Women rising to the top of brewing business

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Brewing may have once been a male-dominated industry, but times are changing, and women are now taking more key management and top jobs at beer companies large and small. Lucy Jones reports.

A new breed of executive is making an impression in the world's traditionally male-dominated brewery boardrooms: dedicated, tough, young - and female. With expansion and changing perceptions, women are increasingly rising to the top of the industry.

Men may still be at the helm of big companies like Carlsberg, Scottish & Newcastle and Heineken, but women are taking control of microbreweries while family breweries are being passed down to females who are not afraid to seize the reins.

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala, for example, famously shoved men out of the way when her father died to take over as head of Grupo Modelo, becoming Mexico's richest woman in the process. At Yuengling Brewery in the US, the four Yuengling daughters are preparing to be the sixth generation to take over the family brewery. Meanwhile, in the UK, Jaclyn Bateman, the marketing director of Batemans Brewery, is the fourth generation to run the business.

Apart from a few "kisses from bearded men at beer festivals", Bateman says working in the industry is "fantastic", and her female counterparts agree.

"I like working with a product I can identify myself with and being there from production, through to marketing and sales," says Marianne Vogt, vice-president of business development at Carlsberg's Hamburg subsidiary.

But what's it like working in a trade so overwhelmingly dominated by men? According to Mervi Heinaro, corporate affairs director of Baltika Brewery in Russia, it can have advantages. "It's often easier to have your voice heard," Heinaro says. "You have a honeymoon period when people are prepared to listen to what you say."

Bateman thinks most men these days accept that there are going to be women above them. "You can't appear to come over too strong, as that can frighten men, put them off," she says.

Teresa Cascioli in Nova Scotia, Canada, is behind a success story that some men might find daunting. She took Lakeport Brewing from bankruptcy in 1999 to winning a 10% share in Ontario's market - and saved 200 jobs in her community along the way. She says she experienced "no issue around gender" in this accomplishment but admits others may have had a different experience.

In Boston, Rhonda Kallman, founder and CEO of New Century Brewing, says her sex has little to do with how she operates. But that has not stopped others seizing upon her as an icon of female triumph in a man's world.

"Some women say there's not enough emphasis on people issues and too much focus on facts and figures. I'd probably agree with that," Carlsberg's Marianne Vogt says, while adding that emphasising facts and figures may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Mervi Heinaro of Baltika certainly believes having more women in top jobs can change the management emphasis. As more women have come on board over the last year - at middle management, as well as at director level - Heinaro says the marketing direction at the company has shifted. "We've been able to put a lot more emotion into adverts and talk to a larger consumer market, which includes women," she says, citing the example of the export beer Baltika 7. "We were advancing the attitude that this beer is for you. If you have a strong personality, want free choice, that this is a beer for professional, intelligent people who are aware of the world. That message was very appealing for professional women."

However, while Batemans' multigrain beer Combine Harvest has proved popular with women, Jaclyn Bateman does not think her gender influences how she promotes a brand. "Information comes from market research - you can't ignore it," she says. She adds that her marketing budget does not really allow the company to go after one segment - female or otherwise - a constraint faced by other small and medium-sized breweries.

Rhonda Kallman of New Century Brewing says the shortfall in women in the brewing business may be because "there are not many of us who want to do it". "It's a major commitment," she says. "Distribution and loading begins at the crack of dawn, while your customers drink until midnight." Women who make it to the top often leave because of the workload, Kallman says.

Carlsberg wants to promote women wherever possible, although it has no specific programme, according to Vogt, but she also points out that there is not a large pool of women to choose from. Until women are prepared to put their careers ahead of their families, which few are, Vogt thinks little will change.

The beer giant Coors in the US is one of the few companies actively trying to recruit more women. In 1990, the Women at Coors Employee Resource Group was established, not only to offer women support in the workplace, but to help them advance their careers. Women currently make up 34% of staff and 30% of management; there are 10 female vice-presidents at the company.

But most companies wait for women to rise naturally through the ranks. The situation at Scottish & Newcastle in the UK is probably typical of many large companies. As "people are promoted according to ability, women will be promoted," says S&N's Rob Ballentine. It's "only a matter of time" before a female director is promoted to the board, he says.

The beer business is likely to see more women at all levels over the next two decades. The ones to make it, however, will have received little help along the way and will have probably gone to extraordinary lengths to juggle their family lives with such a challenging career.

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