When Ethel first came to our Dakota City hides and tannery facility in 1986, she knew she had a challenge ahead: she looked around and realized she was the only woman at the facility.

“Before, they would say this is a man’s job,” Ethel says, “but it’s not just a man’s job.”

Ethel quickly proved that working alongside her male team members, processing hides that would go on to become leather goods we use every day, such as shoes, upholstery, sports equipment, and more. Like many, Ethel didn’t initially realize Tyson Foods is one of the largest hides providers in the world.

“I knew nothing about this industry when I started,” Ethel says. “So, I worked in a lot of different departments because I wanted to learn everything I could.”

She worked in various positions on the facility floor, in the maintenance department, at the tannery before deciding to pursue a position as a supervisor.

“You can’t just read about how a job is supposed to be. You have to be hands-on and do it.”

She learned the process of creating quality leather is extensive, and it starts with a quality hide. That’s where Ethel comes in. In her current role as quality assurance supervisor, it’s her job to make sure the hides coming in and out of her facility meet Tyson’s very high standards.

Ethel and her team of quality control experts also serve as another animal welfare check. The condition of the hide can show how the animal was treated, and if there are excessive scratches or if the hide is too thin, for example, Tyson can trace the hide back to the animal’s source location.

“Our criteria is high for what we send out the door,” she says. “We’re checking the process and auditing hides every day.”

Ethel and her team also continuously strive to be more sustainable, meeting biweekly with quality control team members at other facilities to discuss best practices.

“The team as a whole is always looking for the right formula, the right steps, to make this industry even more sustainable.”

In thinking back over her 35 years with Tyson, her greatest accomplishments, Ethel says, are the team members she’s helped along the way.

“I’ve worked with a lot of people, and I’ve trained a lot of quality controllers,” she says. “It’s great to see them growing and knowing I’ve helped them get to where they are.” She encourages women in particular to take the leap into the industry, to “take a chance and go for it.”

Her next goal is to find and train a quality control specialist to take her place. “And then retirement,” she says.

Tyson is a member of the Leather Working Group (LWG), which works to advance traceability and implements an environmental compliance and performance capabilities assessment of leather manufacturers. Each of our tanneries is audited by LWG, and we have received numerous awards for our performance. Recently, all our tanneries received the Leather Working Group Gold Rating, meaning they’ve met the highest environmental standards and performance set by the LWG.

Learn more about our sustainability efforts and material resources here. For more about careers at our Hides and Tanneries, please visit our careers page.