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From the Back Paddock to the Board Room: Dairy Women’s Network and Pathways to Gender Diversity in Governance

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Executive Summary

“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”
~ William Sloane Coffin Jr.

Dairy farming in New Zealand has advanced so much in the last decade. The transferable skills and strategic mindset that women develop from farming could qualify them for roles in banking, trades, accounting, animal health, HR and psychology, just to name a few.

I explored the ways that we can get dairy farming women into New Zealand boardrooms to see better outcomes for our businesses and economy. This is not about men versus women or disregarding the importance of experience, it is about what we need to do to be closing the gender gap on boards, having diversity of thought around the boardroom and avoiding ‘group think’. It is about the individual having the confidence to bring their true self to the table and express their views.

For this study I conducted semi-structured interviews with 9 amazing women who have had an affiliation with Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) in some capacity, whether it has been since the beginning of the network, on the trust board, as Regional Leaders, or winning Dairy Woman of the Year and other awards offered through DWN. They are all based in New Zealand and represent gender diversity in the boardroom. I asked them about their journey to commercial governance and how they achieved it. I also spoke to 10 women and men represented on other agri-business boards in New Zealand to get their opinions.

The women I have spoken to have a great drive, determination and commitment for change. For the women who won Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year and other awards offered through DWN, it has given them the profile and funding to further educate themselves and gain confidence and visibility, which has contributed to their further successes.

Please note that I have formed my conclusions from a small pool of women whom I interviewed between September 2020 to February 2021, the outcomes could change with a bigger group. I interviewed women who in some cases were appointed, and other cases that were in farmer elected directorships. I decided not to delve into the percentage of women going for appointed versus elected roles as I believe it is another report.

I have also done a literature review to gain an understanding of the importance of having more women on boards for diversity of thought which results in an increase of companies performance. More representation of women on boards creates the change that needs to be implemented at a high level. I explored the need to see more women on boards and the current shortage of female representation in the boardroom. One of the reasons for fewer women on boards appears to be a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the voice inside our head, experienced by both men and women. It most often comes to the forefront of our mind when we are challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. It is the feeling of being a fraud and that someone will catch us out, because we don’t feel qualified enough for the job we are expected to perform. In my research I found it affects women more often than men and stops us from taking that next step into the unknown.

Vulnerability, resilience, and the power of the mind can affect our behaviours and hinder future opportunities. As women we need to learn to manage the ‘coach’ and the ‘critic’ to create better outcomes for ourselves.

Following are some of the main recommendations that have come out of my findings to see an increase of women in the boardroom:

• Let people know you are looking for a board role.
• Women need to support each other and utilise networks for visibility.
• Women should constantly be learning and upskilling.
• Have a strong governance CV and have it ready.
• Be prepared to be yourself and use your USP: unique selling proposition.
It is important to recognise the role of networks like DWN in helping women to build confidence, and in providing support for when they move outside of their comfort zones. The network plays a major part in the increasing representation of women on boards.

Read the full report:

Smith, Chelsea_From the Back Paddock to the Board Room

Chelsea Y Smith Kellogg Course 42, 2021

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