Q&A with the women of Far East Coffee Co

The women of Far East Coffee Co. L-R Jo Pepuere, Tess Shaw and Chante ClaassenThe woman of Far East. L-R: Jo Pepuere, Tessa Shaw and Chante Claassen

Today we are celebrating International Women's Day! The aim is to promote true gender balance. #BalanceForBetter.

For us here at Far East, gender balance isn't just a women's issue, it's a business issue and an industry issue. We believe that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.

As a local business and a member of our industry we want to share in the responsibility of driving a gender-balanced world. 

So here in our little slice of paradise we are taking the opportunity to celebrate and embrace the 'Women of Far East' - Jo Pepuere, Tessa Shaw and Chante Claassen. Through this Q& A session we hope to give you a little insight into what it is like to be a woman in our industry. By giving space to these discussions we hope to inspire others to look at their own workplaces and put actions into place so that true gender balance can be achieved.

Together we can we play a part in creating a gender balanced world.


Please introduce yourself:
My name is Jo Pepuere. I was born and bred in Gisborne but lived away for many years. I returned home about 6.5 years ago. I am a mother of two boys aged 16 and 14 and my 13 year old nephew also lives with us. I am married to Steve King, and together, about five years ago, we started Far East Coffee Co.

What is your role at Far East?
My role is predominantly behind the scenes; I'm a Company Director, but mainly I work in management and business growth, and take care of all our creative work.

How long have you been in this industry?
I have been in the service industry in one form or another for over 20 years - eek!.

How have you found being a woman working within hospitality?
When I was an employee I guess the big things for me that were really obvious were the pay difference, and how seriously I was taken in the industry in comparison to my male colleagues. But mostly I have worked for awesome, open minded people who valued all their employees.

When we started this business I struggled with people who made the assumption that this was 'Steve's business' or that Steve was 'the boss'. It still happens now, where I will be overlooked as being the owner, or less capable of handling certain questions or problems. Our team have a set of awesome responses that they use when they see/hear this happening.. they totally have my back.

What do you perceive are the current challenges for woman in this industry?
I think it is probably the same in all industries, but I think even though we are quick to stand up to overt sexism, it is the entrenched often subtle biases, the ones that are so subtle that they are hard to pinpoint, that are most damaging and hard to change or break free from.

In NZ this (coffee roastery) industry isn't really that old and so it is sad to think that we have already established gender roles. How many coffee companies have woman ownership? How many female roasters are there? Only a handful.

I think there are challenges for both genders to overcome. Women are still learning how to be proud of working like a women, rather than like a man. And men are still learning how to adjust to that. We need to let go of so called 'tradition' and embrace our differences.

What does gender equality mean / look like to you?

I read an article recently that pointed out the gender stereotypes of men - competent, assertive, decisive, rational, objective; and women - caring, warm, deferential, emotional, sensitive. Obviously these are stereotypes, but for me, it's about embracing and allowing a woman to hold traditionally male roles like say as a coffee roster or company director, and that it is totally acceptable that she can become accomplished in this position asserting her female qualities, and not necessarily have to utilise male attributes to be deemed successful.

Can you tell us about a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
I guess, first and foremost, it's my mum. My mum taught me to stand up for what I believe is right, and she laid the foundation for me to become a strong, independent and successful woman. There are many examples of her standing by her values throughout my life but one in particular is from when I was about fourteen. My first 'real' job was working at the local dairy. I ended up being fired for giving a customer something that they hadn't paid for - it seems so ridiculous now, because I was accused of giving away a fifty cent bubblegum!

The accusation wasn't true, and my mum took me to the dairy, stood up to my boss (I remember him standing over her and my mum promptly standing up from her chair to face him eye to eye), and then she took me to the union representative (another woman) who then went in to fight for me on my behalf.

I look back on it now and think about how that incident, the non-existent 50 cent bubble gum and the actions of my mum, helped to shape who I have become, and have given me a guideline of how I go about doing things.

What piece of advice would you give to the  younger version of yourself as you headed into this industry as a woman?
You are enough. You are good enough, strong enough and wise enough. And... take no bullshit (laughs).

Any last words?
I hope as an employer I can provide a space that embraces gender differences, whatever they may be. And as a mother, I hope I can raise sons to do the same.


Please introduce yourself: 
My name is Tessa Shaw. I have been working in kitchens for eight years. Mostly in roles where I have be doing the pre-prepared food.

I'm a self taught baker, all of my kitchen training has been in the kitchens and the main thing that I love about the type of work that I do is being able to make food that is beautiful and serves a purpose. So it either it helps somebody eat better or helps to make their day a bit better. That's the kind of food that I like to do.

Food for me is a lot more than sustenance, it is a way to support a community.

What is your role at Far East?
My role at Far East is making all the food in the little kitchen across the carpark, so everything is prepared in the  morning to go out into the cabinet. All the baking is done fresh.

How long have you worked with us?
Just over a year, I think it was a year last month

How have you found being a woman working within hospitality?
I have mostly worked in kitchens with a lot of women, so I haven't really noticed it (the gender differences) too heavily. But I definitely noticed the way people outside of the hospitality industry view me as a woman working in a kitchen. It is very different to how the male chefs that I have worked with are viewed.

Within a kitchen women are seen as doing something that they already do unprofessionally where as men in kitchens are viewed as professionals because it is not expected that they should be doing that kind of thing. So it is almost seen as a hobby for a woman and a career for a man.

What do you perceive are the current challenges for woman in this industry?
I think the main thing is to come to terms with the fact that it is different and to not try and fill the masculine role because there is still a lot of space for a feminine touch within hospitality and food in particular.

How could the industry either reduce or eradicate this challenge?
I think there are are a lot of places doing a lot of good things now because women are becoming more comfortable with being professionals in that area.

What does gender equality mean / look like to you?
I think just embracing the differences that we both bring to the table. Empowering women to not feel like they need to be more masculine, and really embracing the feminine positively, and nurturing that we bring.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman in becoming successful in your field?
Not really, other than coming to terms with the fact that you will be treated slightly differently. I don't think I have had to do anything differently.

Can you tell me about a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
Not that I have worked with, but I would say watching my mum has made me realise that you don't need to do your chosen work with a huge amount of ego, which is what a lot of men in kitchens tend to do. As long as you are doing something that is useful and helps people and helps make people happier you don't necessarily have to compete with that kind of macho-ness and keep doing what needs to be done to the best of your ability, in competition only with yourself.

International Women's day was first introduced in 1911, over one hundred years ago. Why do you think it is still relevant today?
I think it is probably just as relevant now because, we are still trying struggling with equality. Even though women can do all the same jobs as men and a lot have equal pay it is still woman trying to be more masculine than they need to be rather than really embracing the value of being a woman.

What piece of advice would you give to the  younger version of yourself as you headed into this industry as a woman?
Don't get too caught up in the industry. I think there is a lot of value put on being assertive, aggressive and bossy and a bit pushy and frantic at doing everything as quickly as possible so it feels like you are as busy as possible. Where as women aren't necessarily like that, we tend to logically go through the motions. So do what works for you rather than getting too sucked in to what everybody else around you is doing.


Please introduce yourself: 
I'm Chante. I was born in South Africa and moved to Gisborne when I was ten. I went to Mangapapa School, GisInt and Gissy Girls High and then I moved to Wellington and I was there for five years. And now I'm back.

What is your role at Far East?
Front of house at the moment slinging coffees and other things. And then at some point I'll move behind the wall and do some roasting.

How long have you worked with us?
About a month.

How long have you been in the industry?
I started when I was 15. I worked for Mark Gardner at The Colosseum. Since then I have stayed in the industry, I think I have about 8 years under my belt. 

How have you found being a woman working within hospitality?
I think being a young woman has had some impacts, especially because people don't tend to take you seriously. I've been asked "can I please speak to the manager" and I'd say "I am the manager", and they'll comment on how I look really young. I've found people sometimes try and overpower you, especially in big cities.
But, generally if you're working front of house you can end up working with a good team of girls. Sometimes you just click and you become like a family. Everyone's your sister and you can rely on each other. It can be really wholesome and supportive. It's really good when you've got a group of girls that acknowledge the positives and the negatives and through your bond you can influence change.

What do you perceive are the current challenges for women in this industry?
Fair Pay. A report came out last year, I can't remember what it is called, but Hospitality was the most underpaid and had the biggest wage gap in comparison to other industries. Because it is low wage already this is something that needs to change. If you think about it, a lot of the time it is girls that work in cafes and it isn't cool if a dude walks in the door and gets paid more - it has happened to me personally. Pay should just be fair and based on your skill level and not on who you are.

How could the industry either minimise or eradicate this challenge.
I think trying not to be biased towards a certain person. Purely paying on work performance, work ethic and skills. There should be an obvious pay difference between Baristas and someone just walking in the door,  I think thats purely how it should be. For any work.

I read something yesterday that said that women are paid their worth once they prove themselves, and that men are paid on their potential, do you think that this is actually true?
My advice for girls who have to do their CV, is to get your boyfriend or your dad to do it for you because they will bulk it up. Girls don't tend to play themselves up and guys seem to have a lot more confidence.

What does gender equality mean / look like to you?
It looks like more representation of minority groups and of women. I think it is important that we have diversity and that we don't shy away from particular groups. It is really important that we have a mixture of people, always. Equality is just respect across the board, for everyone. Everyone should get the same treatment. No one is more special.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman in becoming successful in your field?
Being told I am not assertive enough was a big one for me. In this industry it is not often you find women on the floor of the roastery, or working with wholesale accounts. So as a female you are quite heavily outnumbered. It can be tricky to work with sometimes.

I've been one of two girls in a team of ten guys and I was the youngest. Being told I wasn't assertive enough and that I wasn't going to progress because of it, was a bit of a sting. I found that really really hard.

I've learnt a lot from it, realising that this type of workplace is not for me and that it is time to change direction and find a better place to work.

Can you tell me about a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
I have two..

The first is Jess Godfrey.
I listened to a podcast called 'Sick Leave' and Jess Godfrey was in it and just hearing about her and everything she has done within the industry. She's so cool. I  saw her at Coffee Supreme and thought "who's that chick, she's so cool" and then found out it was Jess Godfrey and then I listened to the podcast and I was like "Woah". I have huge respect for her and the work that she has done; being a mum, having a law degree and what she has contributed to the industry.

The second person is Luise Metelka.
I worked with Luise at The Hanger in Wellington when she was training for the world Barista comps. I got to see everything that she did and the dedication and time that she put into it. She was working seven days a week and even on her days off she would go in and practice for the comps. I really admire her dedication and her patience for it.

A lot of things I do end up making me think 'this is how Louise would do it'. She had such a high standard, always.
If Luise wasn't making coffee, I would be hesitant to have one. I know that with every cup she really puts herself into it, and it really shows.

International Women's day was first introduced in 1911, over one hundred years ago. Why do you think it is still relevant today?
I think it is still relevant because it is still important to be heard. What we are doing now with this interview its really important. We still need to point out things that need to change.

Voting, is a perfect example; women put a lot of work into getting the vote for women and generations like ours don't have to think about it, it's automatically been a thing for us. So I think there is still change that can happen within the coffee industry because it is quite male dominated. The work that we put in now will set the bar for the girls that are going to come into the industry.

I think men are still learning boundaries and what is ok to do within the workplace, and in the coffee industry. When I started working at a roastery in Wellington there wasn't a sanitary bin in the bathroom, just small things like that still need to change.

What piece of advice would you give to the  younger version of yourself as you headed into this industry as a woman?
When things are clearly a 'no', speak up. Don't let it slip. Don't let workplace bullying, or harassment or anything like that, don't let that slide. It should never happen.

I have been in positions where I should of said something and I never did until I told someone else and they told me that what had happened was really wrong, and asked why didn't I say anything. I just didn't really think that I could. Speaking up  should be encouraged. If something is wrong, you should always speak up and say it isn't ok.

From Steve and Jo: Thank you so much to our team for giving the space to allow these interviews to take place. It has really been a pleasure to hear these stories unfold. We are so proud of everyone in our team and are grateful to have strong female voices included in all that we do x


  • Melissa Jenkins

    I am a woman of colour who has always had a love for science, education and food. I have always pursued my dreams, goals and ambitions despite being a minority woman of colour.
    I got a Bachelors of Science Degree in Marine Biology with an emphasis on Marine Conservation. I was project manager of a sustainable seafood non-profit. I went on to get a Master’s Degree in Science Education and taught upper level science and biology in three different countries. I was recruited to teach in New Zealand due to a shortage of college level science teachers. I recently made a career change to become a chef and help my husband run our own business together with shared responsibilities. In the science field and education, I may have experienced a few micro aggressions related to being a woman or coloured person, but nothing that hindered my ability to work and excel at my job.
    In all of these positions, I was paid as much as a man would get paid. I was able to achieve all of this despite not having any money because I was born in a developed first world western nation that values hard work and equal opportunities. And it is also my husbands ongoing support that has been pivotal to my growth.
    But what about the men, women and children that live in third world nations that will never have these opportunities and who can’t afford food, clean water, clothing, shelter, health care and education?
    So for International Woman’s Day, I am grateful that I was born a woman in a developed nation and not a man or woman in a third world nation slaving away making products to be sent overseas. Let’s celebrate that in New Zealand we have every opportunity to achieve our dreams as any gender. We are lucky and blessed.

  • Cat Murphy-Rahal

    So inspiring! Thank you Far East team for taking the time to do this- it’s wonderful to see a local business operating in such a holistic way. It permeates the coffee, food and interactions, so thank you!

  • Amanda DOWLING

    Chanté Claassen is the best Barista ever and are very dedicated and kind.

  • Mel Berry

    Awesome kaupapa Far East team! Thanks for sharing your stories x

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