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On Tuesday, February 2nd the city of Kansas City, Missouri will play host to The Coffeewoman, an event aimed at empowering and inspiring women in the American professional coffee community. Directly inspired by events like Barista Connect in Europe, The Coffeewoman founder Laila Willbur has gathered together an extraordinary list of guests for the event, organized in two distinct panels focused on professionalism and competition. Opening remarks will be presented by Hailee Bland Walsh, the owner of City Gym in Kansas City and an advocate for gender equality.

Tickets to The Coffeewoman are sold out, and the event is at complete capacity. Prospective attendees left out of the ticket rush or interested parties from around the world who can’t attend, don’t worry—we’re sponsoring video coverage of The Coffeewoman and will be filming all the talks live on-site. Look for more Coffeewoman content coming soon on Sprudge.

In in the meantime, and to learn more about the event, we sat down with founder Laila Willbur to talk goals, inspirations, and how you can get involved to throw an event like this of your own.

Laila Ghambari.
Laila Willbur competes at the 2014 World Barista Championship.

Tell us about how this program came about.

Sexism in the coffee industry, specifically surrounding competitions, is a debate that comes up every year, multiple times. It always seems to happen on Twitter or Facebook, which are horrible mediums for this. In those settings, they are often times strongly driven by male opinions. Not that there is anything wrong with their opinions, I guess—I just became more interested in hearing the thoughts of those it directly effects. I wanted to create a safe place, that was filled with the voices of strong woman, and sort of hash it out.

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I’m inspired by other woman, and having read some of the recent Sprudge articles—your interview with Cerianne Bury and the write up on Barista Connect—it really pushed me to make it happen. The qualifiers seemed like the perfect opportunity. Thus The Coffeewoman was born.

How did you get such an incredible list of speakers?

I can tell you it wasn’t easy. I ran into an issue directly related to this event right away: finding woman who could fill those chairs. I needed job diversity for The Coffee Professional: sales, ownership, education, roaster, coffee buyers=, and so on. It was even harder for The Coffee Competitor. There just isn’t a whole lot of female competitors!

In the end I got a wonderful group of ladies, all brining their own unique perspectives to the table. They all were so excited to participate. I have no doubt that their discussion will be honest and raw, and that their struggles and ultimate success, will leave attendees inspired.

Our opening speaker Hailee Bland-Walsh kindly signed on to this event through the help of Jason Burton of The Lab. As a KCMO local he offered to find the opening speaker spot that I hoped to fill with someone directly involved in gender studies or women’s rights. Hailee is an incredible advocate for equality and I am so honored to have her a part of our event.

What do you hope comes out of this evening?

The mission is to unify women. To encourage them to find and strengthen their voices. It’s a challenge to be brave.

Secondary to that, I hope to build some key points and take aways that we can share with our greater community. This event is first and foremost for women; however that doesn’t mean that men are exempt from the content. We are lucky to work in a fairly young and progressive industry. I would hope that our male peers will be eager to hear our thoughts.

Other people are inspired by this program. What advice do you have for those who wish to put together an event like this in their region?

Based on how this event goes I would love to host more. I’ve heard from a number of women asking how to host in other cites. I’ve also had sponsors reach out and want to get involved. After this first event I will put together a “how to host” template and make myself available to offer advice and help to those interested. I think the next step would be to host another at Expo. I also think its the perfect topic to feature at a further Bloom event.

The Coffeewoman is a free event made possible by Pacific Natural Foods, La Marzocco, and Barista Magazine. It takes place at The Drugstore on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016. Tickets are sold out. 

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