BRAVE NOISE: Equity, Diversity and Changes at Fort George

Not that different

The first time I walked into the Pub, the lights were low, it was snowing outside, the place was packed, it was late, the walls were green, there was a live tarantula above the tap wall, and all the employees were laughing, joking and having a great time.

“I could work here,” I said as a server waved hello from the bar like we were old friends.

My partner and I had both worked in the service industry, and we had both sworn off restaurant service forever.

“It’s still a restaurant,” he said.

“Yeah, but this is different,” I said.

I still feel that way. We’ve both worked at the Fort for almost 6 years and we both still feel like it’s different. But it’s not that different. We’re still a brewery, and we’re still a restaurant. We’re still a company full of complex, flawed individuals doing challenging work and we’re still vulnerable to all of the prejudices and flaws of our industries and our community. You don’t get happy, successful employees out of nowhere and you can’t force a culture of inclusion, diversity and safety. All of that can grow organically, but only when strong, clear ground rules of respect are in your framework. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re on the road and we’ll never stop getting better.

Fort George: Brave Noise

Being on the road, making continuous strides toward a better brewing industry and a better service industry, is one huge reason why Fort George is proud to be joining almost 200 other breweries in taking a stand against racism, harassment, assault, and discrimination in our industries by brewing a batch of our finest brew for BRAVE NOISE.

Brave Noise

This beer is dedicated to and in honor of those who have spoken out about their gender discrimination, racism, sexual assault, and harassment in the craft beer industry. Profits from our beer will go directly to The Harbor, our amazing local resource for survivors of domestic violence, abuse and harassment.

Learn more about what The Harbor stands for, how they are an indispensable resource in our community, and how you can help support them, too. 

Here’s Zack O’Connor, our Vice Prez, and Kirsten Pierce, DTC Coordinator, talking about some of the changes we’ve made, and what lies ahead for the Fort in our never-ending quest to be good for, and good to, our employees, friends, and community.

Brave noise: Changes at the Fort

Kirsten Pierce: I’m really happy we’re making this beer, but I had to google a few things and consult my spouse, which is what I usually do when there’s something on the internet that I wasn’t a part of at the time, which is almost everything that’s on the internet, actually.

Zack O’Connor: It’s been super interesting, I’m always surprised to find people in the industry that haven’t heard about it. Wait, you haven’t… where were you? It really seemed like this true watershed moment for the industry. Change like that is rare, in terms of equity. There’s just… harassment is rampant in the service industry and the craft beer industry is a big part of that. So that brought a lot to the surface. I was really excited to see so much focus and so many tangible effects in terms of toxic or abusive leaders being removed, organizations shifting their values and/or articulating their values. So I’m happy to be just getting the word out about this whole saga.

K: Keeping the conversation going forward, now everyone is on a roll, hopefully. And a major part of that is a visible Code of Conduct?

Z: So this has been really important. Most of what went into the Code of Conduct already existed. We kind of pulled it from bits and pieces of the policy manual and consolidated it in a way that felt a little more accessible. Not just accessible, but for someone who’s a customer or a vendor, they could read it and see where we’re coming from, at a glance.

K: How is this Code of Conduct more accessible, how is this better than or different from the policy manual?

Z: Our policy manual can be a little legal-sounding. It’s full of some pretty dense language. And so hopefully this is more easily understood. We want to inspire our team to actually utilize this. One of the things we spent the most time on was cutting out the H.R. vernacular and trying to make it something that anyone could read.

K: Like a third grade reading level. Nice and simple.

Z: That’s really the best.

K: So what were we already doing that we were able to refocus on or refine, and what have we changed?

Z: A lot. We’ve been working on this type of communication internally for years. We try to base all our language and interactions on values that we articulate constantly, but that message and that language has always been internal. I think that’s the biggest change. This is us shifting that communication to our external relationships. That will be the biggest shift that this year will bring for us. Our company values are not really something we’ve ever explicitly put on customers or vendors or associates or collaborators. We’ve never outright said: these are our expectations if you want to be buds and work together. Not to say we haven’t had problems in the past, even the past year. It’s always been that if something happens, case by case, we’ll address it. Otherwise there’s no real language behind it, no intentionality. We’ve tried to react well to negative stuff that comes up. This really sets us up with a framework of expectations from the beginning.

K: This sounds like a really positive change. We’ve had some issues in the past where our company values maybe don’t align exactly with the folks we end up working with. There’s been a shift in tone in the industry and this stuff is more important.

Z: It’s top of the discussion now. When we were picking out a couple of different potential collaborators for next year’s 3-Way IPA, one of the first questions, not just from me, but from several other people was: What are their values? What do they stand for? Are they a good person to work with? It’s great to see that prioritized in the conversation now. I don’t remember that being part of the conversation at all previously. To use a previous collaborator as an example, it turns out they don’t have a great culture. They have some toxic components and I don’t think they’re doing the work to address those issues. We didn’t do our homework before signing up to work with them. Hopefully as a result of this being a huge, industry-wide conversation, it’s going to be easier to do that homework. I think that stuff is getting drawn out in a way, a lot more effectively.

K: People might not know that we also have a distribution company here on the north coast and they’ve been talking to all the cool craft brands that we distribute, hashing out goals for next year. There have been some really great conversations coming out of those meetings. It’s great to see brands express what they’re doing to make their workplace equitable, fair and diverse. Which might not have been a priority in the past.

Z: That’s so cool.

K: Yeah, when you’re selling someone’s stuff, you want to know as much as you can about a brand’s values.

Z: I mean, we all only have so much bandwidth and there are more brands than we can work with or distribute. At the end of the day it makes sense to prioritize the people that care about creating a good culture. If you have two options and the beer’s just as good, it’s a lot better to focus on brands that are willing to stand up for something.

K: I like it. So I was looking at our policy manual and we obviously care about inclusion, diversity, fairness, and we care about keeping people employed here. People become more valuable when they’ve worked somewhere for a long time, they become part of your culture. Our industry is not the most diverse, and we tend to attract and retain mostly one kind of person (white males). So what are we specifically doing to make sure that our workplace is attractive to people who are not just white and male? We like them too, but…

Z: No, seriously. I mean, we’re predominantly white and male right now.

K: Yeah.

Z: So over the last couple of years, we’ve been looking at our recruitment strategies, primarily. What are the barriers that we’re not even noticing? What are the pools that we’re not reaching? So with each job posting now we’ve been reaching out to Consejo Hispano, Pink Boots. There’re several recruiting organizations that are non-profits that are focusing on the beer industry specifically and getting postings to a wider range of people. We’re trying to get our postings in front of a larger audience. We’re also running the language on those job postings through this tool, it basically identifies language that is coded masculine or coded feminine. And we’re trying to make sure that all of our postings are at the very least neutral where before, inadvertently, they were all very masculine-sounding. The tool explains it in greater detail telling you which words are coded which way and why.

K: That’s cool.

Z: And statistically women are much less likely to apply for a job unless they consider themselves 100 percent qualified. And men, statistically, will apply even if they only consider themselves 60 percent qualified.

K: That’s so awesome. I mean, it’s not. Like the opposite of that. It’s just really interesting.

Z: So it’s trying to knock that shit down. Figure out how we can be an attractive employer to more than just white males. Not disqualifying those people, just broadening our applicant pool. And it’s not something that we publicize very broadly because frankly, progress is really slow and it’s difficult. And you know, we’ve been working on this for years now, and we’re still pretty homogenous. Yeah. We have work to do.

K: And it’s an industry that is not very diverse to begin with, especially when you get into the distribution branch and those sorts of jobs. Have we ever talked about wage transparency and making compensation for all of our positions as open and public as possible?

Z: We’ve talked about it. I’ve talked to several peers in the industry that have done it. Some have done it and switched back. Some have done it and stuck with it. It can be a really hard process. I’ve heard some real horror stories. It can be hard on people, with no context, no explanation, and there’s just a lot of volatility. So where we’ve focused our energy is on the actual underlying structures that help ensure that pay equity is not just a passive process. Sash, our HR Generalist, and I are actively benchmarking, going through a comparable analysis on different roles to make sure that people who are doing the same work are grouped together and then benchmarked appropriately. So that’s where we’re at currently.

K: I have just been impressed with how much effort and time has gone into making sure there’s less and less room for subjectivity in all the ways that the money gets into the hands of the people earning the money. Women, especially, are less likely to ask for a raise, or ask to be compensated fairly if we don’t know the wages of our peers. If we don’t know what others around us are making.

Z: There’s been some good shifts in that direction with a lot of roles, like all the positions in the pub, those wages are all standardized and everyone else knows what they are, and they’re not driven by individual factors. They get adjusted annually and that’s it. So that’s been, I think that’s been a positive change. And it’s also shifted the performance reviews over there, away from focusing on money to focusing more on qualitative evaluations of how you’re doing, where you want to go. We’ve made similar progress with some entry-level roles in distribution. Those rates are now pretty widely discussed and we’re starting to paint a picture of what you can expect, what the ceiling is and how that role evolves year to year. Then bigger picture, we are trying really hard to use objective data sets and industry specific salary surveys for each position so that we’re catching people that might otherwise slip through the cracks and be underpaid.

K: So uh, what kind of beer is it? Brave Noise? Do you know?

Z: Oh yeah. So the larger collab itself is not a set recipe. It is supposed to be a pale ale. And so Michal looked at what we had on hand in terms of hops for the dry hopping schedule, and what he came up with is a slightly hazy, soft and fruity pale ale. He’s working on the description right now. It sounded really, really good. It’s going to look similar in color and haze to probably City of Dreams: straw colored, light white head. But I’m excited to taste it. Yeah.

K: Cool. Sounds good. Tasty. And it will be in 16 ounce cans? I saw the label, it looks really good. Are we distributing that all over or are we just keeping it in the pubs?

Z: Yeah, so a lot of the collaborators are doing small runs, one-offs, maybe even draft only batches. But our Marketing Director, Brian and Michal, our Head Brewer, both felt strongly about it and they wanted to brew it on Kingpin, our Waterfront Production System. So it’s a big full batch (120 bbls!) that’s going out to our distro network.

K: Awesome. Everyone will be able to taste this one. I’m so good at conducting interviews. I’m sorry. I don’t have more questions. Is there anything else about this beer going out into the world?

Z: That’s OK. I think also it might be good to mention, the profits from this beer are supposed to benefit a non-profit that’s in line with the goals of this collaboration project. They had some, like national and state options available. They suggested one in Portland. We’ve worked with the Harbor directly a lot of times. They’re literally a lifeline for the community, and even for our staff. If something, especially in terms of harassment is happening, they’re just this amazing resource that’s right here. It’s run locally by volunteers and it’s a great, great organization. And so that’s who we’re going to partner with primarily. They might break it out with a couple of different organizations.

K: Oh, that’s awesome. I’m always happy to see The Harbor come out for Benefit Nights and stuff. I know a few people who they’ve helped tremendously. Super cool.

Z: Yeah, I mean, this project is aiming to create safe, diverse workplaces with resources in place for dealing with toxic situations. And we know that literally down the street is a team of volunteers that are ready at a moment’s notice for our coworkers and our community to help them navigate any situation that compromises their safety. Safety is their number one priority and they just handle it.

safe, inclusive, diverse work spaces

Learn more about the incredible work that The Harbor does for our community here.

We really are on a never-ending quest to be better. If you have thoughts on future partners, community projects, or how we can improve our operations, or if you just want to talk about beer, please reach out. We’re always listening at beer@fortgeorgebrewery.com.

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