The Women of the World Butchers' Challenge
As a woman working in a male-dominated industry for my whole career, I was (unsurprisingly so) over the moon to see a number of strong, talented females representing their countries in the 2018 World Butchers' Challenge. Whilst I have always felt supported in this industry we all work in, as a woman I am still in the minority and I think we should celebrate the inclusion of females in the trade, hopefully encouraging more to join us. So this week, I had the pleasure of hearing from four of the women who competed in the WBC and their perspectives of the trade.
Integral member of the British Beefeaters, Jess Leliuga, says she definitely has a few interesting stories around telling people what she does for a job. But it's also a testament to butchers like Jess, who never thought twice about becoming a butcher, that a career in the meat industry is becoming more popular for women. "If I had a £1 for every shocked reaction I had telling people what I do for a job, I probably wouldn't need to work so much. When I was 17 and took my driving test, the examiner asked what I did and when I told him he said 'wow, I better pass you then, you could make mince-meat out of me!"'
Pure South Sharp Black, Hannah Miller-Childs (NZ), worked as a chef before entering the world of butchery and like Jess, never thought twice about her decision to make the switch. “It’s not about comparing yourself to anyone else. It’s about working to your strengths, including those that femininity brings to the table.”
For 2018 World Champion Butcher Apprentice, Sam Weller (NZ), as far as any of her colleagues are concerned, she is just one of the boys. "Whatever they do, I do too. No-one says 'oh, she's a girl - let's do the heavy lifting.'"
And although her own business proudly employs only women, Nazionale Italiana Macellai team member, Mara Labella (Italy) says there is absolutely no difference between how men and women are viewed within the sector. Although it once was this way, she believes the stereotype has been overcome in her home nation of Italy. "Women used to only play a minor role in butchery because the figure of the butcher had to be purely masculine. Now women who see me behind the counter are proud of what I have become and feel represented. I personally manage to be a mother and a businesswomen at the same time. A wealth of experiences and roles allow me to offer the right advice to my customers; I know what is best served at the table!"
As a woman who has been hugely successful in all aspects of her life, Mara Labella has the following advice to give to other women working in the industry. “Women have the skills to be right up there with the best in this profession - in the aesthetics, with their touch, in their approach to the customer and the advice to be given. Trust yourself."
Mara Labella feels strongly that the future is also about fostering the journey of young people making a start for themselves. She says we have a responsibility to transfer our experiences on to the next generation, while still allowing them to inject a fresh perspective and a modern way of thinking.
Hannah, who is passionate about developing the industry whatever chance she gets, believes in order for anyone to be successful it's about loving what you do. "Be yourself. Ask lots of questions and write down the answers. Love what you do and be openly passionate about it. Promote your strengths and never try to be 'one of the boys' to fit in. We are different and that's the beautiful thing."
As another who has been instrumental in developing the inclusion of female butchers in New Zealand, Sam has some strong words of wisdom for her peers and those seeking a job in the trade. "I believe women can do as much as any man. And there are so many women who are proving it. Be willing to take on the advice given to you but use your own creativity too."
As she once did, Jess wants other women thinking about a career in butchery to just go for it. "The trade benefits from a women's touch, we bring that little bit extra and usually have a slightly different take on things to the men. Love what you do and you'll reap the rewards. Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do it, if you want to be a woman in a male-dominated industry - you can!"
So if you're a woman reading this, I hope the stories of these women only empower you to achieve anything you want. And to everyone else, thank you for supporting us ladies. After all, when it comes to promoting and protecting our trade - we're all in this together.
Ashley - World Butchers' Organising Council