With equal numbers of men and women entering the beef industry, it’s exciting to see companies implementing flexible practices to help ensure this ratio continues into senior management.
That’s the view of Dalene Wray, who’s marked International Women’s Day (8 March) with a call for both women and employers to challenge their thinking about parental leave and returning to work, to continue building a more vibrant and inclusive industry at all levels.
The managing director of Queensland beef exporter OBE Organic, Ms Wray is a fifth generation Queensland pastoralist who has moved up the ranks while bringing up a family.
She will be the guest speaker at the National Australia Bank (NAB) Agribusiness Ladies Luncheon at Beef Australia in Rockhampton on May 11.
“There’s an enormous pool of talent in the industry, and supporting parents will help ensure we fully capture the benefits of having both male and female perspectives in the boardroom,” Ms Wray said.
“Women are just as involved as their brothers and fathers in many cases, and along the supply chain they are well represented up to middle management. However, at higher leadership levels, 90 per cent are men.
Women are just as involved as their brothers and fathers in many cases...However, at higher leadership levels, 90 per cent are men.
“We need both men and women to help drive change in the beef industry, and to talk about why gender equality at every level will be a good thing for the industry and families.”
Ms Wray lives her views on the subject, having had a family while leading OBE Organic and now providing a flexible workplace for women returning to work in her own business.
“I took my children as babies all around the world – I was very fortunate to have family support but if I needed to take my baby to a sales or committee meeting, I did. More often than not, people didn’t mind.
“Parents – mothers and fathers need to be able to participate in the workplace and we as employers need to be flexible to keep them in the workforce, especially when they first return to work after parental leave. It’s the practical things – being able to bring a child to a meeting if that’s what works and needs to be done, proper facilities to dial in to meetings or sometimes changing meeting times or travel to fit in with a part-time parent.
“I would rather one of my employees participate in a meeting with her young baby, than miss out simply because the time didn’t suit her or there was no quiet space to breastfeed.”
Ms Wray said technology was also playing a role, enabling women and men to develop leadership skills and overcome the challenges of living in a remote location.
“These days you can be a board member from a property in Central Queensland, using email and video conferencing to participate in discussions. There are webinars, online learning, and other opportunities provided by good technology.”
The beef industry is driven by small and medium businesses (SMEs), and parental leave can present challenges. Ms Wray said part of the solution was for women to be proactive about their plan to return to work.
“Employees taking extended leave can be difficult, especially if the business is moving rapidly, and parents – often women - can return to work to find their roles have changed. While this can put them behind their peers, with support they can continue to grow into leadership roles. To those parents I say, don’t feel guilty, ask for help, favours and advice. Talk to others who have lived through the same experience on how they handled it. Have a strategy for returning to work and look for win-win solutions for your employer. This may even mean keeping in touch with the business or contributing while you are on leave.
“And don’t forget to own the conversation and ask others to accommodate you if you need it – more often than not people are happy to change a meeting time or location if you can offer a solution.”
NAB Head of Diversity & Inclusion Kristy Macfarlane said women already make up more than half of NAB’s workforce.
“We are making great progress towards getting more women into senior roles. We have committed to ensuring women represent 40-60 per cent of every level of our workforce by 2020, and we have a roadmap to get there.”