Gender and Coffee Survey

Gender and Coffee Survey

In our April + May 2015 Tenth Anniversary issue, writer Nora Burkey had a story for us called “Women’s Work: Gender in the Global North.” In it, she notes how the coffee industry as a whole has focused on improving conditions and recognizing the importance of the work women perform at origin, but that little of that attention has been focused on the other end of the chain, in the consuming countries.

To further the discussion, we’re collecting information via a brief survey on the topic of gender and coffee. You can take the survey here. Nora will use the results of the survey for a follow-up article in the August + September 2015 issue of the magazine.

To further explain the goals behind the survey, Nora took a break from her work in Uganda to answer a few questions.

Gender and Coffee Survey

BMag: First, what is the purpose of the survey? What do you hope to accomplish with it?

Nora:  The purpose of the survey is to highlight that the issues we face regarding gender in the coffee industry are not just in producing nations. I began working in the coffee industry in the US, and my first time working in a producing nation was to evaluate an initiative aimed at recognizing the work of women in supply chains. Sure, gender inequalities exist at origin, but I felt it was to some degree dishonest to be starting my gender journey on the “other side” so to speak instead of the one I came from. Furthermore, gender initiatives typically focus on work with producers, but even at origin there is a whole other industry out there. There are dry-mill managers and farm mangers and quality control specialists. Rarely do we look at those positions of serious authority at origin and assess the equality there.

There was a recent survey about gender and barista culture, and I felt that it was sort of a similar thing, focusing gender on the worst-paid, most labor-intensive jobs in the global North. That survey was great, and in fact the woman who created it was quoted in the article I wrote, but I have struggled personally with being a barista and not just because I identify as a woman. I more struggled with the realization that I wanted to work in coffee, but I also wanted to have a job beyond the counter. And honestly, I didn’t know how to get there working in coffee without spending a lot of years serving coffee. I have met a lot of baristas who want to be in coffee, but they too want to move on from the counter at a certain point. It can be daunting, and I wondered, just how many authority positions are there in coffee, and how many are there for women in particular?

I started my own organization, so I have a pretty high position of authority, I’d say. But I got sick of hearing people say there was no problem with gender in the industry because they worked for a woman. We need to stop focusing on anecdotes. That’s like saying there’s no problem with the global coffee trade because the one producer you met is making enough money for their coffee. There are millions more you’d have to talk to before making any judgments. Similarly, I can’t look at myself and say that because I’m a woman and started an organization, there is no problem.

With this survey I guess I hope to simply start the conversation about gender and authority positions in a consuming nation, and to highlight the fact that as vast as our industry is, that’s as far as we have to look, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

BMag: Why is it important for people to take the survey? How long will completing the survey take? And should only women take the survey?

Nora: Anyone working in the coffee industry can take the survey no matter how they identify. The survey should take about 15 minutes, give or take. I think it is important for people to take the survey in order to  begin digging a little deeper into an area that is very personal for many people ”how to move up in the industry, and is it different for different people, primarily in reference to a part of their identity?

BMag: What is the Chain Collaborative? Can you give us a little background about it and what its goals are?

Nora:  The Chain Collaborative is a new non-profit encouraging collaboration among members of the coffee industry in order to contribute to sustainable development in the coffee lands. There are so many great ideas in coffee and many of them are at odds. That is to say, I think there are merits to what all sorts of people are doing even if the things they do seem to be at different ends of the spectrum—direct trade, fair trade, cause coffee, corporate social responsibility, for-profit, non-profit, B corp, to name a few. The Chain Collaborative was born out of the recognition that we don’t want to support just one angle, we want to support whatever can contribute to livelihoods in the coffee lands. We also want to support organizations already doing great work instead of creating new projects that will compete for the same funding. We want to support those in producing nations by empowering them to take control of their own development, but at the same time we want to support more people dependent on the industry than just farmers–like dry-mill workers and farm workers. We want to raise awareness about all these issues and more–including gender. And we realize none of our ideas are new, so we choose to collaborate and highlight the work of others, and stay in the background as much as possible. As the author I wanted to highlight this survey as The Chain Collaborative’s survey rather than my own because it’s more important to me that people see the non-profit as a point of connection and a network in itself of people working together, rather than it being one person’s organization. I want it to be everyone’s and I want everyone to play their part.


The more data we can collect, the more valuable the information is. Please take the survey and encourage your fellow coffee professionals to take it too!


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