Ohio Craft Brewer’s Association Moves toward more inclusion and education

The OCBA created a committee for diversity and inclusion in an effort to better reflect their communities 

Last year, the craft beer market in America made $22.2 billion in sales, which represented 12.3% of the country’s beer sales, according to 2021 data from the website for the Brewers Association, an organization for small and independent craft brewers.  

From 2015 to 2020, the total number of U.S. Breweries increased from 4,847 to 8,884, and Ohio ranks 3rd in the country for barrels of craft beer produced every year. Even factoring in the significant financial losses in the food and beverage industry during COVID-19, packaged craft beer kept the industry afloat.   

Suffice to say, craft brewing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Now, business leaders in Ohio’s craft brewing industry say they are committed to creating a community that is more diverse and inclusive, both behind the taps and within the boardroom.   

Putting things into perspective 

This commitment followed data findings from a 2018 economic impact study by the Brewers Association in collaboration with the OCBA. The study, which included demographic data of some breweries in Ohio, found that out of 291 owners, an overwhelming majority were white, while all other races collectively made up only 11.6%.  

In terms of gender inclusion, 77.4% of brewery owners identified as male, 22.6% identified as female and none identified as non-binary. Of the ownership mix, 52.3% of breweries had a staff that consisted of only people who identified as male. Only 2% of breweries had an all-female staff.    

In 2019 the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA) created a diversity and inclusion committee to “create an Ohio craft brewing community that better mirrors the demographics and reality of the state and communities in which we live and work,” according to the OCBA website.    

Working from the inside, out 

“Craft brewing is a business, and expanding diversity, equity and inclusion can also lead to new audiences and consumers of craft beer,” 

Mary MacDonald

The elected committee, which includes four women and three men, is working to create a cohesive message which it can share with its workforce, consumer base and broader community.   

The members view the craft brewing industry as “microcosm” of the world at large. From this perspective, a wide range of perspectives, cultures and world experiences would benefit the business. Diversity offers an ever-growing wheelhouse of skills, ideas and conversations.  

Mary MacDonald, executive director of the OCBA, says the industry is known for its collaborative spirit, especially when it comes to spreading their independent message.  

“Craft brewing is a business, and expanding diversity, equity and inclusion can also lead to new audiences and consumers of craft beer,” MacDonald said via email.  

MacDonald, who began working in the craft brewing industry in 2006, says she has seen sustainable changes within the industry. She notes even more progress regarding gender, race and sexual identity since joining the OCBA in 2013. But she also acknowledges the additional, long-term work needed for the industry to be wholly equitable and inclusive.  

Representation in Southeast Ohio 

immy Stockwell, OCBA vice president and co-founder of Little Fish Brewery in Athens, says that in the few years Little Fish has been a business, he has watched the Ohio Craft Brewers Association evolve to meet the needs of the industry. He says MacDonald’s work at OSBA helped initiate a new phase for the organization.  

“It was [originally] only equipped to deal with the very basic advocacy for Ohio craft breweries,” he says.    

Today, the OCBA offers a webinar about the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts done by the Master Brewers Association of America and how that work can be applied at specific breweries.    

Stockwell says Little Fish Brewery’s role in the community is to create as welcoming a place as possible for conversation. One way that Little Fish strives to make people comfortable is presenting signs of inclusion outwardly, like a mission statement or hiring criteria.    

“Stating our position that we are a place that invites diversity might invite people to apply, but also by putting it out there, you let people who don’t agree with you not apply,” he says.    

By this mindset, inclusion and exclusion are both important. The hiring process reflects the employee community, the morals of the company and the community in which they participate. 

The world is changing, craft beer must change too 

Efforts to engage on a national scale are also a part of this community. For example, Marcus Baskerville, co-founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas, created the Black is Beautiful beer, a “collaborative effort to raise awareness of the injustices people of color face daily,” according to the Black Is Beautiful website.  

Proceeds from the sale of the beer go to local foundations that support police reform and commit to fostering an inclusive place for people of color in the brewing community. There are 35 Ohio breweries participating in the Black is Beautiful campaign, including Jackie O’s Brewery in Athens.     

A slow and steady beginning

OCBA recently updated its mission statement and vision for the future to reflect inclusivity. Members adopted a new code of conduct at the end of 2020, and a list of diversity, equity and inclusion resources is available to all breweries.  

The goal of these efforts is to create a community among Ohio craft breweries that educates, empowers and engages all people. The OCBA plans to hold more seminars to educate its members once COVID-19 health regulations allow. 

MacDonald and Stockwell agree that there is still more work to be done for diversity and inclusion on all levels, from the operational side of brewing to the demographics of its customers. Moving forward, OCBA members plan to provide craft breweries with resources and opportunities to promote equity as a promising first step toward creating an environment that better reflects the community.