Letters From The Editors

Next week at the SCAA Expo I will become the Chair of the Barista Guild of America. I’ve been volunteering my time for the BGA for over 5 years now. It’s some of the most rewarding work I get to do. The Barista Guild is the voice of the barista. We create education, events, networking opportunities, and much more to allow those pursuing a profession in coffee to learn, grow, and connect. As someone who has worked in coffee pretty much their whole life, and plan to do so for the remainder of it, this work is very important to me. Equally important to me is the role of female coffee professionals. My gender has played a huge part in nearly every step forward and backward that I have taken in this industry, whether I was aware of it or not. The experiences I’ve accumulated, that are unique to being a woman, have inspired me to also advocate for women and build a space where their perspectives could be shared. 

I created and hosted the first The Coffeewoman event because I saw a need. A need for a conversation that was offline and geared towards females, so that they could speak and listen without fear. A safe place that was not designed to build anger but to release frustrations. A place where our voices could be heard. A fellowship. It was designed to support, encourage, and inspire. The in-person event was a huge success but I didn’t want to lose that momentum. So, the idea for The Coffeewoman blog and quarterly newsletter was a natural evolution. The Coffeewoman moving to an online format allows for more people to get involved with this conversation on a more regular basis.

In my professional and personal life, I’ve always felt it important to have mentors. Someone who is better than me that I could look up to. This is why I am so honored to be partnering with Tracy Ging on The Coffeewoman. There was a moment in time when I realized that Tracy was the classiest lady around. I stood just outside a conversation circle she was having with a few notable coffee folks. See noticed me, and as soon as there was a break, she welcomed me into the conversation in the most seamless way. What I saw in that moment was an inclusive, wise, mindful, confident, and experienced woman. All things I wanted people to see in me. Having women like Tracy in my life gives me the push I need to get where I want to be. My hope is that we can create space for that type of mentorship through The Coffeewoman.

I’ve been meditating on the future a lot these day. I’ve had a series of major life events happen these past few years. 2014 was dedicated to all things competition. The title of USBC is one that has opened a lot of doors for me. In 2015 I got married. Wife is a title that I wear with far more pride, and is one I will have to work much harder at. The last 4 months of my life have been consumed, as I have earned a new title of mom. This title is one I’ve been anxiously awaiting but also one that brings the most fear and uncertainty. How do you have a baby and a career? How do I Chair an organization while I am getting little to no sleep? Does my company have maternity leave? WTF, kids aren’t allowed on the Expo floor? These are all new questions that stew in my head but I want them to be an open conversation that I can have with my peers and seek guidance from those mentors I spoke of before. The Coffeewoman is the place for that type of conversation, about the issues that face us.

My hope is that you join us on this journey. That you read along with us. That you contribute to the conversation. That what you read makes you feel encouraged, supported, but most importantly inspired. Inspired to share your voice beyond these pages, knowing you can create change.

—Laila Willbur

As I think about my professional life, so much has been framed as a battle. I have been taught that to succeed or advance in my career, I had to fight. And as a woman, battle preparation can be particularly exhausting. Early on, I was coached to lower my register, strengthen my posture, prepare my points and counter points—even for the simplest of meetings. I did that. Then I was told to speak up more in meetings and be assertive, followed by don’t talk too much, smile more, and never push. It was all well-intended, albeit confusing, guidance aimed at helping me win the battle.   
I don’t want to name names, but let’s just say there was this flavored syrup company I worked for in the early aughts. There were a lot of wonderful and principled things about that company, namely a concerted effort to promote women into leadership roles. So, it happened the Director of National Accounts, the Director of International Sales, and me, the Director of Marketing were all women. Yet, we had a certain boss who actively fostered competition among us. Not a healthy sort — like, see who wins for first pick of donuts — but, she is your enemy, only one of you will be promoted, survival of the fittest. We didn’t play. We simply did not compete with one another and you know what? The business was successful and those women are my best friends to this day.
Darwin mentioned the word love 95 times in the Descent of Man and survival of the fittest only twice. Consider life and, by extension, work were never meant as competitions. In that framework, there can be disappointments, highs and lows, and massive frustrations but survival is not the stake.
Yet, many things in our world are constructed as battles, or competitions, something to win and for someone else to lose. As long as the world works that way, learning how to become a strong competitor can be a valuable skill. And, it can be really exciting to win! Winning isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s just not the only thing. There are other ways to achieve success –as my colleagues and I learned at the syrup company, for example, through cooperation. I’m starting my term as 2nd Vice President of SCAA and currently serve as Vice Chair for World Coffee Research. In both of those organizations, the best work happens and more progress is made through collaboration and dialogue. There are moments when discussions feel more like a battle, for sure, and it’s in those moments I’m grateful the earlier advice I have received. But, there is no battle.
I think one of the greater advances we can make around diversity and inclusion is to continually point out battle framing. One of my favorite male feminists shared this piece with me, which drives home how this is not about male vs. female or favoring one aspect of diversity over another, but rather re-envisioning a society constructed on dominance. It’s about fewer warriors and more compassionate leaders.

Which brings me to my motive for partnering on The Coffeewoman. I have always been a fan of Laila Willbur and when I watched what she was ushering forward with The Coffeewoman event, I was so inspired. I saw the potential for a new conversation. I saw women definitely not opting out of professional ambition, but also not driving toward success by buying into the framing that I did earlier in my career. It was such an interesting conversation, about coffee and competing, but also about cooperation, mutual support, and leadership. I saw an opportunity to keep that conversation going and invite more people into it, to help #makecoffee better and maybe change some framing while we’re at it.

—Tracy Ging