Supporting progression and career opportunities for women in the meat and farming industry, in the first of a series of articles looking at the positive changes and initiatives happening across the farming sectors, Danusia Osiowy finds out more about the global networking group which is driving transformation of the industry’s image.
Meat Business Women (MBW) has fast become a global powerhouse and a blueprint in bringing together a networking group which has the collective aim of achieving a fulfilling and progressive career within the meat industry.
Steering its sails is founder Laura Ryan, who, having worked in the meat industry for more than a decade, realised the limited number of women in the industry and at board level in particular.
In 2013, the former strategy director at AHDB beef, lamb and pork launched a professional networking group to help promote the meat sector as a positive career choice for women, supporting those who are working within it and attracting new female entrants.
Achieving phenomenal growth on both a national and international level, MBW welcomes more than 6,500 women from across the meat supply chain, including processors, wholesalers, retailers and small goods manufacturers.
The group is recognised by the United Nations as a contributor to its sustainable development goals and now works with 25 strategic stakeholders and territory partners to hold events across the UK and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
It seems the initiative, which started in a meeting room in London, has resonated across the whole sector and been welcomed as a positive force of change, as Laura explains.
“I never set out to create a global juggernaut, but the industry support across all countries and at senior level has been incredible.
“The meat industry is consolidating more and looking ahead we are expecting more countries to come on board who want to become part of our community.” MBW went on to commission a report last year to evidence the clear disconnect around gender representation within the meat industry and examine the challenges the sector faces in achieving diversity.
The research revealed women make up just 36 per cent of the meat industry’s global workforce, 14 per cent at board level and only 5 per cent of chief executive positions.
"Women make up 36 per cent of the meat industry’s global workforce"
Laura says: “We spoke to 60 global companies with a combined total of more than 50,000 employees; we held focus groups, interviewed senior HR and operations leaders and worked with under- and post-graduates to uncover the barriers and enablers to women joining and progressing in the meat industry.
“It was the first time we could objectively quote research and numbers and identify areas of growth the whole sector could become involved with from changing perceptions to tackling diversity, strengthening networks to creating visible female role models.”
For additional details on becoming a member and the organisation, visit meatbusinesswomen.org
The report has since sparked a new global campaign which aims to change perceptions of careers in the meat industry and highlight female role models to encourage more women to join the sector.
‘She Looks Like Me’ challenges gender stereotypes about working in the meat industry and showcases the breadth of roles and career options in the supply chain.
Laura says: “To attract and retain more female talent, the meat industry needs more visible role models and showcase a wider variety of roles.
“Many people still think working in the meat industry means being a farmer or working on the production line – and they often think it means being a man.
“By championing real people who work in our sector, the campaign will shine a light on the meat industry in a way which has never been done before, giving it a human – and female – face and showing the career options which exist.” Looking ahead, Laura is also focused on developing support for women whose career paths might be punctuated with other life events, starting with the development of a youth forum.
She says: “The younger generation are absolutely huge – they have made the decision to enter the industry and we must not lose them.”
Jodie Bolland’s passion about her career in the meat industry is admirable and palpable.
A dairy farmer’s daughter, she began her career in Morrisons 10 years ago where she started as a degree apprentice at Woodhead Bros.
She has steadfastly progressed her career and proactively proved, in a traditionally male-dominated sector, there are huge opportunities for ambitious women to excel.
She has developed her skills across multiple roles, both on the factory floor and in management roles, before embarking on her current role as a senior livestock buyer.
Jodie’s involvement with Meat Business Women (MBW) over the last eight years has, in her own words, been a game-changer, after questioning her role and future within the meat industry.
She says: “Two years into working in the meat industry, I really could not see females who I could aspire to and questioned whether I was meant to stay working in it.
Since becoming involved with MBW, a network of amazing people has been created which gives me the confidence and inspiration to progress.” An impressive portfolio of male and female speakers from both inside and outside of the sector has inspired Jodie’s own insight, whether that be from the captain of England’s Women Rugby on overcoming adversity to Dr Temple Grandin on being autistic and her lifelong work with animal behaviour.
Jodie is one of 25 ‘high potential females working in meat-focused roles’ who have been nominated by Morrisons colleagues to secure a two-year membership with MBW.
She is also one of two from the cohort to sit on the MBW Youth Board, which, although in its infancy, will meet quarterly to influence the future development of the wider meat industry, including how it builds its appeal to young women and the consequent talent pipeline.
Unequivocal in the opportunities available for career development, Jodie also believes there are now other areas which can attract new entrants into agriculture which are far more than just being financially rewarding.
Looking ahead, Jodie, who won MBW’s ‘One to Watch’ award two years ago, already has her sights set on moving into a meat category director role, but for now will complete her masters in business administration at Manchester University to facilitate a deeper understanding of operations.
She says: “I love my job and I know not many people can say that.
And if I can influence others in the same way I have been inspired, then that for me is all part of the bigger picture and shared goal.”
Take the pledge at FGinsight.com/GetInvolved and in return we will send you a pledge pack and lots of tips to get involved, so we collectively raise the voice of agriculture