didn’t yet have kids, never planned on having kids, or were the parents of already grown kids. So, at least in that moment, I was alone. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting support from my coworkers and superiors.
In the weeks after I let the cat out of the bag about my baby bump, I had meetings with my boss, the human resources director, and the president before a parental and maternity leave policy was announced. The legal department had been working on solidifying the policy for a while, but my expanding belly was the impetus for getting it finalized.
Last year, Forbes reported that maternity leave has become one of the most important benefits offered to employees at breweries of all sizes. About half of all small breweries offer it. In the case of Resident Culture Brewing, McLamb admits that the brewery doesn’t have a formal policy, but given that she makes the rules, she works with her staff to ensure they get the time off they need. “Because we run our own place, we have the luxury of setting things up the way that we want,” she says. And for her, that means making sure her staff feels valued and has a work-life balance.
McLamb’s head brewer and business partner is expecting his first child with his wife in a few weeks. She’s already discussed with him that he should take the time he needs, trusting that his brewing team can take over for him while he’s out. McLamb adds, “He will be able to be at home focusing on literally the most important thing that’s ever happened to him in his life with his family.”
Those kinds of things aren't thought of when a bunch of men are running the place.”
After my maternity leave, I returned to my desk full-time and immediately faced another challenge: finding a private place where I could use a breast pump. The general manager of the brewery public houses at the time stopped what he was doing the day I got back, found a lock that wasn’t being used and drilled it onto one of the office doors. It wasn’t exactly cozy and I have to admit it wasn’t perfect by any means. That said, one of the women on the sales team told me about how she was forced to pump in her car years before when she was working for a different brewery. So it was a step in the right direction.
Witkoske, who started brewing professionally when her youngest was just seven months old, also struggled to find privacy in the brewery. “I didn't have a place to pump milk, so I just asked the guys to keep watch,” she explains. “Those kinds of things aren't thought of when a bunch of men are running the place.”
It wasn’t just policies and privacy that are challenges for moms either. Brewery events, like after-hours tap takeovers at bars and beer releases in the taproom, get tricky when you’ve got a kid to pick up from daycare. For me, it was a monthly event for regulars at the Rogue Public House that turned into a juggling act between my husband and I. If I had to work late, he had to collect the kid from daycare. If he couldn’t do that, I couldn’t work late.
“I want to go to events,” Witkoske says. As a brewer, she sees it as the glamorous side of the industry and something she likes to do. “I've always been supported when I couldn't go to an event for child care reasons.”
McLamb admits that traveling to events, like conferences and beer festivals, was one of the biggest challenges for her. “She did come with us to [the Craft Brewers Conference] a couple of years ago and it ended up being more mom than work,” she says. “We realized really quickly it wasn’t going to be an easy tag-along.”
In the two years since I navigated being pregnant and becoming a mother in the beer world, two of my former coworkers gave birth. On top of that, the actual numbers do show that there’s a growing number of women consuming beer which feeds into more women working in the industry. As female representation grows, it’s sure to lead to more mothers being welcomed into brewing jobs.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but moms are blazing the trail ahead. “We need more representation,” Witkoske says. “We need more female brewery owners, more female production managers, more female brewers, more female cellar operators. For so long mothers were expected to stay home with babies and fix dinner and do the dishes and make sure their husbands were happy. Well, not anymore.”
Illustration by Sunny Eckerle