Throughout my career, I've been employed by a succession of dynamic female business leaders. However, even in 2020 it's clear that not all women are so fortunate, especially those working in traditionally male-centric industries.

Sadly, many women still face inequity in the workplace. Gender can hold them back in terms of career development, salary aspirations or simply by being underrepresented. Thankfully, things are changing, and we must champion the trailblazers tackling this issue head on.

The new 'in conversation' format of our latest podcast delivered an inspirational account of how the meat processing sector is working towards to the UN's sustainable development goal of gender equality.

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Gender equality
Global insight highlights gender challenges

Prompted by the launch of new report ‘Inspire, Network, Grow: Gender Representation in the Meat Sector 2020’, Catherine and Hannah had a really stimulating conversation with the female networking group Meat Business Women founder, Laura Ryan.

Independently commissioned, the report surveyed 60 organisations, employing 50k staff in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the US. The data provided comprehensive and perhaps unsurprising results.

Currently, only around 1/3 of employees in the sector are female. Then as you look higher up the career ladder, these numbers dwindle significantly, to 14% in senior roles and a derisory 5% at chief executive level.

As one respondent in the survey, bravely admitted:

'The lack of inclusion in the meat industry is the secret that everybody knows about.'

What are the challenges and opportunities for women in meat?

Although the stats paint a disheartening picture, the value of this report is that it sees a way forward to securing a much brighter and more inclusive future.

‘Inspire, Network, Grow’ delves into the context for the career bottleneck and identifies what can be done to level up the workplace in terms of gender dynamics.

Exploring five enablers and barriers, the report seeks to initiate an open and honest dialogue. It’s a welcome debate that everyone must embrace, regardless of gender.

Remember the male politicians flaunting the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts a few years ago? Well, guess what - we still need the guys to participate in order to make progress. Otherwise, Laura believes that the future success and sustainability of the meat sector at risk. She explains:

"You can champion a cause, but you need the decision makers in the room as well."

Challenges

The role of organisational cooperation

The good news is that Meat Women Business are working hard to be as inclusive as possible. This has entailed promoting the report’s findings widely and initiating engagement with corporate partners and key processor CEOs as Laura believes change must come from the top down to attract and retain female talent now and in the future.

By spreading the word through conferences and establishing relationships with global trade associations, the issue of equality will move higher up the agenda. It’s an ongoing awareness raising campaign – that will hopefully initiate lasting change.

Equally, as many women continue to fulfil primary carer duties, we also need help on the home front too… quite often, literally from the bottom up! As women with young families, both Catherine and Hannah recognise that they wouldn’t have be able to fulfil their career roles without support from their husbands and wider family network.

Covid’s digital push

In some regards, the global pandemic has demonstrated that we can all adapt under pressure and still be effective in difficult circumstances.

Over the course of 2020, we’ve had no option but to embrace home working. Lockdown has perhaps given us a more rounded, considerate view of each other. Months of Zoom and Teams calls means we’re used to seeing our colleagues as real people outside of the work environment.  Often juggling home schooling and work during this time.

I believe there are positives to come from this collective experience. Recognition of the benefits of more flexible working arrangements and greater appreciation for women’s solution-orientated and multitasking skills that have shone throughout the pandemic.

Covid 19 Teams call

Don’t positively discriminate

Ultimately, we all want to be fairly represented at work, to be employed based on our merit and skill.

The Meat Business Women Report is a hugely valuable contribution to this important debate. I hope that when the findings are revisited, we’ll find more females further up the career ladder. We have enormous potential to contribute to meat processing and increase the sector’s profitability too.

‘Inspire, Network, Grow: Gender Representation in the Meat Sector 2020’ – key themes at a glance…

1. Changing perceptions of the sector

·       Promote the diversity of the roles available

·       Present meat processing as an appealing career route for women

2. Moving inclusion up the agenda

·       There needs to be a greater impetus to drive change

·       Diversity and inclusivity are currently being driven by customers in the supply chain

3. Tackling the broken career ladder

·       Needs focus from 'hire to retire' to overcome the shortfall of women in senior roles

4. Strengthening networks and creating visible role models

·       Mentoring improves career structure and helps break down barriers

·       It’s important to have platforms where women can engage meaningfully with each other

5. The way we work doesn't work

·       Women continue to be primary carers and juggle multiple responsibilities

·       Requirement for greater flexibility from employers in terms of working practices and patterns