Breaking down NZ fences

From dairy to red meat, New Zealand agribusiness is undergoing a profound transformation. The expanding markets of Asia bring both new opportunities as well as challenges.

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"There are already new faces at many of the industry’s top tables - Agri boards that lacked diversity as little as a few years ago now have one or two female directors."
Lindy Nelson, Executive Director AWDT

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To extract the maximum value from these opportunities the sector needs an injection of new ideas and perspectives and to engage 100 per cent of its available talent. One of the ways this is happening is the emergence of more women in leadership roles.

From boardrooms to the management of New Zealand's top agribusinesses, women are stepping into roles not traditionally held in our sector.

There are already new faces at many of the industry's top tables - agri boards that lacked diversity as little as a few years ago now have one or two female directors. Examples include Alliance Group, Silver Fern Farms and Ballance Agri Nutrients. On current trends the percentage of women leading New Zealand agriculture from boardroom to farming business in 2020 will be double what it was a decade earlier.

There is no shortage of talented women to step up to these roles. The background of women entering the sector has changed significantly over the past decade due to increased education and career opportunities in New Zealand and Australia. Thirty per cent of agricultural training centre graduates are women and technology and social ideals are removing physical barriers to on-farm management, once the domain of men.

More than 50 per cent of university graduates with agricultural degrees are women. In addition there are women who already have in many cases had long careers in agriculture. The sector is unique in that women make up 50 per cent of farm business ownership and management. The latent talent held by many of these women comes from years of community and business contribution and often a former professional career before farming and family.

Five years ago I founded the Agri Women's Development Trust (AWDT) to help women from a broad range of backgrounds obtain the skills required for management or senior management agri-business roles. Many of the new women directors of New Zealand's leading agribusinesses are graduates of AWDT's leadership and governance program, Escalator, one of the Trust's fit-for-purpose programs.

However, it's not only boards and companies reaping the benefits. Graduates of all AWDT programs are leading in new ways throughout the sector, including in farming businesses, at industry level, in local government and in major water and environmental projects. These women are tackling the tricky issues and problems, showing they have a knack for leadership in complex situations.

This knack for leadership is vital for the agri sector to successfully deal with some of its challenges - doubling agricultural exports and harnessing opportunities presented by an abundant supply of water, coupled with a global reputation as a producer of high-end, quality product. While equipping women with the necessary skills is a critical part of what ADWT does, it also helps women find a path to these roles by researching, identifying and raising awareness about roadblocks that have traditionally been in place.

While there is an increased understanding of the value of diversity, one of my challenges as executive director of the AWDT has been to demystify and define why this is of value. This has been done by engaging men, by working with and not against them in strong partnerships, explaining the value of diversity within this sector and the need for engaging the whole talent pool, effectively describing a vision of what this could look like.

At a grass roots level there is still much to be done. Women can't sit at the decision-making table if they are busy making cups of tea when the bank manager calls. Or if they don't have access to the right skills and knowledge to drive farm business performance or don't see themselves as adding value and leading business.

At the corporate level we are seeing greater engagement and willingness to support women into senior leadership roles but there is less understanding that how women authentically lead might look very different to the traditional view of leadership. For this to happen, mind-sets and the traditional notion of leadership need to change.

This is a harder and slower journey. However our corporate graduates are succeeding in finding where to lead and how to lead. In September 2015 we will be five years old and there has been massive change from one program catering for 14 women to five programs catering for 500. Women are learning to get comfortable with leading, seeing themselves as capable of tackling complex problems and stepping up and sitting at the decision making table. I can't wait to see what this new landscape looks like in 2020.


Name: Dawn Sangster
Director, Alliance Group

Maniototo farmer Dawn Sangster is the third female director in the history of meat company Alliance Group (which was established in 1948), stepping into the position in December 2011. Alliance has 5,000 shareholders and produces 30 per cent of New Zealand's sheepmeat production, 10 per cent of its beef and 30 per cent of the country's venison. Dawn, who has a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce in Farm Management from Lincoln University, has a 25-year farming career. She plays a pivotal role in the family company which manages 10,000 sheep and beef stock. She also runs one of New Zealand's largest flocks of angora goats.

Name: Charmaine O'Shea
Director, Johnston O'Shea Limited, Chartered Accountants

Northland dairy farmer and chartered accountant, Charmaine O'Shea is the Director of Johnston O'Shea Limited, a Whangarei-based practise specialising in farm accounting. Charmaine, who has over 20-years' experience in dairy farming and financial expertise, recently added the accolade of 2014 Dairy Woman of the Year to her previous success as the 2013 Northland Supreme Ballance Farm Environment Award winner (alongside her brother Shayne), Northland Sharemilker of the Year 1993 and the North Island AC Cameron Award 1993.

Name: Justine Kidd
CEO, BEL Group

Waipukurau native Justine Kidd is the CEO of Bel Group, stepping into the role in August 2014. Based in Hawkes Bay, BEL Group is a family owned, corporately structured dairy farming business managing nine dairy farms, over 9,000 dairy cows and employs 65 people across dairy farm, dairy support and business services business units. Justine, who has a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Hons) from Massey University, has more than 20 year's experience in the dairy industry and was named Dairy Woman of the Year in 2013.

Name: Traci Houpapa 
MNZM Director and JP

Hailing from the Waikato, Traci is an experienced company director and holds a number of directorships and ministerial appointments. She is chairman of Te Uranga B2 Incorporation, a Maori-owned agribusiness valued at $NZ23 million with an annual turnover of $NZ1 million. Traci, who has an MBA in Management from Massey University, was named in the Listener's top ten influencers in New Zealand in 2013, as well as being a finalist in the Fairfax Media Westpac Women of Influence (WOI) Awards in the same year. In 2014 Traci won the WOI Board and Management award and was named in the top three most influential people in New Zealand Agribusiness by Rural News. Traci is also a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, a Justice of the Peace and a Marriage Celebrant.

Name: Angela Payne
Production Manager, Agri-lab Co-Products Limited

Based in Waipukurau, Agri-Lab Co-Products Ltd, specialises in supplying ingredients for the medical, pharmaceutical and dietary supplements markets, including placenta, glands, membranes, tendons, eyes, brains, blood products and glandular. Ninety percent of their products are exported to countries including Japan, USA, Korea, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Australia. Angela has been at the helm of Agri-lab for over 16-years.

Sheep and beef farmer Lindy Nelson is founder and Executive Director of the Agri Women's Development Trust.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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