Women & Coffee: Where are all the Matilda Pergers?

This morning my girlfriend asked me why all the authorities in the specialty coffee industry are men.

I couldn’t give her a proper answer so I’d like to break it down into a few questions for different demographics:

Do you feel as though you and other women are as interested in specialty coffee as your male counterparts?

Do you feel you are treated with the same respect as men and are you given the same opportunities?

What ratio of men to women do you personally see in the industry?

Are you as likely to listen to the opinion of a women on coffee as opposed to a man?

Are you as likely to employ a women as a barista/roaster as a man with similar qualifications?

If not, why not?

I’m not sure what it’s like in other parts of the U.K./World but in London its pretty equal, the company I work for has more women in the higher positions such as management and lead barista, as to who id pay more attention to, that’s down to how much they know and how they convey their knowledge, if they can explain things properly thats all that matters, not if they’re female/male/other.

Also my store has 5 men to 4 women

@nico Here in Australia I’ve experienced a lot of blatant sexism. Its not everywhere by any means and I’m sure it’s mostly more passive but, as in all industries, it exists none the less.

The world barista championship is dominated by men and the winner has never been a woman. EVER.
I’m sure this wasn’t a conscious decision by the judges but there must be a reason for this.

Perhaps the reason is purely on the quality of the routine? Charlotte Malaval finished 5th this year in the WBC, and it’s down to her routine no? if a man performed the same routine in the same way, he would’ve finished fifth?

When it comes to competitions, I feel like the judges are completely unbiased and only care about what’s on the scoresheet, and I don’t think they’re likely to be influenced by the gender, and If they were to be influenced, they wouldn’t be judges.

And just because there’s a correlation between the winners always being men, doesn’t mean they won because they’re a man. I believe it’s all down to the quality of the performance

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@nico I think it’s more likely that less women are competing in the first place - but why?

@OliverHollenbach have you competed? if not- why not, if you have- what made you want to compete

An important issue in a lot of industries. Tech/engineering especially, which calls for similar attributes to high end coffee.

Fun fact: if I was a girl my parents would’ve called me Matilda!

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@MattPerger, what attributes are you talking about?

Do you think you’d be in the same position if you were a Matilda?

I’m talking about engineers/software/et al being a similar vein to what I do. Systems/engineering/software has always had a higher number of males. Wether that’s due to men being ‘wired’ that way or sexism suppressing women from those roles in any number of ways I’m not sure. There’s a lot of debate about this in Silicon Valley, with a lot of companies trying a lot of tactics to improve diversity. I’m not entirely sure what’s been working or elucidated from the work but I’m keen to know!

To your other question: I have no idea!

Me too. I’d also love to hear from a few female baristas on the issue!!

…and speaking of, @MattPerger do you happen to know the ratio of women to men on barista hustle community/fb?

As someone who’s in engineering, i can (to no surprise) confirm the imbalance of men vs women in the field. But this imbalance makes at least some sense to me - There’s now a lot of programs here (Denmark) to get girls more into tech, and to make sure that those who are already studying it keep doing it. Girl code camps, study groups, what not. That’s some really good stuff and it’s helping things in the right direction, slowly.

I see no reason why there should be an imbalance in something as gender-less as coffee. Everyone loves things that taste great. But we also see it to some degree in the culinary world, right? We all know stunningly talented female baristas and female chefs, but we just know more that are male - And with a larger male player base, there’s a bigger chance that the authorities in the industry are male even though they might as well be female. Sexism is a factor but it is hardly the explanation.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see where your current road is taking you when you’re deeply involved in something that’s caught your interest. Suddenly you’re on top of the world. How’d you get there? Who knows. Studies show that men are more likely to take risks, and if you’re going to be an industry leader you’ve probably taken a good deal of risks. Factor in the generally larger base of men and here we are again.

But who really knows? It’s such an interesting topic that we need to get to the bottom of. I have no idea how to solve it; I think noone has. What i’d like to do is sit every person in the world down in a big circle and we’ll all have a chat about what the hell is going on :slight_smile:

@Martin_Kjeldsen I don’t think coffee is as “gender-less” as you might think. My understanding is that in Italy, the role of the barista is traditionally a male one.
I don’t know how relevant this is outside of Italy but I think it’s a factor none the less.

@OliverHollenbach I didn’t mean “gender-less” as in “sexism does not exist” :slight_smile: I meant there’s no reason why it should not be “gender-less”.

I can’t speak to the state of things in Italy right now but i can’t image anything like that is “traditional” elsewhere - Nothing i’ve ever heard of or encountered.

It can definitely feel that way sometimes but I guess the numbers don’t lie!

It would be great to hear a few experiences (good or bad) from some of the
women in the industry - I don’t want to get caught out mansplaining here!! :grimacing:

Well, seeing that all the replies here are from men… I’ll bite.

I don’t think all the industry experts are men. I think they get more press, and there may be MORE of them, but it’s not all.

So here’s an exercise for you: Name some women who are authorities in the industry! I’ll start, just off the top of my head.

  • Laila Wilbur
  • Trish Rothgeb
  • Gail Williams
  • Heather Perry
  • Katie Carguilo

Can you place them without googling? I’ll be honest, I had to check the internet for a few of the names I was thinking of, but I’ll blame my advanced age for that. I knew who they were and why I see them as authorities.

(Next up: old(er) people in the industry!)


Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what any of those people do - however, that might not have anything to do with their gender!

I’m not saying women don’t exist in the industry, but you can’t say there aren’t any issues with gender inequality either.

Interesting. :slight_smile:

Could also have something to do with country of origin, so I’m not discounting that.

I’m not saying there aren’t gender issues in coffee, not at all. Can you name any high-profile women? I’d love to know if others can.

By contrast, here are some guys that everyone recognizes (most likely):

  • Gwilym Davies
  • Nick Cho
  • James Hoffman
  • Tim Wendleboe
  • Peter Giuliano

More international in flavor, so that makes a difference. But why are These Guys so recognizable? What have they done that the women haven’t? (I think you’d be surprised at a couple on the previous list.)

At our shop in Kansas, our staff is nearly half women. As a roastery, we employ several specialist PT occupations. One of our girls is our photographer, another our events coordinator, another our foods specialist, and another used to be our R&D specialist but stepped down to pursue music. I can’t speak for them, but I can say I greatly value their hard work, ideas, sweet dispositions, humor, and unique personalities they bring to our team. It feels to me more like a family. Moreover, know several female coffee professionals in neighboring shops/communities who have started businesses or led innovations in their shops, who are known throughout the area for their talents.

My service department is growing, and should I get the fortune to hire more techs, capability, experience, and team personality contribution will be the determining factors, not sex.

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Yes, I feel women are just as interested as men in speciality coffee.

The second question is a bit trickier. I feel that I’ve had to be more proactive than my male counterparts in order to receive the same opportunities. Once I asked, it wasn’t an issue, but it’s usually met with, “Oh, we didn’t know you would want to do that. Cool.” Depending on the shop, it can be a boys club and frankly, without really meaning to exclude women, people do get left out.

Well see, I think the fact that you don’t even know the names listed above may point out a big part of the issue. In my experience, the women Kim listed are all pretty well-respected and world-renowned authorities. One of them, I won’t say whom because I’ll leave you to research it, originally defined the first, second and third waves of coffee.

I gather you’re based in Australia, correct? Could it be that in Australia the “leading minds” are mostly male but perhaps that isn’t representative of the whole industry? Which is not meant to suggest that things are remotely fair and balanced overall from a gender standpoint, just that perhaps it would behoove you to expand your worldview a bit?

Geez, that comes across far harsher than I intended! I simply mean the use of the word “all” and the fact that you didn’t recognize a single one of those five names is pretty revealing. But I have a feeling geography has a lot to do with one’s perspective on this matter.