Around 120 women from major meat firms met to hear high-profile speakers talk about their experiences as female leaders.
The afternoon of the conference was given over to ‘speed networking’, where tables of delegates discussed different topics, led by a mentor.
Clare Bocking, commercial director of Tulip, led a table networking session on building confidence, which focused on assertive body language. Meanwhile, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) chief executive Jane King addressed how the #MeToo movement was beginning to influence workplace culture in broader ways than its initial purpose. One delegate shared how she had challenged a manager who assumed an engineering vacancy would be filled by a man.
Margaret Boanas and Katie Doherty, International Meat Trade Association (IMTA) chair and incoming chief executive respectively, presented Brexit scenarios facing meat traders if no deal had been negotiated with the EU by March 2019.
Boanas said Brexit was particularly challenging for the meat sector. “Unlike the car industry, we take an animal and we deconstruct it and we have to try and find a market for every part of that carcase,” said Boanas. “You need international trade in order to do that. There are certain parts of the animal that will never be consumed in this country.”
Tariffs were a hugely concerning area, said Doherty. If no deal was agreed, beef sold from the UK to the EU would be subject to a 60% tariff, while pork and poultry would be hit with a 30% tariff, and sheepmeat a 57% tariff. To add to the uncertainty, the UK would be considered a third country under EU rules and would need to be approved, meaning exports could be halted for months.
“The problems a lot of our members have is uncertainty,” said Boanas. “There are people in the position of having to renew contracts for the second quarter of next year and that is very hard when you don’t know where your raw materials are coming from, what veterinary procedures are going to be in place, what duties and tariffs are going to be in place.”
Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, chair of Assured British Foods’ Red Tractor scheme answered questions about her career, including her experience working as a civil servant with Margaret Thatcher and her role on Tesco’s board.
Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells, who is also an ordained minister, told the story of her rise to leadership and the importance of being ‘intentional’ when navigating tricky work situations.
The only man to speak to the delegates was Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick, who told the assembled women: “Brexit is the single biggest threat we face over the next ten years – not alternative proteins. Getting a good trade deal is the most important thing. If we get the deal wrong, we could be suffering the legacy of this for decades to come.”
Meat Business Women was founded by Laura Ryan, former strategy director at AHDB Beef & Lamb, with the aim of inspiring more women to succeed in the meat industry. Its website is www.meatbusinesswomen.org.