Experiences may vary: parental leave in the brewing industry May 2022

In an industry based on passion, progressive employment practices can be sidelined in favour of long hours and hard work to get the job done.

But one of the aims of the Independent Brewers Association’s 10-year roadmap recently was to ensure the industry is recognised as an employer of choice, able to bring in a diverse range of talent, so focusing on employment issues will be key to attracting and retaining talent in this industry.

From parental leave to flexible working hours, pregnancy-related role changes and more, breweries of all sizes will have to navigate the changing landscape of employment law and best practice in a time-poor and resource-intensive industry.

Things are beginning to change as the industry professionalises further. In an industry-leading move last year, Kirin-owned Lion introduced full parental leave to all new parents regardless of their parenting role.

But for smaller brewers with tighter restrictions on working hours and available resources to support people on parental leave and during pregnancy, this has proven difficult.

As a result, the experiences of parents in the brewing industry, from business owners to brewery employees, and caregivers to those carrying the child, have been vastly different – in some cases extremely positive while others are discordant with the collegiate standards which the brewing industry holds itself to.

Brewing and having a baby

The reality is that having children is a huge physical challenge for women even before the division of parental labour can be split with their partner.

One woman in the industry who works in brewing operations but who did not wish to be named said that there was an “unbelievable amount of fear” that her inability to work as hard physically while pregnant would impact her hard-won career.

“I have to prove that I can lift as much, do as much, be better than, to outsmart so that I can be respected. It’s probably all in my head, maybe every female brewer does it unwittingly?” she said.

“There was no information out there to calm this fear, to tell me I could be a mum and a brewer. It ate at me almost daily, about what was going to happen to the career I basically breathed for.”

Belittling and poor treatment by management and inappropriate work followed, pushing her beyond her medically-prescribed limits, despite bringing it to the attention of superiors.

“I was stuck between guilt for my unborn child and guilt that I was being seen as just being lazy. I was terrified they wouldn’t take me back after maternity leave.”

While she did return to work, there are still lingering impacts from the painful experience of being a brewing employee while pregnant. She said she is now given less brewing work, worse shifts, and receives poor treatment from the same members of management who made her time at the brewery while pregnant so difficult.

“I think about leaving now, I feel like it’s really the only option left. I can’t move because my son needs his dad and I would have to leave what I love.

“It’s sad that to become a mum I had to commit career suicide. But I love my daughter and her little smile reminds me every day why I am still hanging on, hoping that the tide will turn if I just bring it up one more time.

“I don’t admit this to anyone in the industry, and I have lied at events when asked because I just don’t want things being said that will damage a company and people that I love.”

She identified a lack of support across the board for pregnant women in the industry as a major issue.

“I think the weaknesses in our industry is that there is no protocol for businesses to follow in terms of pregnancy.

“Many employers like mine are flying blind, it would be good if there could be some sort of template written up that businesses could base their policies off. With more and more women joining brewing teams Australia-wide it would be great to see a platform that pregnant brewers and breweries with women can work from.

“I wasn’t told things like about needing to apply for maternity leave 10 weeks before the due date. Having that information out there in an easy reading format could help so many women, who let’s face it, only have half of their normal brain capacity while pregnant. At least that was the case for me!”

Pregnancy and the return to work

Being a parent in the industry of course is not just a challenge to navigate for employees.

Brewery owner Nadresha Costa, is co-founder of FICK Brewing Co. in Brisbane, and had a son prior to launching the brewery, then got pregnant soon after opening.

“I already had one, he was about 2 or 3, and then I got pregnant a month after we opened – but if I’d known how long it would take to get approvals I would have got pregnant before!”

But this changed the dynamic of her work at the brewery.

“My husband and I were brewing together at the start – that was my dream. But I got halfway through my pregnancy, I couldn’t lift anything anymore and had to take a break from it and I haven’t got back into it yet,” Costa said.

“Brewing starts at 6.30am, but that’s when I get the kids ready for school so naturally I’ve gone into that parent role and my husband is brewing and he has helpers in the brewery with him.

“That’s the sad reality, although I’m focusing on the operations side of things now.”

But it’s not all negative.

“Brewing is so flexible. While I can’t be there early in the morning when they mash in, it means I can join in for the rest of the day which I hope to do more of in time.

“The flexibility also means my husband is bloody amazing at picking up where he can. He comes home when the kids do after school, helps with all the bedtime routines and then heads back to the brewery when they’re asleep. The only days we struggle is brew days but they’re not every day thankfully,” Costa explained.

“Getting pregnant threw a spanner in my brewing plans but there’s so much more to brewing that we have full flexibility over and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

“It’s taken over two years but we finally have incredible staff with mutual respect that we can rely on and it means we’re balancing out owning a brewery and having a family better each week.”

Grace Fowler has worked in the industry for seven years as a brewer and marketer and is now working to open Reckless Brewing Co.

Fowler said she had experienced what some on parental leave take as a given, that the available people in the business will fill their spot.

“My assistant brewer was promoted to a position above mine while I was on maternity leave,” she explained.

“Looking back it was probably a blessing in disguise, but at the time it was hard to swallow. I can also see now that he was a great choice for the role, so no hard feelings.

“My employer didn’t know what to do with me. I was breastfeeding so I needed to pump multiple times a day which isn’t really practical when you are in the middle of mashing in.

“Support was limited – mainly due to COVID and split shifts and flexibility was at a minimum – beer waits for no-one!

“It was incredibly stressful, massively exacerbated by COVID. I ended up having to step back from brewing.”

However, the move into marketing allowed Fowler to stay in the business, having already been multiskilled in that area as well as brewing.

“So I missed out on a big opportunity, but was given another one that for me was better long term.

“Not being on the floor anymore has been a huge relief, but I obviously miss using my hands – having our own side hustle means that I still get to brew occasionally and write recipes.”

There also seems to be a lack of support for particularly women in the industry when they become pregnant.

“I struggled to find anyone who had been in my shoes. Plenty of women get pregnant, but few are brewers, and those that are were the owners, not the brewer on the ground.”

Find out more about pregnancy and parental leave entitlements on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Parental leave in brewing

Dave Ward at Aether Brewing experienced the pressures of having a newborn and a brewery as well, but highlighted the differences between him as a brewery owner and father and his partner who, through necessity, had to stay at home.

Ward said he was lucky that the business had opened when his son, now aged 2, was born.

“The business had been around a little while and I had brought on a head brewer. [But] I had three or four days with Annie and Harvey, then I was in and out back at work doing the things I had to – things at the brewery never stop.”

However, being a parent has cemented his attitude to being a family-friendly brewery to both customers and employees.

“We’re a family business and we understand what it is to have a family and how demanding brewery life is on everyone, we absolutely would make it easy [on employees] – we have a fairly young team but it is a matter of time.”

Arranging and funding parental leave can of course be challenging for small businesses. Reckless Brewing’s Grace Fowler said she received government paid parental leave which is minimum wage for 18 weeks.

“In an ideal world I would have liked my employer to make up the difference so I didn’t take a pay cut during this time,” she said.

Something to mention as well during your parental leave you receive no super contributions or accrue annual leave.

“But I also appreciate that it is difficult in a small business.”

Owning a business also makes taking parental leave more difficult – Aether’s Dave Ward was only able a few days of leave, and Fick’s Costa also struggled with the government system for parental leave as a business owner.

“I got mine denied because of the dates and because they said technically I was working,” explained Costa. “So taking parental leave as a business owner [is difficult] even though you should have stepped away you don’t really switch off even though you have parental leave I was still taking calls and doing invoices – they said I’d returned to work too soon afterwards.”

There is of course a huge contrast between smaller and owner-operated businesses and major brewers such as Lion, but the rest of the brewing industry can also learn from the experiences of parents working at the major breweries.

Emer Murphy is keg team leader at Lion, and took six months of parental leave when her daughter was born.

“I told them I was pregnant and I was going to get induced, so I kept them in the loop and they were totally fine. But they like as much notice as possible.

“While I was pregnant we had a wellbeing plan to make sure I was ok, and they were even thinking about the distance from the car park to work, asking if I need a closer car spot to the building, things like that.”

Keeping in touch and coming back from parental leave was also a well thought out process at Lion.

“I touched base in a social way and then my team leaders would touch base with me about when I’d go back about any new roles coming up that I could apply for when I came back.

“They were supportive even while you’re not there, thinking of you for new roles that might be suitable – you’re not just forgotten. And even coming back – it’s my second week – it’s like I’ve never left.”

So while experiences seem to vary, there is much to be done in supporting parents in the brewing industry.

Want to share your experiences? The ‘Parenting in the Brewing Industry’ series will continue with more experiences from across the industry. Get in touch –

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