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Gender equality needed in meat sector

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The New Zealand meat industry says it is committed to getting more women employed in the meat sector after a new report showed they accounted for 36% of the industry’s global workforce.
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Sirma Karapeeva | October 21, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

The Gender Representation in the Meat Sector 2020 report, commissioned by the organisation Meat Business Women, shows women are under-represented at every level above junior positions, holding just 14% of board-level director roles and just 5% of chief executive roles.

It drew on survey data from five nations – the UK, Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. NZ’s data sample size was too low to be considered robust enough in the report.

That data taken from 14 NZ companies representing 6700 employees showed that 38% of all staff were women – women held 11% of board-level director roles and 7% held chief executive roles.

Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the survey shined a spotlight on the issue and provided an incentive for addressing it.

“There are some remarkable women in the industry at the moment, but my sense is that they tend to be the exception rather than the norm,” she said.

“Hopefully, that report will allow us to change that statistic.”

The research was the first of its kind looking at women in the meat sector and uncovered five themes that could help reduce that gender imbalance.

These themes included changing the sector’s negative perceptions including those looking for a career in the industry.

“That is very valid to New Zealand,” Karapeeva said.

Report-co author, Niteo Development director Fiona Smith says inclusion had to be something done now.

“There’s a strong perception at a leadership level, the sector is still a bit of a white old boys club,” she said.

Karapeeva agreed, saying it applied to NZ.

“When you look at the executive leadership of all of the New Zealand meat companies, I think that particular line applies quite well,” she said.

Another theme was fixing what the study called “rungs in the broken career ladder.”

It employed fewer women on the whole and those it did employ faced those broken rungs which prevented career progression.

It suggests women find it easier to pursue careers in marketing, finance, human resources, research & development and quality fields, however those disciplines rarely act as stepping-stones into the most senior positions.

Mentors also mattered.

Women in the sector who went through a mentoring programme were 50% more likely to be promoted compared to women in informal networks.

Workplaces also had to be gender proofed. That meant the need for flexibility and an understanding that if in a senior role, they could not be available 24/7 because of other responsibilities around childcare.

To initiate change, Karapeeva says the MIA, along with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, have signed a partnership agreement with the global chapter of Meat Business Women.

They will examine the report and come up with a plan to incorporate its findings in the sector.

“I’m hoping we’ll start work on that fairly smartly and then start discussing it with the HR leaders of the various companies as well as CEOs and boards,” she said.

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