This month’s Career Spotlight features Ren Navarro, the owner and operator of two Kitchener-based consulting businesses: Beer. Diversity. and Do Better. Be Better.

In 2018, Ren founded Beer. Diversity. in order to bridge the gap in diversity and inclusion education within the hospitality industry, specifically targeting breweries, wineries, distilleries, and restaurants. Since then, she’s become a sought-after consultant and public speaker for post-secondary institutions, conferences, radio shows, and podcasts. Just this past month, she launched her new company Do Better. Be Better., an organization that aims to pair mentors with BIPOC youth in order to provide them with resources, guidance, and leadership skills.

Ren embodies everything that we aim to encourage at Virtual High School—innovation, responsibility, respect, integrity, and perseverance. She also happens to be one of the most genuine and charismatic people we’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

Take a peek at our interview with Ren to learn all about the rewards and challenges that come along with becoming your own boss.

Can you tell us a bit about your education and workplace experience?

I’ve got a degree from York University, where I majored in English literature. I’ve also got a certificate in photography from George Brown College. My major workplace experience is actually in finance! I worked for 5 years in credit card services and almost 14 years in life insurance (mainly management in a call centre).

What are your current responsibilities within your role?

I’ve been my own boss for the last three years, so I have a LOT of responsibilities. I do everything from answering emails to setting up meetings and appointments to creating programs and sessions for companies.

What does a day at work look like for you?

No two work days ever look the same! I’m a night owl, so my day doesn’t usually start until 10 am. I scour social media to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I make notes of things I want to come back to for possible research, either to help with sessions or my writing. Every day includes a LOT of emails. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never catch up on them. Some days are filled with meetings, but on other days I’ve got sessions with companies who are looking to make positive changes within their businesses and communities.

Being my own boss and a consultant means that I don’t work a typical 9-5 job, and I’m perfectly happy with that!

Why did you choose this line of work?

I really didn’t! Prior to starting Beer. Diversity., I had worked for several years as a craft beer sales representative. I worked for 4 different breweries over the years and was finally just looking to make a career change. I had actually applied for, and successfully got, a job with Canada Post. Just before I could sign the contract, I got the opportunity to do a public talk about my experience as a Black woman in the beer world. That talk changed EVERYTHING.

I ended up having to quickly create a company to go with the event, and it was a mad scramble! I thought that the “company” would be a side project, and that I’d be doing talks every now and again. Within the first six months, the company morphed into so much more. It’s now all about talks, consulting, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

What obstacles or challenges have you faced in your role?

There have been a lot of naysayers! People think that there aren’t diversity and inclusion issues within the beer industry or that things are “fine the way they are”. It’s tough, but having the challenge there makes me work that much harder.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

It’s rewarding to see folks start to understand the need for diversity and inclusion and what they can do to help. That “aha” moment is wonderful to see.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into this field?

This isn’t a job in a large field. There aren’t a lot of people talking about diversity within the alcohol industry. I never thought that this would be my job!

I’m forever learning, so do the same. If you’re looking to do something similar, keep yourself open to new experiences and new things to talk about. I’ve taken several courses on beer, wine, and distilling because I can use my education to talk to BIPOC communities about things that aren’t marketed to us. I also have mentors in the United States because I reached out to people in a similar line of work on social media. Never be afraid to ask questions!

Be patient. Things don’t always take off right away. Keep track of what works for you, look at what others are doing in the field, and always get feedback.

What are you looking forward to in your career this year?

This year I’m looking forward to branching out with Do Better. Be Better. to work on leadership education with marginalized and racialized youth. I’m excited to help the next generation find their footing and their voices.

How has your role changed to adapt to the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, I did massive amounts of travel. I was lucky enough to travel across Canada and the United States. Obviously once COVID-19 hit that wasn’t possible, so I had to move everything online. Zoom and Skype calls are my norm now. With that, I had to adapt to getting the message out virtually. I also had to make sure that I had the right equipment, whereas previously I only needed a microphone. Getting used to being almost 100% virtual took a little bit (since I’m no longer a spring chicken)! Adaptation is key. The online aspect actually helped me to solidify my sessions and the message that I want to get out there!