Kitchener-Waterloo·Q&A

Breweries need to talk more about how they're addressing racism, says diversity advocate Ren Navarro

Ren Navarro, founder of Beer. Diversity., educates the beer industry about how to create safe and welcoming spaces for people of any colour. She says some breweries posted to social media during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this spring, but haven't done much since.

Appealing to more community members can lead to a more diverse workforce, says Ren Navarro of Beer. Diversity

Ren Navarro of Kitchener started Beer. Diversity. to educate the beer industry about why it's important to create safe and welcoming spaces for Black, Indigenous and people of colour to enjoy beer. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Ren Navarro of Kitchener is calling out breweries who offered support and change as the Black Lives Matter movement gathered momentum this past spring but have made little to no improvement.

Navarro founded Beer. Diversity to address the lack of diversity in the brewing industry.

She joined CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition to talk about how local breweries have responded to calls for diversity.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Craig Norris: Take us back to late May, early June. How did breweries initially react at the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Ren Navarro: I think they reacted the way most of us did. I mean it was kind of shocking, kind of when it started everyone talking about it. But, you know, there was a period of time where everyone did the black square for the Black Out Tuesday which, I mean I think it was supposed to be well done, but it was kind of a strange thing to do. But ...

CN: The thing is, I mean, that was supposed to be a music industry thing, I believe. I also saw some breweries saying, yes we have to change, the word vow was used a lot. It seemed, did it not, that if there was ever an opportunity for real change that may have been it right?

RN: I think so. You know, we've been talking about making changes in the industry for years but this was finally that moment of like, we've got to do this. And yeah, there were a lot of places that signed up and said yes, we vowed to make real commitment and real change.

CN: Is there a brewery that you can think of that's an example to maybe other people in the industry who made that vow and maybe took some action.

RN: Yeah. I mean I can think of a bunch of them. Short Finger, Counterpoint, TWB, Block Three. They all jumped on it and then they stayed on it.

CN: And what did that look like? 

RN: They all collaborated together to do Black is Beautiful [a project to raise money and awareness about police brutality reform and legal defences for people wronged] but individually they all did other donations.

[They said] this beer launch we're going to put X amount of money to a local, Black community group, not just kind of a high level thing, and also just educating people and showing links and saying these are people who are doing really great things and they're leaders within this community and this is who we need to listen to. And I think most of them … even went to the Black Lives Matter march.

CN: Interestingly, when you and I spoke January 2019, it wasn't just about diversity in a breweries workforce, right. It was also about just appealing to a more diverse consumer base. Can a brewery do that, do you think, without having a more diverse staff?

RN: I think so. One leads into the other. So, if you start bringing in a diversity of patrons, they'll keep coming back, they'll learn that you've got a great value system and that you believe in these things and that you're making a welcoming and safe space. And who knows? Six months from now they may actually apply to work at the brewery. So, you know, one can lead into the other.

CN: It's what you do for a living — you consult with breweries about making a more diverse workplace and a more diverse clientele. So I don't want you to give away everything, but what steps can breweries take now to start to change this?

RN: It's transparency and and say you're trying to learn and it's not just about making financial donations, because not everyone is in that position.

But if you're putting out there that you're trying to learn you want to make a safe and welcoming space, I mean, those are kind of the first steps. But you know pop-ups — I know that Counterpoint does a bunch of pop-ups with people from the Black community and it's nothing strange, I mean it's food, right? So you want to come and eat anyway. But it's that little piece where they say, here's someone that you may not have met and here's food from a culture you may not have tried before.

CN: Sounds very cool. And I mean, we sort of broach corporate slacktivism right? Is that what hopefully the transparency staves off at least?

RN: I think so. I think once you make yourself accountable to the next action then it's not that you have to do something new every day. It's just, hey, every couple of weeks or every month say, we're still figuring stuff out and here's the book that we're reading to try and learn.

CN: Right. This all comes about because of a tweet that I saw that you sent out saying that earlier this week you were going to start naming names. So I'm guessing that maybe you're not going to name names on social media yet?

RN: Yes. Well, so what I did instead was I reached out behind the scenes and said, hey you've been really quiet and, you know June 22nd or whatever the date was. What are you doing behind the scenes? And why aren't you saying anything?

Because what gets me is that breweries will tell the public that they've ordered a new hop profile. They're not going to use it for three months, but hey we got hops. 

So my question is: why can't you give us an update to say, here's what we're doing to try and interact with our community a bit more.

CN: And what has that been met with?

RN: It's been pretty positive. Breweries have been very open to it and they've been very honest about what's happening. I think some of the public have been not taking it well. I've been trolled a bit for the last few days about it.

Listen to the whole interview:

Is it corporate 'slacktivism' to take to social media supporting Black Lives Matter, vowing your company will change, then doing nothing concrete? Kitchener's Ren Navarro of Beer. Diversity. talks about how local breweries are doing when to comes to stepping up to make change. 6:20

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