When consumers think about the beer industry, the normal picture that comes to your mind normally involves sports, frat boys and women in bikinis. Sure, you could pretend that your summer abroad really influenced your life and you think of the awesome beer gardens in Germany. But even that picture is clouded by the St. Pauli Girl and lots of cleavage. As an industry, beer is a man’s world. And a pretty stereotypical man’s world at that.
And yet, females still manage to work in this industry as something other than advertising tools. One example, me! I worked in data analysis and sales coordinating for a beer company. I believe that I was lucky enough to work an honest and respectable portion of the industry, with owners who treat females with respect. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t run in to pockets of serious gender stereotyping or intensely questionable ad campaigns from our parent company.
More than anything, I was insulated from the sometimes-misogynistic undertones of the beer business, simply because I worked in the office everyday. I only attended events with our customers a couple of times a year. Other than that, I spoke to them over the phone throughout the week to handle their needs. In my professional office setting, I was less likely to confront the stereotyping that happens out in the market.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to speak with a woman who knows plenty about operating in every area of the beer industry. Molly Kurtz is the Vice President of Sales for a beer distributor. She heads up a sales team of over 20 men, and splits her time between office duties and market time. She took time out of a very busy week to talk with The Grindstone about what’s like to a professional woman in a male-dominated industry. And she has great advice for any woman looking to enter into a job where traditional gender roles are often reinforced.
“You have to have tough skin,” were the first words out of Mrs. Kurtz’s mouth. And I think they’re the best bit of advice that you can give when you’re looking at the alcohol industry. “You’re working in a business where things might not always be communicated in the most professional manner,” she explained. By the way, I think that’s the most professional way I’ve ever heard someone explain that when you get a lot of men together, they often tell inappropriate jokes, curse, and say things that make them sound like jerks.
But ignoring colorful commentary isn’t the only communication problem that comes up. “When you’re working with a lot of men, they tend to think about different things than you do. They don’t always see your point of view and they don’t understand where you’re coming from. It can be hard to get everyone on the same page.” Kurtz’s job makes it imperative that she keeps her salesmen informed of their goals and their progress. Essentially, she has to find a way to make them see things the way she does, which can be an issue when you’re working with something who doesn’t relate to you. It’s a problem that many female managers face in building relationships with a male staff.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask about the half-naked women that show up in most beer advertising campaigns. Honestly, I barely ever saw them and their existence still bothered me. But Kurtz’s response made me smile, “You look past them. You don’t have to change your opinions on them. You can still think that they’re awful. And then you can celebrate when the truly terrible ones get canned. One thing is sure, they’ll always be another campaign or another new product.”
It’s obvious that Mrs. Kurtz really enjoys her job. She admits that the industry and the style of work fit her personality and her skillset. And it’s obvious that she’s right, given that the young mother made VP before her 30th birthday. She’s a successful woman in a business that normally uses females for their breasts, as opposed to their intellect.
So, what’s it like for a female in the beer industry? “Well, this weekend, it’s going to be hectic.” I think we can all drink to that.