Columbus Alive this week featured an article detailing the sexual assault of one of our local craft beer mavens. The community rallied around her, supporting a woman that showed incredible courage confronting a known and prevalent issue in the alcohol and hospitality community. Over the last year and a half, what was once an issue that was only shared privately has become a public topic of conversation. Behaviors that were dismissed as “boys being boys,” or that were simply ignored, now are being addressed and dealt with. And it has been a long time coming.
The problem of sexual harassment and mistreatment of women and other minorities is not new in the industry. A report that was done in 2014 shows that roughly 90% of women that work in restaurants have been sexually harassed, with half of them being harassed on a weekly basis. It is thought to be just as bad in the alcohol industry, but no studies have been done. This is years before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein emerged, bringing the much-needed conversation about sexual harassment into the public. After that New York Times article came out, a steady flow of articles addressing the issue in the industry emerged.
Many of the women that work in the industry have, over the years, just accepted the harassment as part of the environment. The unwanted comments, touches, and innuendos were something that was endured to be part of the industry. Until the cocktail boom hit in the 2000’s, bartending and hospitality were seen as a transient job choice. Something that you did while waiting for a “real job.” The growth of specialty cocktails, craft beer booming into over 7,000 breweries, and distilleries sprouting up all over the country have turned what was once something temporary into a career choice. It is easier to ignore the sleaziness you have to go through to do your job when you can tell yourself it is a temporary condition. What happens when it becomes the place where you want to plant your flag?
You have to start cleaning it up. There are few mechanisms in the industry to address sexual harassment. Some have popped up, like the efforts made by Collective Actions for Safe Spaces to build Safe Bars training about sexual harassment, but they are difficult to find. Only five states require training for harassment in the workplace. It is a monumental task to address, especially in an industry where males hold most of the positions of power and confronting them could impact your career. An unbalanced power dynamic is not unique to this industry, but it is in the early stages of being addressed. Small steps are being made as women rise up and show they are not going to accept a workplace where they are under the constant threat of sexual assault. Or when that threat becomes a reality.
It is too easy to write off, as many have, that this is a result of the free flow of alcohol through every corner of the business. As reported in a story by SevenFifty Daily, San Franciso lawyer Richard Curiale commented that “60 percent of the complaints I get wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been drinking.” This is a convenient excuse, but not an acceptable one. Cleaning up the industry also requires cleaning up the constant party atmosphere that surrounds it. Many bartenders and hospitality professionals have been focusing on taking what has been a generally toxic environment for workers and turning it into a healthier, safer one. This focus on a more positive environment is starting to include how women and minorities are treated in the business.
Where do we go from here? The hospitality that establishments provide to customers that walk through the door has to extend to the people that work there. Creating that safe environment for all of the people they interact with, from sales representatives to bartenders, is critical to building an inclusive, diverse industry. The generally permissive, male-dominated culture that has existed in hospitality for decades needs to change. It is going to be a slow change, requiring the efforts of everyone in it to make that shift. Women are going to have to be bold and stand up for what is right, and men are going to have to support those women in any way they can. It is going to take a long time and incredible effort. But if the support that has happened in Dayton can happen more often in other cities, the future for women in the industry looks brighter and safer.