The road to gender parity is long and far but the the glimmer of light in the distance gets brighter and brighter as strong women from all walks of life unite and help shape the map to a more inclusive world. Together, we are building a strong community of women alike to push the boundaries of underrepresentation and while we are making incredible strides, the global landscape still has a long way to go. This International Women's Day provides a platform to celebrate the incredible women that have left their footprints in the sands of time and reflect on the journey in creating change for future generations to come.
Today we sit down with Lena Richrath, our very own Sales superstar and Secretary of the International Women's Coffee Alliance Australia to discuss her journey as a woman in an otherwise male-dominated coffee industry.
Can you tell us about your journey and how you got to where you are?
I was studying mechanical engineering in Germany but also needed to pay my rent so I started doing promotions for Jägermeister, a classic German brand. I heard through a colleague that they were short-staffed at a coffee catering company so I put my hand up and eventually got put on a coffee machine. I was shown how to steam milk but never how to prepare shots. People think it is the easy part. Consequently, I was making some pretty bad coffees for a while. I developed a strong interest in how to make better coffee and did my own research. With that knowledge, I went travelling around the world and ended up in Australia. I started working at a café here in Perth and learned how to make all the different Australian types of coffees which are quite different to Europe. Plus people are a lot more particular about their coffee here. I eventually went on to work at a specialty coffee café. I didn’t know what specialty coffee was before I commenced working there. From this point onwards I got more and more submerged in coffee. In fact I came to many of the Five Senses' Curated Cuppings to learn more about coffee and understand what specialty coffee is all about. I eventually applied for a role at Five Senses Coffee and that was 4 years ago.
What challenges have you faced/do you face as a woman in the coffee industry?
For the most part, I don’t worry too much about what people think about me being a woman in coffee. I think to an extent I have just moved past those thoughts. When I still worked in cafes, I came across people who would have more trust in my male colleagues’ abilities to make coffee. It doesn’t feel good and most definitely didn’t give me confidence. However, I have always tried to ignore it and move on. I do however notice especially at competitions how male dominated the industry still is and often men come across a lot more confident which doesn’t help. That is not to say women aren’t as skilled. Most of us are just more critical of ourselves which might hold us back.
Can you tell us about your role as a board member of the IWCA and how the IWCA is creating visibility for women in coffee?
I started off as a general board member last year and this year I became Secretary of the IWCA Australia board. One of our main goals is to connect, create a community and bring everyone together through events and social catch ups. Through panel talks and knowledge sessions we get the opportunity to give voice to women of all different roles in the supply chain and hear their perspectives.
This year's International Women's Day Campaign is Embrace Equity. What does #embraceequity mean to you?
It’s all about the difference between equity and equality. Equality is treating everyone the same whereas equity is treating people according to their specific needs. It’s interesting because I don’t think a lot of people know the difference between equity and equality. We don’t all start from the same place and embracing equity in the long-term levels out the playing field for women to succeed.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Believe in yourself and just do it. The more women there are in these management positions, the less daunting it is. I don’t think women are less capable. We often doubt our potential but once we overcome that doubt, there's no limit to what we can achieve.
What advice would you give to organizations who are striving to create a more inclusive workplace?
A great starting point is getting a grasp on where you’re at. Understanding the current culture and knowledge of everyone in the workplace. From here, upskilling staff and educating them about what it means to be inclusive and diverse is a great next step. An important part could also be to review hiring practices by creating a diverse pipeline and removing unconscious bias from screening processes.
The International Women's Coffee Alliance Australia welcomes everyone in the coffee industry. Their mission is to connect, empower and advance women and marginalised folks in coffee. Find out more here!