Guiding women on the pathways to leadership

Fiona Hancox
Fiona Hancox
Southern Rural Life asks Silver Fern Farms director Fiona Hancox her views on the recent  ‘‘Women in Horticulture’’ report  commissioned by Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ).

I think there is a general agreement that improving the gender balance in leadership and governance roles within the agricultural industry would have a positive effect.

It must be remembered this is not simply a gender issue, because diversity encompasses race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, education, background and more.

I think the ''diversity'' debate should be refocused as a capability debate.

I think it is essential we talk about encouraging new talent to any industry.

If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get the same results we have always got, so it is important we have changes and opportunities for fresh thinking.

For a lot of women it is about timing - time to step up in their industry and time to invest in further learning/study and there are many leadership/governance programmes available to tap into.

The horticultural industry needs to promote Kellogg, Institute of Directors' courses, CBNZ (Co-operative Business NZ) courses and Agri-Women Development Trust courses, to name a few. The Agri-Women Development Trust (AWDT) focuses on upskilling 50% of our agricultural industry.

Often women enter agriculture as a default, due to the partner they choose, but they bring diverse backgrounds and careers into rural areas, and among the reasons rural areas are so strong is the capability of those women.

Things are definitely changing and more couples share bringing up the children with their careers and community work.

I think there is need for support-type groups in horticulture businesses and they will be incredibly positive.

I see the AWDT initiative on ''Understanding Your Farming Business'', has had a positive effect on the businesses of the women who have attended.

I liked some of the report's practical suggestions about how to attract more women into leadership roles, such as shoulder-tapping, training, mentoring, which would encourage more women to step up into governance/leadership roles.

Let's not reinvent the wheel; there are a variety of leadership/governance courses available in New Zealand.

One improvement I do see is boards prepared to take on associate directors.

It is a great initiative, but we need more companies to do this to grow the governance pool.

You do need the best person for any role.

There is still shoulder-tapping and this can have a positive effect if you are encouraging new people into leadership roles, but it's also seen more often as mates shoulder-tapping mates to join their board.

Unfortunately agriculture has a small pool of people prepared to take on leadership roles, so the same people are on numerous boards, and nothing has changed over the years.

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