Rural women have stepped forward to take leadership positions in the last three to four years, says Rebecca Keoghan, 2018 Rural Woman of Influence.
“Obviously it’s not without its challenges but I always say ‘if there is a problem what’s the solution?’ ” she told Dairy News.
“With every challenge we say ‘okay, what are we going to do for our members around this?’
“We are always thinking what does it mean for our members -- how can we help them?”
The focus is making sure they are delivering on that. “And keeping that engagement and having some fun. It is a serious industry but making sure we have some fun, and think about wellness and well-being.”
Benton is a newcomer to the industry, having come to the helm of the 10,000 strong network after a recent position as general manager for Wolters Kluwer CCH New Zealand, a research and workflow solutions company. Prior to that she spent ten years consulting to businesses to develop leadership capability, streamline processes and promote professional development and education.
“One thing I have realised about the dairy industry is ‘boy, they are passionate’. They do get a little bit down but they bounce back... when organisations such as our partners DairyNZ... are supporting them.”
It was “fantastic” to see DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle’s recent NZ Herald article which she read as telling farmers “we have your back”.
“There is a lot of negative media on farmers. So if industries and businesses come out and support farmers, if you have support and encouragement around you, it lets you focus on why you went farming. That is because of your love of land, animals and people.”
It’s a tough industry, she says, “but, my God, farmers are tough”.
“Mycoplasma bovis has taken a real toll financially and mentally on many of our members; we need to make sure we support them.
“Having events and having the network say ‘we hear from you, we support you’... DairyNZ and our other partners are absolutely committed to that.”
Benton says the focus is on people. “And because we are part of the Dairy Tomorrow strategy everything we do anchors DWN back to that; it’s really important.
“We are part of ‘commitment five’ which is building great workplaces for NZ’s most talented workforce.... So it’s challenging to get team members out there.
“It’s no secret there is a labour shortage, certainly in the dairy sector, so we want to have great employers and employees and bring learning and education to all parties.
“DWN is a good vehicle for getting information out. We have close to 10,000 members and they love coming to our events; it gets them off-farm.
“Our events and knowledge sharing workshops are all practical, just-in-time learning; we work with our partners on what is happening in industry, what farmers need to know, what is coming up… a bit of thought leadership as well, stretching the imagination and bringing those learnings to them. We want them to have fun learning but we want to get important messages out at key times.”
They will start payroll workshops this month in partnership with payroll provider PaySauce. They will also run workshops on accommodation for employees and their usual calving workshops with partner Seales Winslow.
“We try to get in as much learning as possible before members head off to calving. Then we replan the programme so that during calving we are getting the next modules ready to roll out at the end of October through to early December.”
DWN supports all six of the commitments in the Dairy Tomorrow strategy but she says ‘number five’ (talented workforce) and ‘number six’ (growing vibrant and prosperous communities) have special focus for them.
“We love the people one; it fits well with what we are as an organisation and where we see ourselves in connecting people. We are enjoying being part of that wider strategy.”
Network invests in members
Keeping members healthy is important to Dairy Womens Network, which led to this year’s conference theme of ‘Invest in You’, on May 1-2 at the Christchurch Town Hall.
Changing trends will be one theme of the event.
“But also having time to take a breath and spend two days with like-minded people and sharing and connecting,” says Dairy Womens Network chair Jules Benton.
“We always listen to members but this year we have asked ‘what do you want at the conference?’ With member feedback we believe we have delivered a two day event that will hit their hot spots.
“It’s about food, nutrition, healthy thinking, innovation, animal welfare, family trusts. How many of our members have family trusts that are pretty scary and they don’t get the right advice? What do family trusts mean and how do you make sure they are administered properly?
“We will have Vicki Ammundsen, a leading trust lawyer in New Zealand, is excited about spending time with our members; it won’t be technical talk, but down-to-earth advice and knowledge sharing.
“We have a fabulous new speaker no one will have heard of in New Zealand -- Sue Stockdale, from UK -- on goal setting. She is a coach and mentor looking at relocating to NZ.”
Stockdale was the first UK woman to ski to the North Pole.
“She will take members through her journey; we are shaking it up a bit,” says Benton.
“The gala event will be the dinner with the Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award -- glitz and glamour and connection. Feedback from members is they want to get off-farm and connect and have a good time.
“It’s red carpet and having a lot of fun. We are hosting it in the newly refurbished town hall in Christchurch which is beautiful.
“Some people may not have been to Christchurch post-earthquake; some may not have been there at all. It shows when tough times happen there is light at the end of the tunnel and Christchurch is representative of us and there was a strong connection to host the conference there.”