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Meat the women challenging perceptions in the supply chain

Posted by Olivia Agar on 23 April 2019
Olivia Agar

What happens when you put 200 women from the meat industry in one room? Thanks to Sheep Producers Australia I was able to find out at the launch of Meat Business Women Australia.

The networking event held in Melbourne brought women from right across the country, and right across the meat supply chain, including producers, processors, retailers, industry representatives, as well as this fortunate market analyst.

Belinda Lay, Olivia Agar, Joanna Treasure & Melissa Neal

For me and the other attendees, the day was an opportunity to bare passions, form connections and hear the stories of trailblazing women.

Before the day of networking began, I joined female leaders in the meat industry in a roundtable discussion over breakfast run by the Red Meat Advisory Council to contribute insight into their next industry strategy. The theme of the day being supporting women in the industry, it was the focus of discussion and a thought-provoking question was posed to the group. “Why do we need more women in the meat industry?”

Right now, approximately 25% of the sector is made up of women and anecdotally it’s believed that in senior management positions this representation is much smaller. According to MLA consumer research, 70-80% of women have complete responsibility for meat purchasing decisions.

This research was not only true for Australian households, but similar trends are reflected in our overseas trading partner countries. What this tells us is that women are primarily the gatekeepers and decision-making customers that we strive to connect with. So at a fundamental level, it makes sense for there to be more balance of women in positions where they can share values with our customers and drive the industry forward.

As the day progressed, the value that women bring to the meat industry became more obvious. It was demonstrated by the inspiring women speakers who shared their stories, their triumphs and their challenges.

From the moment Dalene Wray, Managing Director of OBE organics, stepped up to the stage, she had us captivated with her story. She was impassioned, caring and oh so memorable. Dalene’s talk contributed to an overall theme that came out of Meat Business Women, that we need to collaborate, search for mutual benefit and support young women into leadership opportunities. The key message being that “We can be, what we can see”.

Proof of exactly what young and well-supported women in the meat industry can achieve came from Ashleigh Mcbean, a fifth-generation apprentice butcher who is certainly not afraid of turning heads. Ashleigh spoke about challenging perceptions. By asking “why can’t I do that?” and sharing her journey on social media she is changing the classic image of a butcher, all the while using her fresh perspectives to add value to her family’s business.

Do the dirty jobs, get covered in blood and guts and show who you really are. These were just a few of the takeaways from Melissa Fletcher’s (Fletchers International) raw and brutally honest talk that had the room rallying to join her ‘tribe’. She shared how her focus on people, relationships and productivity have contributed to the success of the Fletchers business and how these are often traits that women bring to the table.

The importance of networks was another underlying theme from the day. Ashley Gray, GM of Beef and Lamb NZ, spoke about her experience finding support and a sense of community and how they helped her overcome personal challenges in unexpected ways. Women are still the minority in the meat industry and so to have the ability to come together, encourage each other and learn from one another is pretty incredible.

Michelle Redfern, Melissa Fletcher, Ashleigh McNeam & Ashley Gray

Topics: cattle, agricultural industry

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