Comment: Where are the women in red meat sector leadership?

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Just before Christmas our traditional annual look at export red meat sector leadership came in for a bit of passionate flak from some of the female half of our readership, reflecting a point I had raised at the end of the previous year – where are all the women leaders in our sector’s management team?

I should point out, as regular readers will know, our list is very much a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ festive look at the team’s leaders who are selected along the lines of the Oxford New Zealand English dictionary definition: a person or thing that leads; or one who has the principal part of something, the head of a group; one whose example is followed. We also assess people on their visibility and effectiveness during the year.

Of course, there are thousands of brilliant women working in the sector, at all points of the cold chain from farm through to market.  Over the past 30 years, I have been used to being amongst a very small group of women at industry functions and events and have been pleased to see this has been changing in more recent years. That change is being reflected in our own readership too, with 48.7 percent now women.

To date, there are no female chairmen or chief executives at the sector’s meat companies, but that’s not to say there are not women rising up through the ranks and it won’t be long before they take out top spots. We note the sector now has some very effective women on boards and in senior management and there are a rapidly increasing number at industry functions around the country. Meat science in particular has seen a veritable explosion. Last year’s Meat Industry Workshop at AgResearch was the first time yours truly had to queue for the ladies toilet there in over 30 years! There’s also been a tremendous step forward as red meat farming partnerships are being empowered by Lindy Nelson of the AWDT, whose work is encouraging women to rise up into leadership positions.

While I do not support tokenism in any form, I do challenge our leaders to step up and put worthy women into those top spots.  But, equally women need to earn their leadership and to be visible because they are achieving great results and are worthy of following.

For that reason, I was also excited to hear on the grapevine of the introduction of a new international professional networking initiative later this year here in New Zealand. This is specifically for women working in the meat sector.

“Meat Business Women” (MBW) was first introduced in the UK for the post-farmgate meat trade and is a not-for-profit initiative run by volunteers. It’s all about developing the image, culture and landscape of the meat industry to make it more attractive to female talent and nurturing new female entrants through networking, education and mentoring. Ashley Gray, general manager of Beef + Lamb NZ Inc, is involved with the international group and is working to open a New Zealand chapter here later this year. We’ll have more detail on that for you in the near future.

On the verge of something really special for the sector, we need to take that passion for change with us into the future.





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