by Rachel Anderson, Co-founder and Co-Owner of Indeed Brewing Company
Nobody wants to go back and revisit painful chapters from their past. Let alone do so publicly. But in light of recent allegations against Indeed Brewing Company, and the company’s public request to not brush stories of discrimination under the rug, I feel a responsibility to speak out.
My name is Rachel Anderson, and I am one of the three co-founders, and current co-owners of Indeed Brewing Company. And this is my story.
In 2011 I was working as an art director and designer in the publishing industry in Minneapolis. I was in my 30’s, had a secure job and was climbing the career ladder. Two college friends approached me to help them with branding a craft brewery concept. The brewery, which would eventually become Indeed Brewing Company, was still just a seed of an idea.
As a designer, this was the ultimate dream project. So I agreed to help. Little did I know that the decision would lead me down a path that would end up in pain, regret and financial ruin. It would take me several years to gain perspective on my experience.
As Indeed went from an idea to a reality, I worked evenings, weekends and every free moment establishing the company and brand from the ground up. From strategy and positioning, to working on a pre-launch marketing plan, to touring various potential brewery sites around Minneapolis, to eventually moving tables and chairs into the new taproom, I was all in. In reflection of the amount of work and contributions I was making to the nascent business, I was offered an ownership stake in Indeed in early 2011. I was excited about building a future as not just a co-founder, but a co-owner. I saw a chance to be part of something big.
Like many who take the leap from the security of a 9 to 5 to a start-up, doubts that this was a terrible career move crept into the corners of my mind. Perhaps I should stay in my lane. But I convinced myself that the craft beer industry was expanding and that there would be room for me. After all, our business was going to be different. A place where all were welcome.
In the months building up to opening the brewery, I was at the table for all key decisions, with my area of focus being marketing and branding the new brewery. I created a brand identity that put Indeed on a level all it’s own. I designed the logo and handpicked a local illustrator for our can art. My goal was to create a brand that was inclusive and fun, with the intention of inviting a new type of craft beer drinker in. I wanted Indeed to be a brand I and others like me could get behind.
The early marketing efforts generated so much buzz that as soon as we launched, we had lines out the door. And the lines and buzz kept growing. Publicly, Indeed seemed like the ultimate success story. And it was. I felt validated in my decision to make the leap. It felt incredible to see my hard work pay off.
The company began to grow at an exponential clip. Bars, restaurants and liquor stores were clamoring for our beer. We were installing new equipment and hiring new employees to keep up with the growing demand. The taproom was the new ‘it’ spot in NE Minneapolis. Small annual events had transformed into huge local music shows with thousands of people in attendance. The brewery was all over local media. The brand became beloved locally, regionally and even gained a national reputation. But privately, I was waging an uphill battle against a toxic culture where my voice was not valued.
Patterns of dysfunctional behavior and gaslighting became the norm. Narratives that were meant to make me feel diminished began to take hold. I was less competent. Less deserving of equal compensation. Less accomplished. Less in need of assistance. Less of an owner in the company. Less deserving of being taken seriously. Less, less, less. And yet the brewery continued to grow more, more, more.
My male counterparts accepted praise, justified their own increased compensation and hired additional staff to help them handle demands of the business. They seemed comfortable and confident, walking around like they owned the place, and they did. But why didn’t I feel the same way? On paper, I was an equal owner, but I was made to feel like an imposter.
Questioning inappropriate behavior was seen as a buzzkill. Establishing paid maternity leave was not a priority. When I welcomed my second child in 2014, I returned to work after six (unpaid weeks), strapping my little girl to my chest to carry on. As a mom of two young children, when I expressed the need for a better work/life balance, it was seen as a lack of commitment to the business. Advocating for fair compensation was an annoyance. Expressing the need for help in my ever-expanding job responsibilities was a weakness. “You’re not acting like an owner,” is what I was told over and over and over.
Despite the hostile environment I tried to work hard and push forward. I promised myself I would not quit. I convinced myself that if I worked hard enough, things would get better. That I still had room to create meaningful change. Meanwhile, female employees started to confide that they too felt bullied, undervalued and marginalized.
As time went on tensions grew, the work environment at Indeed became increasingly hostile. It’s hard to describe the defeat of going to work every day in a place where my fellow co-owners seemed to actively want me to fail or quit. And when I did not fail or quit, they took calculated steps to push me out of the business. Indeed became a place where I felt wholly unsupported and diminished to the point of feeling invisible. My authority and competency was undermined at every turn. My talents and contributions went unacknowledged. My place within the company was routinely brought into question.
In October of 2015, my co-founders handed me a termination letter and forced me to leave the brewery on the spot. My email, computer and key card were immediately disabled. Next I was voted off the Board of Directors of the company. I was in a state of shock and panic. How could I, as an owner, be forced out of my own company without reason?
In a particularly cruel twist of the knife, Indeed was aware that I was in the process of a divorce when they froze me out. I was transitioning to becoming a single parent to two young kids and was not in the position to wage a legal battle. Financially, I was at my most vulnerable and they took advantage.
After being discarded by the business I had put my heart and soul into, my overwhelming feeling was that of shame. Shame that I didn’t have what it took to ‘make it’. Shame that I wasn’t successful because I didn’t work hard enough. Shame worrying about what people would think. I was crushed and felt like a huge failure.
The truth is, I didn’t ‘make it’ in this industry because this industry was not set up for me to make it. Craft beer felt like an echo chamber of toxic masculinity, and everyone was too busy patting themselves on the back to notice that there was only one voice in the room. Bad behavior is not only swept under the rug, but in many cases it is rewarded. A certain subset of people seem to be reaping all the rewards, while others are cast aside. All of these things and more were true while I was a part of Indeed.
When leadership acts in a hostile way toward fellow employees, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When employees are not compensated and promoted fairly, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When female employees are made to feel uncomfortable sharing a pregnancy announcement, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When people in leadership positions are involved in inappropriate sexual relationships with subordinates, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When people get jobs at the company because they are friends with someone in a position of authority, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When employees feel empowered to make offensive ‘jokes’ that make others uncomfortable, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like. When racist and misogynistic beer names are freely floated around as suggestions for new products, an example is set of what acceptable behavior looks like.
And when these behaviors are ignored, dismissed and even perpetrated by ownership a toxic company culture is inevitable. It’s baked into the DNA of the company.
The responsibility to build a diverse and inclusive culture starts at the top, with ownership. And in the case of Indeed, that ownership remains blind to their own misdeeds and unacceptable behavior. The toxic culture that I experienced at Indeed was not okay then, and it’s not okay now.
When Indeed silenced my voice as the only female owner in the company, they doubled-down on the idea that their voices and perspectives were more important than mine. They failed to see the value in having a stakeholder with a different point of view at the table. And by doing so, did the company, its employees and its customers a huge disservice.
At no point since being forced out has Indeed attempted to reckon with the way I was treated. When I read the COO’s recent statement, including a commitment to promoting women to leadership positions, it felt like yet another affront. No one from Indeed has contacted me since early 2016 when they were certain I no longer had the resources to wage a legal battle. No acknowledgement, let alone an apology for the way I was treated has ever been shared with me publicly or privately. In fact, the same toxicity, and lack of moral compass affects me today, as a shareholder in the business.
I look back now, and wish I had done so many things differently. I wish I had been able to stand up to the bullying and gaslighting. I wish I had been able to create a better and more inclusive environment. I wish the amazing female employees who ultimately quit working for Indeed would have been better supported, compensated and valued.
But most of all, I look back and feel compassion for the woman that ever questioned whether she was good enough to exist in this industry. I was, and I am.
I love craft beer. I love drinking it. I love learning about it. I love talking about it with people. I love the experience of visiting breweries and trying new beers. But I don’t do much of that these days. I am a casualty of the toxicity of the craft beer industry and Indeed Brewing Company. And unfortunately I am one of way too many.
Now that I have shared my story, I hope Indeed makes good on its commitment not to brush this story under the rug. I am here, and I do not plan on being silent any longer.
To all the brave women who have spoken out, thank you. And to those who haven’t, I see you. You’re not alone. Thank you a million times over @ratmagnet for sharing these stories, and in doing so, giving me the courage to do the same.
Co-founder and co-owner of Indeed Brewing Company