Self-belief is half the battle

By Alana Christensen

Backing your potential and believing your own skills are some of the biggest challenges for women in agriculture, according to a panel of prominent leaders.

Panellists Murray Dairy regional extension officer Lisa Birrell, Geoffrey Thompson Holdings’ technical manager Dr Bisi Oladele, and Irrigated Cropping Council executive officer Dr Charlotte Aves shared their personal experiences in the industry at an event in Shepparton last week, alongside key note speaker and VFF Horticulture Group president Emma Germano.

With more than 15 years’ experience in the dairy industry, Murray Dairy regional extension officer Lisa Birrell said she was now in the ‘‘abnormal’’ situation of working in an organisation that had predominately female employees.

However, Ms Birrell said she’d had experiences where she hasn’t been heard, including one instance when she was out on a farm demonstrating the best way to administer injections to sheep a number of years ago.

‘‘I told him,‘inject behind the ear’,’’ she said.

‘‘And I turned around and then looked back and he’s injecting them near the neck, and I said, ‘you need to inject behind the ear’ — and he does the same again and his boss said, ‘Didn’t you hear Lisa? Behind the ear.’

‘‘And bang, straight away it was behind the ear.

‘‘Any time I needed to communicate an improvement I just went to his male boss, because at least then I knew the job would get done.’’

Having worked as a specialist dairy nutrition consultant and spent more than nine years as a Fonterra Australia area manager, Ms Neville said she was happy to work in a dairy industry that had a number of strong female leaders.

Yet, as Geoffrey Thompson Holdings’ technical manager Dr Bisi Oladele pointed out, half the battle was growing the leadership capacity within the workforce.

‘‘How many people do we have ready for the next level of leadership?

‘‘If you have someone that is very good, you’ll invest in them.’’

The lack of women in leadership positions is a situation Dr Aves is all too familiar with.

‘‘I’m one of only 2.3 per cent of female executive officers in agriculture,’’ she said.

Despite a number of personal achievements, including being appointed Australian Women in Agriculture vice-president, Dr Aves said there was always an opportunity to improve.

‘‘I always look for the next learning opportunity ... everything you do, you can learn and grow from.

‘‘That’s probably what gives me the confidence to put my head on the block.

‘‘It’s all about people, so just give it a crack.’’

Although her own career had been built on many sacrifices, including packing sausages during her studies, Dr Oladele said it was a fallacy that women could not have a family as well as a career.

‘‘You can still have a win-win on both sides,’’ she said.

‘‘You’ve just got to decide when you want to move up the ladder and go to the next stage of life.’’