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Project Launched To Challenge Lack Of Diversity In NZ Primary Sector

A new project is challenging the fact that New Zealand’s primary sector, led by large co-operative companies, has males in up to 80 percent of senior leadership roles, despite over 50 percent of graduates in agricultural fields being women.

Agribusiness entrepreneur Bridgit Hawkins has launched Fields Of Change to begin an important and overdue conversation about women’s leadership in agriculture, and to find out why the sector is missing a generation of women business leaders - which will impact its ability to remain world-leading and adapt even more rapidly to address climate change. The project also looks at the wider issue of diversity in the primary sector, with the challenges not just relating to gender.

The movement draws on Hawkins’ expertise across business, technology, science and social science to conduct expert analysis, informed conversations and research, with the goal of championing women in the sector and seeing more women advance to senior leadership roles.

Hawkins, who was the founder of agricultural technology solutions company Regen and Chief Sustainability Officer at CropX Technologies, says sustainability and diversity go hand in hand, and that female leadership is vital in cultivating a sector that is responsive to challenges and opportunities.

She says New Zealand is recognised on the world stage as being at the forefront of sustainability, but must keep pushing forward in order to remain there, demanding better from our leaders, farmers and co-ops.

“We must advocate for better opportunities for women, who tend to disappear within our agribusiness sector at middle management, hitting a ceiling and missing out on crucial pathways to executive leadership opportunities, where they could create positive change and have real impact in day-to-day operations,” says Bridgit Hawkins.

“If we accept the status quo is okay then we are leaving out 50 percent of the talent pool to help lead our businesses into an unprecedented time of change.”

“Drawing on collective expertise, insights and connections we are working to encourage a more inclusive sector, it is time for change and for it to match the progress other sectors have made”.

She says that while women hold some board roles in agribusiness, impact is limited as that is not where financial decision-making lies.

KPMG Global Head of Agribusiness Ian Proudfoot says there is a clear case for the importance of a deep bench of diverse, experienced executives to move the sector forward - something that is lacking today.

“We must resource industry leadership to change the momentum of morale in the sector and orientate focus towards the future,” Proudfoot says.

Fields Of Change has launched a multi-channel digital platform here, as well as a bi-annual forum for university graduates in agriculture. The project will gather the names of people interested in contributing to the important work it is undertaking, start conversations to collect data and kickstart research into why women exit, and how to change that.

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