This column was first published in Meat Management Magazine in December 2019.
I’m often asked what made me join the meat industry and how we can attract more young people (especially females) to bridge the skills gap. Breaking stereotypes and strengthening public perception of heavily scrutinised (yet purposeful) industries has always been very close to my heart. So, the biggest motivating factor for me to join the meat industry was the challenging nature of the job.
On reflection, I think one of the biggest challenges for women entering our industry is the inability to find enough female roles models for employment and career progression. I don’t think we get to hear many inspiring stories of women cutting through stereotypes of this sector (which is heavily over-represented by men) and aspiring to create a much more diverse, inclusive and forward-looking industry.
If we want to create an industry where women are valued and able to reach their full potential, we must create a culture that supports, educates, mentors and provides opportunities for women to grow and prosper. Our sector needs inspiring role models who show new entrants that it’s possible to claim a seat in the c-suite, build a flourishing personal brand, and create movement through passion and dedication.
It’s fantastic that we have a number of professional networks and prestigious awards that celebrate women who are pushing boundaries and putting food on every table. But a lot more needs to be done. Last year, I helped judge Meat Business Women’s ‘One To Watch’ prize for promising young women working within our industry who’re breaking stereotypes and helping showcase the meat sector as an excellent career choice for female talent.
Personally, I’m a stronger supporter of mixed gender groups in business. I see myself as a professional first and woman second. So, the rationale for gender specific conferences and networks is not something I’m fully onboard with. However, my conversations with a number of young women who applied for this year’s ‘One To Watch’ prize made me realise how valuable it is for women within our sector to come together to support each other and tap into the experience and networks of those who have made their mark.
While I find it disheartening that we live in a society where women are under-represented across a number of businesses to the point where they need a separate networking group – I do acknowledge that there is a lot more openness and trust within female-only groups that doesn’t necessarily exist within mixed groups. I do hope that one day there won’t be a need for gender specific networks and that a number of highly talented women will take centre stage in key decision making, be heard and recognized as equals.
It’s vital that woman working within our industry start becoming catalysts for change and role models so that we can bring more gender diversity, particularly at the top.