Seeing as it’s International Women’s Day today we asked our only female butcher – Suzy about her journey so far in a very much male dominated industry.
When did you start in the industry?
When I was 17
And how did that come about?
I was studying at the time and I landed a casual job as a counter hand at a local food market in the butchery department. I was planning on becoming a teacher. After 2 years at Uni I felt as if I needed to change direction. A butchery apprenticeship came up at my work and the boys I was working with said I had good knife skills and encouraged me to apply. So I did. I was considering becoming a mechanic at the time but I know I made the right decision.
What frustrations have you encountered in the industry so far?
The physical barrier is a big one. I just can’t lift a 60kg carcass. I have tried, believe me but that’s more than my body weight and I just can’t do it. The other thing I’ve encountered is the brush off – sometimes customers, mainly male, don’t acknowledge you at the counter. They kind of look past me looking to one of the guys. I’ll never forget this one day, an older gentleman came in asking for something in particular and told me he wanted me to get one of the guys to serve him. I asked him why I couldn’t help him and he said, “you’re a girl, you shouldn’t even be behind there”!
That must have been hard to deal with?
Yeah, I just went and got my manager to take over while I went out the back and composed myself. You just have to gather yourself quickly and move on. No point letting it get to you. I’ve never seen that sort of behaviour at Meat at Billy’s thankfully.
I’m sure there are loads more frustrations you have but please tell me, there are some good things you’ve encountered too right?
Yeah, totally. Being the only female among so many males I’m the go to for a female perspective on things such as new product ideas. I also find that some customers are drawn to me because maybe I seem less intimidating. As in, some customers aren’t confident with meat cuts, cooking techniques and really aren’t sure of what they want / need. I think they feel more comfortable discussing options with me and I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I love it.
If a young lady came up to you looking for advice about starting a career in butchery, what would you say to her?
I’d say that you need to be strong minded. You’ll encounter resistance along the way but if it’s really what you want to do, then just keep going. Confidence in yourself and your skills will get you through.
What do you love about your butchery?
I love the process of breaking down a carcass into different cuts – it’s an art form. A creative outlet for me. I also enjoy being able to pass on knowledge to customers, younger staff etc. I guess that links back to my interest in teaching. It’s incredible, I wouldn’t change my job for anything.
What other butchers and shops do you look up to?
Not sure if I can say this, might sound a bit corny but I actually look up to Meat at Billy’s and am so proud to work here. It’s an incredible work environment and the customers are wonderful. I’m not just saying that either, never seen anything like it elsewhere. The consistency and the quality of the meat here is amazing. You rarely get both of those things together. PLUS – Billy is a great boss. I love working for someone with such high standards and who pushes and encourages you to be your best. He puts so much back into his shop and his staff. I even get to have a uniform that is tailor made to my exact shape and size. I wear this shirt 12-15 hours a day so what may seem like a small thing, makes a huge difference to me. The regular staff meetings and staff reviews plus the way Billy always asks his staff for feedback and ideas seems to create a great team environment. It’s just really nice to be a part of.
Suzy would never tell you this unless you ask but in June she’s off to compete in the WorldSkills Australia 2018 National Competition in Retail Butchery. We’ll be following her journey and sharing updates along the way.