The image of speciality coffee needs an overhaul - and our women are leading the way

On the face of it, pun intended, I see a lot more men than women in speciality coffee - in Scotland and further afield. 

The bearded, tattooed hipster propels this male dominance toward a monocultural stereotype that may exclude some men, but definitely appears to exclude women. Feeling included is a critical step toward mutual respect – which is good for everyone, including customers.

Speaking of customers… while the market for speciality coffee shops and roasters is growing, there’s also a growing number of potential customers who have turned against speciality coffee, based on the image, the experience, or both. 

The popularity of being ‘anti speciality coffee’ has been pounced on by companies with serious advertising budgets and influence over potential converts to better coffee - by making it the butt of jokes. (McDonalds and Greggs, providers of some of the most mainstream coffee available have gone in hard, although McDonalds make fun of a disproportionate number of female baristas! And this Turkish Crying Hipster Attack Ad that proves we're not alone, is also worth a swatch).

So, there's ample reason to change how speciality coffee engages with customers, and I believe attracting and retaining more women will help to do this.

But is speciality coffee really male-dominated? Or does it just seem that way? Here are some numbers that help paint the picture:
  • Of the 120 or so Scottish speciality coffee shops on my blog and app, I was able to verify ownership for around 85% of them. Of these 15% are owned, founded or directed by women, with a further 25% led by mixed gender partnerships. Around 60% are male-owned.
  • Around 15% of Scottish speciality roasters that I know of are owned and led by women and over 70% are male-owned. (My hunch is we still have a greater percentage of female-led roasters than the rest of the UK - bravo)
  • Hospitality, which is a common stepping stone for many into speciality coffee is a tricky industry to be a woman – or someone from outside the UK - or both. In UK hospitality, on average, British men are paid annually £2000 more than women, £5800 more than people from the EU and £4300 more than people from non-EU countries. Pay aside, women tend to make up the majority of catering positions while men make up the majority of executive chef, sous chef and general manager roles. Entrenched biases and poor treatment and management is fairly commonplace, so breaking the patterns already learned and building up confidence isn’t easy
  • In each the last five years of World Brewers Cup competitions (2013-2017) one of the six finalists was a woman and a woman has never won
  • In each of the last three years of World Barista Championships (2015-2017) one of the six finalists was a woman, a woman has never won and no women made the finals in the previous two years.
  • In good news, the London and New York based Coffee Masters competition has been won by three women and four men since starting in 2015 – an indicator that hopefully things are changing.
As with other industries, there isn’t some huge master plan of men working together all over the world to stop women succeeding. It’s lots of little things, many that people don’t realise, that happen all the time and result in men thriving more than women. 

But male dominance is so old-school and undermines the forward-looking priorities that speciality coffee represents - and that customers also want - like paying fair wages to coffee producers, looking after our environment and creating a great tasting product. 

There is, however, good news. We’re now seeing more female speciality coffee baristas than we used to. This trend is still young and other male-dominated industries have struggled with women joining and leaving in equal numbers.

But, after speaking with eleven of our own women who are leading, driving and owning their speciality coffee careers in Scotland, I’m feeling very optimistic.

I hooked in friend and talented photographer Jess Shurte to help share their stories and recognise their achievements, hold them up as role models and prove that there’s lot more to speciality coffee than currently meets the untrained eye.

These women are changing the game. They set their own standards and are actively inclusive in how they work. Respecting different preferences of customers, staff and suppliers, being good to each other, our environment and those less fortunate, and paying a living wage are strong modus operandi, and head us toward greater diversity.

Some have been undervalued, underpaid or simply bored in past roles - which fuels their desire to instil a culture of friendliness, accessibility and openness with everyone they deal with, while valuing hard work and high competence.

While most speciality coffee women and men support each other in the great fight against bad (commodity) coffee, there’s an even stronger sense of mutual support among our Scotland women in coffee. Long may it continue. Customers, the workers and speciality coffee will be all the better for it!

Meet some of the women who are changing the image of speciality coffee in Scotland

Find out what how they got started in coffee, what they love about it, advice for others considering a career in coffee and what it's really like to be a woman in speciality coffee. 

Lisa Lawson - Dear Green
 ~  Lisa Lawson interview  ~
Owner and founder of Dear Green Coffee Roaster
and powerhouse behind the Glasgow Coffee Festival

Cath Franks interview  ~
Owner and founder of Steampunk Coffee Rosters
Kirsty Stewart interview  ~
Head Roaster - Steampunk Coffee Roasters
North Berwick

Leonora Belcher interview  ~
Owner and founder of Kaf

Gillian McIntyre interview  ~
Co-owner of The Cran coffee shop and
Something Brewed

Claire Wallace interview  ~
Head Barista Brew Lab

~  Fiona Grant interview  ~
Owner and founder of Glen Lyon Coffee
~  Kathryn Baker interview  ~
Co-owner and founder of
Sacred Grounds Coffee Company
~  Lisa Cathro interview  ~
Owner – Zest – Coffee shop and
Authorised SCA Trainer
St Andrews
Maria Szeklicka interview  ~
Operations Manager – Artisan Roast
Emiliya Yordanova interview  ~
Roaster and Quality Control
(plus doing some barista work)
Machina Roastery

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