A new initiative for women working in the post-farmgate red meat sector will be kicking off here in New Zealand this year.
The dearth of women in the audience at red meat sector events is not only a New Zealand phenomenon. Starting to address that issue, Laura Ryan and her colleague Pamela Brook, who were then working for the British Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, came up with an initiative to attract more women into the UK meat industry. Their Meat Business Women (MBW) initiative quickly gained ground in the UK.
Ryan’s presentation at the 2016 International Meat Symposium (IMS) conference in Uruguay about her new initiative caught the attention of delegate Beef + Lamb NZ Inc (B+LNZ) general manager Ashley Gray.
She learned MBW’s objectives are “to develop the image, culture and landscape of the meat industry to make it more attractive to female talent and to nurture new female entrants into the sector through networking, education and mentoring”. The group “put its toe in the water” using social media – including a closed Facebook page, Instagram and LinkedIn – and over time has developed a website www.meatbusinesswomen.org, podcasts with key industry women, a “One to Watch” award, and the holding of a few events over the year to quickly grow its database of women working in all parts of the supply chain from farm-gate through to market, she relates.
Ryan, now head of her own PR agency, is still spear-heading the initiative cross-collaborating with the IMS. She is working on plans for a global council, that would include Gray, along with possible representatives from Australia, US, Canada and Brazil amongst others.
“I kept in close contact with Laura as part of my other work and last year she asked whether we would look at setting up a New Zealand chapter of MBW, which we floated at the Retail Meat NZ conference in May last year to positive response,” says Gray.
An Australian chapter is also ready for launch this year by the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) at a one-day programme of speakers followed by networking drinks on 3 April in Melbourne, which will also be open for NZ meat industry women to attend, says Gray.
At this stage, because women in the farming sector are well-served by a number of excellent organisations already, she says, the New Zealand group will be predominantly for people working in the post-farmgate part of the supply chain, such as retail, foodservice, meat processing, industry-good organisations, research and development and marketing. Though that shouldn’t preclude farming women who would like to network with women further up the supply chain. Gray’s plans follow a similar format to what has worked well in the UK – social media, online presence and networking events.
There has already been plenty of interest from people wanting to become involved in the Kiwi organisation and Gray is currently working to formalise the committee of six or seven before formally announcing the group and opening membership (watch this space). Plans are for the first New Zealand event to take place at the Retail Meat New Zealand conference in Napier (May 29-30), then a standalone event later this year, probably November. There is likely to be a small membership fee to cover administration costs.
As much as she’s all about empowering women, Gray is very aware she doesn’t want to separate them out, “Because at the end of the day we get so much positive support from our male colleagues too. My biggest passion in everything I do in the industry is about growing communities and networks and I think there is so much to be gained from regular catch-ups and regular conversation and engagement, whatever the platform, as long as you’re in amongst it.
“Women do have a different way of thinking and networking sometimes and we do have a lot to offer and to bring, especially at this point in time when our industry is going through so many challenges,” she says.
She admits to frustration sometimes with the sector’s mentality around ‘it’s what we’ve always done’, or ‘this is what New Zealand was built upon’.
“In my view, the world is changing and that’s exciting. We’re going to remain relevant as long as we keep up with that and look at everything from a positive point of view with opportunity at the forefront,” says Gray.
The Hibiscus Coaster
MBW is just the most recent of the hats for the energetic and talkative Ashley Gray, who says B+LNZ Inc is the platform for the rest of her work and where she works in a predominantly female office. She is also involved in strategic director for Retail Meat NZ and oversees KIS IDeas (Keep it Simple Ideas) – the sector’s own marketing agency where it carries out work for other organisations in the sector at reduced rates, with the profits ploughed back into B+LNZ Inc.
A fair chunk of her time is also spent on the World Butchers’ Challenge, an initiative where she puts New Zealand retail butchery on the world stage.
As WBC chief executive, alongside Rod Slater, she has overseen its rapid growth to now cater for 16 national retail butchery teams competing on the world stage. A recently announced Captain’s Run event will bring all of the team captains to Sacramento in September this year during the city’s annual month-long food festival to view the venues and settings, ahead of the main challenge in September 2020. In addition, she has overseen the production of a new 308 page cookbook of recipes from the last Challenge in 2018 that will be finding its way around the world in the near future.
Born in Wigan in the United Kingdom, but raised on Auckland’s northern Hibsicus Coast, the then firmly “city girl” left Auckland University in 2011 clutching her Bachelor in Communications, majoring in public relations. Part of the course involved a session where the students were paired with mentors. While Gray, 29, admits she initially wanted to work for a glossy PR agency, she was paired with mentors Tanya Hart and chief executive Rod Slater at B+LNZ Inc, on a six-month project both of whom proved to be invaluable in shaping her future career in the red meat sector.
“I really relied on Tanya, in particular, to learn and when applying for jobs, she suggested coming and working for B+LNZ, just for a year placement initially,” she relates, with the millennial adding she was surprised to find she loved the work.
“I fell in love with the people in the industry and the opportunities and all the different projects I had the chance to work on. Rod has been an amazing boss and I haven’t looked back since then,” she says.
“I am now very proud to say I work in the meat industry.”
Outside work, Gray says she is into fitness “big time”, loves to travel, loves food and is known as the social organiser in her various social groups.
MeatExportNZ will be following Meat Business Women‘s trail this year and will run a series of articles on women leaders in our sector.