Women can cut it as retail butchers, says Ashleigh

Women can cut it in the male-dominated retail butchery sector, says Ashleigh


Ashleigh McBean is making her mark as a butcher in her family's well known butcher shop in Melbourne's Prahran Market.

FOLLOWING A FAMILY TRADITION: Ashleigh McBean is carving out a career as a butcher in her family's Melbourne butchery.

FOLLOWING A FAMILY TRADITION: Ashleigh McBean is carving out a career as a butcher in her family's Melbourne butchery.

Ashleigh McBean wants to see more young women like her take up careers as retail butchers.

Ms McBean, 26, works as a third year apprentice in her family's butchery, Gary's Meats, in Melbourne's Prahran Market.

The business is managed by her father, Gary McBean, a fourth-generation butcher who never questioned her decision to join the trade.

Perhaps she was more surprised than him because she had been pursuing a career as a professional basketballer, first as one of Australia's top junior players before winning a sports scholarship to Murray State University in Kentucky, America.

She had sprung up to 1.82 metres (six foot) by Year 7 and her father and mother, Heather, encouraged her to get into sports including basketball, rowing and skiing.

"I thought basketball was going to be my life," she told last week's inaugural Meat Business Women conference in Melbourne.

"There is something special about being involved in a team sport, learning how to deal with screwing up, handling that as a team, and coming back as a team."

Now she is making her mark in the male-dominated world of retail butchering, having already notched the Victorian Apprentice Butcher of the Year award.

She said the traditional role of women in butcher shops had been as cashiers while the men donned the aprons and wielded the knives. Women didn't even clean the floors.

"Something just clicked in my brain one day, I thought 'why can't I can do that?'" And she did.

Ms McBean said she had put her knife "on the backburner" a bit in recent times to spend more time doing the business accounts and social media so her father didn't have to work seven days a week.

But she loves getting behind the counter to engage with customers and give them advice about cuts of meat and cooking methods.

"People expect to see a man behind the counter. I am not offended but it's something I would like to change," she said.

Ms McBean said her approach to the business wasn't about selling as much meat as possible.

"It's no longer a matter of 'sell, sell, sell'" she said.

Animal welfare was one of her highest priorities which meant the sourcing of product from farms where the animals had happy free-range lives eating grass and not being pumped with antibiotics, hormones or grain.

"That's important to a lot of people in this day and age," she said.

A lot of their beef is sourced from Cape Grim, a Tasmanian grassfed beef brand.

She said apprenticeships were a great pathway into a career which provided on-the-job training from professionals.

"I am not a sit down and study type person," she said.

(ACM Publishing, publisher of this website, was the media partner for the Meat Business Women conference in Melbourne).  


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