In Conversation: The Coffeewoman
Teresa von Fuchs, our Director of Wholesale and all-around awesome coffee ambassador, takes the reins of the Irving Farm blog to talk about her experience at #thecoffeewoman, a first of its kind conversation about women, sexism, harassment, and gender roles in our growing industry. Watch the video below, read what Teresa has to say, and continue the conversation yourselves!
I had the honor of participating in the first ever #thecoffeewoman event in Kansas City as part of the US Coffee Championship qualifying event this February. The idea, as event creator Laila Ghambari Willbur explained it to Sprudge, was to “unify women. To encourage them to find and strengthen their voices.” No small order.
I sat on the Professional panel with a strong group of women from different professional and personal backgrounds. (You can watch that panel and the following one about competitions in the video linked above.) We talked about everything from taking risks professionally to dealing with sexual harassment.
Overall the evening was thoughtful and fostered very serious and meaningful conversations between the folks that came, as well as after the actual event in dialogues with those who couldn’t make it.
Some takeaways I’d love to share:
Most importantly, so many of the issues that we discussed on stage and later that evening are not gender-specific—though many affect women disproportionately more than men.
We are an industry of young, passionate people and young, scrappy companies. There’s not always a clear path for professional growth — organizations with recognizable corporate ladders are few and far between. When it’s unclear how to go from one role to another role, it can leave dissatisfaction among team members. As leaders in our respective organizations, it’s important to try and clearly define the qualifications and skill sets required for each role within our companies. As a small industry full of mostly small organizations, hiring practices can often feel cliquey to someone on the “outside.” I don’t have a clear way to make all hiring and promotions fair in all situations, but there’s ways leadership can work to make processes more transparent in order to not neglect the quiet, hard workers on our teams--who are most often women--who might not always put themselves in front of every opportunity.
On the topic of sexual harassment, I heard stories from men as well as women about being made to feel uncomfortable in workplace situations and at coffee-related events. There is no excuse for harassment in any setting, period. What struck me was how often the people who felt uncomfortable didn’t even feel confident in asserting that they were harassed. Again, as an industry full of young, passionate people, how can we support each other to make sure harassment isn’t going on around us unnoticed? I kept thinking about a sexual assault PSA campaign I caught on TV sometime last year, similar to this one here. It highlighted the role bystanders can play in preventing assault, and reminded us all that the responsibility is shared by the community.
Our community gatherings and many of our workplaces can be very casual environments, and while most of us don’t want that to change, we can and should be more aware of those around us, and how they might be feeling. We can also make sure our companies have clear and specific harassment policies and structures in place for reporting incidents. And as leaders, we can make sure we enforce those standards equally so that men and women both feel comfortable reporting things that make them uncomfortable. I think as an industry, we pride ourselves on being inclusive and caring. So let’s make sure we’re putting that into effect everywhere we can.
So many of the conversations I had after our panel got me thinking that we don’t have very many avenues for general professional development as an industry. Sure we have conferences, competitions, community meet-ups, and educational opportunities around coffee, but I left the #coffeewoman event realizing we could use more opportunities for conversations about what it means to work together, and to grow in our companies and as leaders.
Huge ups to Laila for taking this conversation out of the usual media—so often these debates are had on Twitter and Facebook, she pointed out—and bringing them to an in-person, face to face space for conversation and growth, both for our industry and for the women and men within it.
Stay tuned to @thecoffeewoman on Twitter for news about more events coming soon.