In late April, the Brewers Association hired its first diversity ambassador, J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, an assistant professor in communications at Lynchburg’s Randolph College. In her new role, Jackson-Beckham will travel the country advocating for diversifying craft beer. We caught up with her to talk about what she hopes to accomplish.
What is your role with the Brewers Association?
I think probably my first and most important role is to be a really attentive listener and make an effort to understand what sorts of challenges folks are facing and what sorts of opportunities people want to take advantage of as it pertains to diversity and inclusion. I will be working in conjunction with the Brewers Association to help develop some best practice materials that can be utilized by their membership. Because I’m a social scientist, I’m a researcher. We hope that a lot of the materials I’m going to be developing are data and research based.
How do you define diversity?
I think one of the most important things for any organization interested in making meaningful efforts to be more inclusive is they need to define what diversity means for them. Broadly, we’re talking about the inclusion of people who are currently underrepresented. But in lots of different places, that can mean a lot of different things.
What can a diversity ambassador do for the craft beer world?
I hope it’ll do what some of their other committees and ambassador-
ships have done. There’s a sustainability ambassador and a safety ambassador and a quality ambassador. Those other ambassadors, in conjunction with the association, have been content area experts that help members of the community and members of the Brewers Association put resources into action. And I see it very much the same way.
Why does the craft beer world need diversity? Or does it?
I mean, the kind of obvious answer is because the Brewers Association is a membership-based organization and this is a response to what the membership wants. And so, probably,very simply, because the industry wants to diversify.
Diversity – and not in the kind of empty promise way, but in the sense of bringing more people to the table to have new experiences — is just good business. Lots of people who are in any kind of product consumer industry (have) realized very quickly if you are only selling your product to a very narrow segment of the population, you’re limiting your opportunities for growth. So from a sales perspective, it’s just smart.
Second, the inclusion of more perspectives from more people across the board often brings new ideas and an innovation to almost any industry, and beer is absolutely no different.
And lastly, craft beer has always been an industry, full of small, independent businesses that make a meaningful impact in the communities in which they’re embedded. And again, this is another opportunity to make those meaningful connections and to have a really authentic relationship with the city and the town, or the region, that that brewery serves.
What do the demographics tell you about craft beer?
The Brewers Association, in the past year or two, has published data from one of the broadest surveys of craft beer drinkers. And it’s pretty clear, anecdotally. I think lots of people see it, but the numbers say that this is an industry that’s dominated by Generation X and millennial male Caucasian drinkers.
Do you think that needs to change and broaden from what we know anecdotally and from the research?
My position is a response to the desire of the industry. This is like, not a personal crusade for me, but something that a lot of people are interested
in doing and collaborating in because they recognize that there are a lot of opportunities for both community and social and economic success by opening the door and inviting more people inside.
What are your personal goals?
Generally, I kind of work in collaboration with the diversity committee. They will, over the next couple of months, meet with me and create some specific priorities and goals they hope I will be able to address. And I think the wonderful thing about this – or the thing that made me really excited about accepting the post – was that the Brewers Association recognizes that this is not going to be a quick fix.
If you are talking about shifting the dynamics of an industry, whether that’s from the perspective of consumers or the perspective of marketing efforts, or from the perspective of the employees and suppliers of brewers … you can’t have a kind of, rah-rah feel good seminar and then expect things to change. That’s going to be an effort that’s going to take sustained effort over a fairly sustained period of time. And that’s what we’re in for.
So I guess if I had to say I have a personal goal, it is to help people make meaningful and lasting change by facilitating efforts that are authentic to their brewery and match up with their organizational goals and serve the communities that they’re part of.
– Interview conducted by Robyn Sidersky. Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.