After the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8, it is a perfect time to highlight the growing and decisive role women are playing in the white meat sector. Women’s participation in leadership positions is not just changing the face of the industry but also addressing its most pressing challenges with fresh views and innovative solutions. We spoke with five women in leadership roles, who shared their experience and view, as well as the legacy they hope to leave behind.

The meat industry is facing various challenges: from the need to adapt to emerging technologies and develop new products, to meet high standards in animal health, food safety, and sustainability. María José Irarrázaval, Director of ChileCarne and the Pork Producers Trade Association, ASPROCER, and Jimena Allende Vial, Director of AASA companies, agree that sustainable production and maintaining good relationships with empowered communities are today’s primary challenges. Transparency, lawfulness, and mutual understanding are the key pillars to face these difficulties.

“The meat industry is exposed to constant changes and various difficulties to which it has been able to adapt, mainly by adopting new technologies and developing new products. Sustainability in particular requires both a new culture and way of doing things, as well as funding for its implementation. Today, the main challenge is producing sustainably without impacting the communities, and for that land-use planning is key,” said María José Irarrázaval.

“The world increasingly requires more and better food products that are more convenient and affordable, and companies that produce them responsibly. In addition to the challenges of any business, in our industry it is critical to maintain good relations with increasingly empowered communities and more demanding authorities; where compliance, technical considerations, objective evidence, and mutual trust must prevail,” added Jimena Allende Vial.

Ximena Cáceres, Head of Sustainability at Maxagro’s Agrícola Santa Lucía added that “another challenge I see in my line of work is making production increasingly sustainable through various actions, like reducing CO2 emissions and using energy and water efficiently, while strengthening community outreach. Maxagro is active in all of these. Our community outreach program has cemented over time, we also measure our carbon footprint, and have reduced water consumption by 30% since 2014.”

The value of female leadership

Inclusion and female leadership are key factors to address these challenges. The female perspective, characterized by a collaborative and relationship-oriented approach, complements traditional methods, fostering open conversations and increasing common good awareness. According to María Gloria Gutiérrez, Coexca’s Head of Quality Assurance, women’s diligence and ability to structure processes significantly contributes to quality assurance and effective team management. “When we first started, I was the only woman at the plant, and today we have up to 90% of women in some areas. Women are being included in the processing areas (…) I think we are more responsible and more persevering than men,” she reflected.

Macarena Pizarro, Agrosuper’s Retail Sales Manager, points out that “in today’s world, achieving the same objectives is much more challenging. New competencies and skills are required from our teams, such as flexibility, a multisystem approach, and emotional awareness, which is proven to have a positive impact when facing crises and obstacles. An equal share of female and male leaders provides a broader vision of any business. Both leaderships complement each other to foster and develop new ideas, solutions, definitions, and reach goals. Diversity in terms of gender, age, knowledge, and experience is the formula to successfully sustain our industry over time.”

“I think we provide a complementary perspective and a more welcoming approach that facilitate open and honest dialogues. The female perspective puts an emphasis on the common good. What I mean is the creation of value, not only for oneself as an individual or company, but also the ability to create value from my position to society as a whole, other people or companies, and the environment. That way, we can create a virtuous system that allows us all to grow and thrive in harmony,” added María José Irarrazaval.

Thoughts about the future and legacy

Looking forward, these women leaders aspire to leave a legacy of unity, respect, and progress. María José Irarrázaval wants to promote a Chilean meat industry everyone can be proud of, based on complementary views and welcoming practices. In turn, Allende and Gutiérrez see women’s inclusion as a source of inspiration for future generations, hoping for a more equitable and open industry, where gender diversity is recognized as an added value for the business’ performance and market knowledge.

Macarena Pizarro from Agrosuper added that “we increasingly see more women at different links of our industry’s value chain. We can be found at the breeding pens to the companies’ management and strategic areas, which means that we can increasingly show how equitable teams are complementary. Many of us have been the first woman in some positions. That is why our challenge is to leave a mark, which is not easy when you have so few models of women leadership to turn to; and at the same time, we need to open the path for more women to fill first and second line positions. I am lucky to be part of Agrosuper, where the invitation to “transform” is part of the culture. I have been lucky to always have the same opportunities as my peers and have been able to create and act on equal terms. However, as a society and industry we still have the task to accelerate women’s inclusion.”

“I think that seeing women in leadership positions is an inspiration to continue breaking gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality. Measures such as childcare, parental leave, co-responsibility, child support, etc., have helped with the necessary balance between work, family and personal life, and mitigating the challenges of combining parenting and work. But there is still a long way to go in this adjustment of roles, which must be done without unfair discrimination against neither men nor women,” said Jimena Allende Vial.

Ximena Cáceres added that “I would like to inspire others in the industry to focus not only on production, but also on our people, the proper use of resources, and our relationship with communities. In terms of inclusion, I think Chile faces the challenge of giving women even more development opportunities and not wait for them to prove their capabilities before considering them for positions of increasing responsibility. We also need to move forward in making family life and work more compatible. Important steps are being taken in terms of regulation, but I think we need to start by changing mindsets.”

“I am not looking for recognition itself, but to prove through my actions and achievements that it is possible to open room for equal opportunities, for men and women to work side by side toward common goals with mutual respect. I hope that, going forward, the industry reflects greater inclusion and diversity, recognizing and valuing the contribution of women at all levels; that my time in this industry serves to pave the way for other women,” concluded María Gloria Gutiérrez.