Women In The Coffee Industry: Breaking Barriers And Brewing Success

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
Women In The Coffee Industry

Women In The Coffee Industry: Despite the vast topic of women in the coffee industry, finding reliable information can be challenging. Research in this area is surprisingly scarce, and existing studies often lack depth or gender-specific insights.

Why is this?

The lack of comprehensive information on women in the coffee industry can be attributed to several factors. Limited interest and funding for research play a significant role. However, the broader issue lies in the extensive and dispersed nature of the coffee industry. Coffee production, processing, and consumption span the globe, with varying roles and treatment of women across different regions.

Furthermore, many coffee-producing areas are among the least developed in the world. These regions often pose accessibility challenges for researchers and may lack proper record-keeping. In such places, women frequently face significant obstacles to speaking out about their experiences.

What can we say?

Despite the scarcity of thorough studies, some well-established trends highlight the gender inequality in the coffee industry. Much of this inequality mirrors the broader societal gender disparities, especially in the world’s poorest regions.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • The current state of gender inequality in the coffee industry.
  • The necessary changes to address these disparities.
  • How these changes can be implemented.

Keep reading to find out how you can make a difference!

Women On The Coffee Farm

Let’s start where coffee begins: on the farm. Coffee estates are often located in less developed regions where women’s rights are already limited, revealing a significant gender gap. This gap is further exacerbated by a lack of data, which hinders our understanding .

A frequently cited study by the International Trade Forum in 2008 highlights ongoing issues in the industry, although the data is now outdated . The study revealed that women perform the majority of labor on coffee farms, including harvesting and processing. However, they are less involved in the business aspects of the supply chain, such as certifications, trade, marketing, and transportation. Consequently, men have greater control over business decisions and finances, leading to a larger share of profits.

Women also face a “double burden,” as they are responsible for both farm labor and household duties, including childcare.

What About Ownership?

A 2015 white paper by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) found that women own only 3 to 20% of land in developing countries . Many are prevented from land ownership by legislation, and even where laws permit it, restrictive conditions apply. For instance, women may need to be married or require their husband’s permission to own land.

Women typically own smaller and lower-quality plots due to limited access to financing compared to men. They also face barriers in accessing healthcare, education, training, and business networks, which affects the quality and quantity of coffee beans produced.

A 2018 study in East African coffee-producing nations found a 39% wage gap between men and women . Women often cannot join cooperatives to market their coffee because they lack land ownership, cannot afford the fees, or face discrimination. This exclusion means fewer women reach positions of power where they can influence policy changes.

The prevalence of sexual assault on coffee farms is a tragic outcome of gender imbalance. Data on this issue is scarce, as many women do not know how to report assaults or fear retaliation. However, anecdotal evidence and small studies from various regions indicate that sexual assault is widespread, particularly among migrant workers.

Gender Equity In Coffee Roasting

The gender inequity seen on coffee farms extends into coffee roasting. While roasters are more often located in developed countries with better women’s rights records, disparities persist. Despite significant progress over the past half-century, women in the United States working full-time still earn only about 80% of what their male counterparts make.

Why Does Inequity Persist?

The reasons for gender inequality in coffee roasting are multifaceted. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the roasting sector is predominantly male. The global coffee news site, Perfect Daily Grind, notes a significant gender divide in readership for articles on roasting, and no woman has yet won the World Coffee Roasting Championship (WCRC).

Explanations for the Gender Gap

Prejudicial hiring practices are a major factor. Many women report that male hiring managers perceive them as “too small” to handle the physical demands of roasting. Additionally, the lack of female role models and mentors in the industry creates a vicious cycle, where few women apply for roasting positions because they see so few women in those roles.

Juliet Han, head roaster at the UC Davis Coffee Center, emphasizes the importance of diversity in hiring practices:

“It takes diversity in people to hire diversity. It takes women in management positions to hire other women.”

Initiatives to Promote Gender Equity

In response to these challenges, the Roasters Guild Event Committee, with support from the Specialty Coffee Association, established She’s The Roaster. This initiative, along with the hashtag #shestheroaster, aims to “promote and encourage self-identifying womxn in the coffee industry to become professional coffee roasters.” The movement is making an impact, with more women participating in the WCRC than ever before.

Women Baristas

Presence in Cafés

While women are certainly present in cafés, the gender gap is still notable. In customer-facing roles within the coffee and espresso business, women are less likely to hold higher-paying positions like café management and ownership. The “double burden” phenomenon persists, with women balancing work responsibilities alongside child-rearing and household chores, even in developed regions. Despite progress, women still face harassment and poor job security more frequently than men, with LGBTQ+ women and women of color experiencing these issues even more acutely .

Participation in Competitions

Barista competitions, though seemingly niche, offer significant career opportunities in the coffee industry. They are platforms for networking, career growth, and idea exchange. However, these competitions also reflect gender disparities. The World Brewers Cup has yet to see a female winner, and the World Barista Championship had its first female champion only in 2019. Women constitute only about a third of the entrants and a mere 10% of the finalists. This disparity can be attributed to several factors, including the additional time commitments women face due to unpaid work, reluctance to compete in male-dominated spaces, and external factors such as marketing, cultural conditioning, lack of training, and support .

Promoting Gender Equity

Despite the challenges, there are numerous ways to promote gender equity in the coffee industry, many of which are already in progress. Achieving systemic changes requires patience and perseverance, and the involvement of both men and women, especially in developing regions where men predominantly hold policy-making power .

At the Farm Level

Co-ops, NGOs, and export companies need to ensure women have equal access to training and financing. Promoting gender equity within households and businesses, including joint decision-making, ownership, and shared labor, is crucial. While this cultural shift is challenging, it has the potential to be highly impactful. The coffee industry has shown a strong commitment to collective action and sustainability, and gender equity is increasingly seen as integral to these efforts .

Throughout the Supply Chain

Roasters, importers, coffee shops, and even home baristas should support coffees that promote gender equity. Using purchasing power to vote for equality can drive significant change. Additionally, more research is needed. Organizations and universities should fund studies on women’s roles in the coffee industry to facilitate data-driven change. Supporting organizations like the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, She’s The Roaster, The Women in Coffee Project, and the Partnership for Gender Equity can also make a difference .

Why Promote Gender Equality?

Promoting gender equality is fundamentally about fairness, but it also offers specific benefits. Empowering women in the coffee industry can lead to better coffee quality and increased agricultural output. Women, when given access to land, financing, technology, education, and training, can significantly improve their coffee quality and overall economic contributions. Investing in women has been shown to enhance economic growth in rural areas, as women are more likely to reinvest their earnings into nutrition, education, healthcare, and household improvements .

Conclusion

Addressing gender inequality in the coffee industry is essential for creating a fair and thriving sector. By promoting equitable access to resources, training, and opportunities, and supporting organizations dedicated to this cause, we can make meaningful strides towards a more inclusive coffee industry.

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