Author’s note: This post is in response to a session held at the first annual Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder, CO. For more information on the conference, check out Wrap-up posts will appear on my regular blog in a day or so.

I’d like to share with you my thoughts on a mini-controversy that arose during the Beer Bloggers Conference about women and beer. An invited panel was to discuss how to make women more welcomed into the craft beer world (as the segment of female craft beer drinkers rises) but brought up some touchy subjects that were offensive to some – mostly whether or not there were specific, non-sexist things that one should do to attract women to their blogs. I thought long and hard about what my take on the subject really was, and had long discussions with several bloggers at the event to try to clear my head about this. And I think this is what it boils down to for me: Personally, I don’t believe that women who drink beer need a separate place or radically different treatment in order to become embraced as an integral part of the beer community. Instead, I think it takes a little awareness of our own messages that we’re sending through what we bloggers write and how we design our blogs.

If you have a craft-beer focused website, and you are already targeting a certain demographic (i.e., men only or women only) and it is your goal to hit only that audience (think of the Spike TV or Lifetime channels) – then I am not really addressing this post to you. I also don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that approach – it has its place, though you could always reach more if not limited to only one demographic. Knowing and targeting a specific audience and going after it is one strategy to grow your blog, but there are others that are more inclusive of the entire craft beer lover’s spectrum.

However, I think most of the bloggers in the room at the Beer Bloggers Conference were in a situation in which their site happens to have an audience that is skewed towards men, but they *do* want to reach a larger segment of the craft beer drinkers online which includes women (which I think was the original intent of the topic). If that’s the case then it should be something that’s in bloggers minds they develop strategies for reaching broader audiences. The panel attempted to give us their “to dos and don’ts” but several of us found some of them to be oversimplified, based on existing stereotypes or encouraged bloggers to make it the fist focus of everything that the site is about.

Without commenting on the specific examples discussed in the panel, I want to step back to say that there are things you can do, but they don’t have to consume your life trying to get inside of the heads of female beer drinkers. These are, hopefully, simple and un-sexist (but I welcome your feedback on them).

1. Don’t support the objectification of women on your site if you want women to read your site.

Here’s how I look at it. It isn’t about making the content more accessible but I would say, for lack of a better turn of phrase, make your site “less repelling.” Inevitably, women will come to your site if they’re looking for craft beer content – there is certainly a growing interest, and it is ultimately the content of your site that will bring people to it in the first place. The trick is, how do you keep from turning new visitors off from your content once they get there? If a woman came to a site looking for beer reviews, and then see something that looks like Maxim’s advertisements and has lots of big-breasted women pouring beer (instead of drinking beer) everywhere then they will know that the site is “not for them.” It is usually as obvious as that. That doesn’t mean your site has to be adorned with puppies and wallpaper, but maybe it just has to be given a “respect makeover” to demonstrate your support of your entire audience. [See Ashley’s great post on rejecting the objectification of women.]

As a site note, images are not the only culprit. Sexism can be in the language you use as well (not that your blog has to be squeaky clean – we all have our own voices) but to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes is always good practice for engaging broader audiences. So, it’s fundamentally just being conscious about what might drive readers away and trying not to perpetuate those misleading stereotypes.

2. If you do guest posts, don’t choose only men (or people just like you).

I want you to notice how I wrote that. What I mean (and this is about race, location, etc. in addition to gender) is – don’t limit yourself to picking people who are just like you. Diversity of opinion, experience, age, location, gender will only add more interesting perspective to the collection of voices on the web. However, I think it’s going too far to suggest a dedicated “affirmative action” type stance on this where you invite a woman in on a periodic basis for her “female” perspective, because it is difficult to speak for your entire gender (as we witnessed Saturday) and makes many people uncomfortable to know that was the main/only reason they were invited to participate. If I get asked to do a guest post or be interviewed, I want it to be because you like what I have to say, not because I can tell you what women would think.

Now, on a broader level, I think that there are still a lot of misunderstandings about women, and overgeneralization, especially about their preferences as craft beer drinkers, blog writers and readers. Frankly, little has been studied or analyzed about some of these trends, and breweries who think they have “marketing to women” figured out (see what Coors is trying). are usually grasping at straws. But I will say this. The craft beer industry HAS done a lot to breakdown the “women pour beer for men” image, but we have a long way to go before its normal for everyone to think of craft beer folks as just people. But if we look at “I am a craft beer drinker” or even “I am a craft brewer” videos we can see progress. Even Beer Wars features women who love beer prominently. There is a breakdown of that perception coming, but we have to work a little to embrace that goal as a community.

If you want to support women, allow them to be people.

Thanks. I welcome any comments on this as I want to keep the discussion going.