To celebrate Women’s History Month, we took the opportunity to ask the women on our management team about their experience working in the coffee industry. We are excited to draw on the knowledge and expertise of the influential women who help to lead and shape our company.
How did you start working at Baratza or the coffee industry?
Kyra Kennedy: Kyle and I started Baratza in 1999. We introduced our first Baratza grinder in 2005. Baratza has always focused on Specialty Coffee. In 2010, the manual brew trend started around 2010. At that time we got much more involved with independent specialty coffee roasters and started learning about the at that time we got much more involved with independent specialty coffee roasters and started learning more about brewing methods and origin coffees.
Joyce Klassen: I was going to start a coffee catering business in 2010, but got sidetracked by my friend Kyra and asked to come on board to get Baratza set up on social media. The rest is history!
Karen Kawaguchi: Mere chance! Eight years ago I was asked to help out as Baratza was growing internationally – just part-time, a less stressful job (after leaving a stressful integration consultant job that included way too many hours per week and travel).
Carla Mokin: Barista was one of my first jobs – I worked at a walk-up stand in front of a grocery store. Somehow as a 16-year-old girl, the woman who owned the stand trusted me with her business and she taught me so much about espresso. From there, I was a barista through college and after college. Working with roasters led me to Baratza.
Why do you think it is crucial for other women in coffee to see women in leadership roles?
Joyce Klassen: Women can represent the different viewpoints of our employees and our customers, helping us provide better workplaces and deliver better products. Representation matters, we need to work towards making all our workspaces equal and encouraging women into leadership roles.
Karen Kawaguchi: I think it is important for women in all industries to see women in leadership roles. Having diverse leadership teams brings many different backgrounds, stories, and life experiences together and enriches the teams that work together.
Carla Mokin: I think it is incredibly important to see women in leadership roles, regardless of the industry. Women in leadership remind us what is possible for our own lives, and often open up possibilities that we didn’t even see for ourselves.
Kyra Kennedy: Role models show us what is possible. In my twenties, I was inspired by four successful, powerful, women. They demonstrated how to navigate challenges, create opportunities, and use my voice.
In your opinion, what qualities make a great female leader?
Karen Kawaguchi: Women leaders often bring a different way of looking at things to the leadership team. They are experienced at listening to multiple sides of a story and bringing teams together in a positive way.
Carla Mokin: When I think of the amazing female leaders in my life, they are all incredibly strong, consistent, brave, and they are true to themselves. It can be very tempting to overcompensate in a “man’s world” and try to lead by force – because that is often what is demonstrated as effective leadership. But the most effective leaders I have seen comes from women that lead through inspiration and example.
Joyce Klassen: Approaching leadership with equal measures of empathy, transparency, decisiveness, truthfulness, and inclusivity, while owning your power are key qualities to building strong teams and companies.
Kyra Kennedy: Women leaders believe in themselves, and they believe in others. Creating and living a vision/purpose that inspires people to work together to create new futures. They believe in collective power. Vulnerable and courageous: making a stand for who they are and what they believe. Curious, asking questions, not knowing the answers.
Who have been your role models in coffee? What about them do you admire?
Karen Kawaguchi: Kyra is certainly a role model for me, as a leader who often thinks outside the box and has great big picture thinking to solve problems. She is always able to think about what our customers (end consumers, retailers, importers) might need and how to best support them and show them that Baratza wants to take care of them. Her high level of care shines through for both external customers and internal employees.
Carla Mokin: Well of course Kyra Kennedy. I can’t think of a better example of inspirational, vulnerable, creative leadership, than Kyra. There are so many things I admire about Kyra, but one that stands out to me is that she knows the value of honest communication. When she speaks, it is from the heart, unpretentious and authentic – and everyone knows. She does not pretend to have the answers, but she will call out the elephant in the room. She is the first to admit when she makes a mistake, which allows everyone she works with to be the imperfect humans that we are. This level of vulnerability is rare in the male leaders I’ve worked with, possibly because our culture does not encourage that trait in men. I watch the young men that work with Kyra outgrow the burden of invulnerability, and I know her demonstration of a different kind of strength is a gift to us all.
Joyce Klassen: Kyra Kennedy, co-founder, Baratza – She leads the company, centered on values and how we care for everyone we come in contact with – customers, retailers, employees, and suppliers. Decisions are always made from a position of taking care, and not just focused on the financial bottom line. It’s been so rewarding to work in a company with that ethos that has permeated the whole company.
Jenn Chen, Digital Marketing Consultant – She was one of the first people I met with the courage to voice the need to hold companies in our industry accountable for their business practices and the impact on social justice issues. She helped open my eyes to the need for transparency.
Selina Viguera, Cafe Lead, Blue Bottle Coffee – Every single time I meet Selina I feel this incredible sense of hospitality. She makes you feel special and cared for when you are with her. You can see that in action with her interactions with her team and customers, always professional, on the ball, and oozing warmth and hospitality!
Kyra Kennedy: Lee Safar, Map it Forward, Leader, Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Coach. I admire Lee’s vision, courage, and curiosity. She is all about thriving together. Phyllis Johnson; President, BD Imports & Founder, The Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity. Phyllis has created and is living her vision for racial equity and human dignity.
What advice would you share with other women in coffee?
Kyra Kennedy: Trust yourself, you are stronger and more capable than you believe.
Joyce Klassen: Go your own way, hold on to your values. You will find other like-minded people to travel the path with you and define your own success.
Karen Kawaguchi: Show up and do your best. Try for positions that interest you and where you have passion – even if you can’t check all the boxes on the “requirements for the job” as described on the job posting. Many companies look for aptitude, a positive attitude, and someone who wants to be there and do their best. If you are not sure if the job is what you are looking for, apply and go for the interview and find out! Often if a company likes you and you are not right for that particular opening, they will keep you in
mind for a future position that opens up.
Carla Mokin: Your own self-doubt might be your worst enemy. It’s not your fault that you are instilled with messages of “I am not enough” or “I can’t do this job” – but do your best to unravel those internal narratives. In the end, you are the one that has to believe in you. No matter who helps you or gets in your way – you are in charge of your decisions and you have to trust yourself.
These incredible leaders make us proud to work at Baratza, and we are grateful at the opportunity to place a spotlight on these driven women in leadership.