Kiwifruit women – time to come out from under the canopy
Teresa Ciprian is an intelligent, softspoken yet determined woman. Just over two years ago she took up her new role as Zespri’s first woman board member.
The Orchardist thought it was a good time to have a chat to Teresa and find out what her thoughts are. We were particularly interested in her new initiative, the establishment of the ‘ Women in Kiwifruit’ network.
Teresa acknowledges the spirited women who have already attained the heights of leadership roles in the wider horticultural industry, some of which date back to its earliest years.
In fact, the entire New Zealand kiwifruit industry can pay homage to a little known Whanganui-born teacher who travelled to China and returned to our shores with an interesting little packet of seeds tucked in to her kit.
Isabel Fraser travelled to Japan to visit her sister Katie Fraser in the early 1900s. Together they visited mission schools and went on to Ichang, China. Here Isabel obtained seeds of Actinidia deliciosa. Upon her return to Wanganui, nurseryman Alexander Allison grew plants from these seeds, and from this experiment the worldwide commercial kiwifruit industry developed.
In 1887, Isabel completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Otago, graduating as a Master of Arts with honours in physics in 1889. Later she became ‘lady principal’ of Wanganui Girls’ College for 17 years. Under her leadership it became the largest girls' boarding school in New Zealand. Pupils came from all over the country, including Auckland and Dunedin.
It’s reported that Isabel Fraser possessed a fine intelligence and an absolute commitment to women’s education and a
genuine compassion for the girls in her care.
It seems that Teresa Ciprian has that same devotion to women’s advancement, though her interest pertains to the betterment of female forces across the kiwifruit landscape.
Fast forward to today – Teresa acknowledges those in leadership positions: Jen Scouler, chief executive of New Zealand Avocado; Nikki Johnson, chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated; Sonia Whiteman, general manager of Apata Grow.
Such women provide inspiration to others by being in prominent roles, but at the same time, Teresa recognises there are countless others at many levels of organisations who also lead.
“Both the men and women I’ve engaged with in the broader kiwifruit industry are committed to having more leadership positions filled by women,” says Teresa.
“This all began with me talking to my fellow Zespri directors about wanting to get out and meet women within the industry. They were highly supportive and helped by providing the initial lists of women I could reach out to.
“I’m extremely positive about the future as we formulate our work now to actively encourage and support women into roles they aspire to.”
– Teresa Ciprian
“It was from those first discussions that the idea for creating a formal network emerged. There’s been a lot of positive feedback so far,” she says.
Teresa Ciprian, along with her fellow directors and industry stakeholders, know that many women have the potential and desire to contribute far more value to the industry.
For this reason, many industry leaders are working diligently to enable this to happen. The focus is starting with stimulating demand, creating opportunities and looking at capability development. Having such actions in place means that when women do eventually arrive in those leadership roles, they will do so soundly prepared and well-equipped to achieve.
“I’m extremely positive about the future as we formulate our work now to actively encourage and support women into roles they aspire to,” Teresa adds.
It’s a simple fact that we live in a world and society that is ever changing. No matter what the world of your parents’ generation looked like, that won’t be your reality now. And your children’s life and culture will probably become increasingly unrecognisable to you as the decades roll by.
Let’s not be so ‘politically correct’ that we can’t say there are few current barriers to women contributing to the senior levels of the horticultural sector. But how are things changing and are they changing fast enough? What do women need to do to make changes for the common good, as well as for themselves?
Such themes, without question, take up a lot of Teresa’s mental energy because she is so passionate about clearing the way for women to achieve.
“Thinking about the kiwifruit industry, a simple fact is, like many other industries, leadership roles have historically been dominated by men,” she observes.
“Consider also that with many family businesses, women often don’t lead from the front and are therefore less visible from the outside. But don’t make the error of thinking that they don’t have impact.
“Things are changing. We’re seeing more women in the kiwifruit industry with added involvement in management and leadership positions. There’s also a growing need by women to be recognised and acknowledged for their contributions; and this means stepping into more visible and formal leadership roles.”
Women are starting to drive those changes by being proactive, seeking out opportunities for learning and development, and understanding and acknowledging their potential.
“It’s important to respect that not all women want to be in senior leadership positions,” she adds.
“But for those who do, we’re already working to open new pathways for their achievement, and will continue building on these initiatives.
It’s equally important to provide encouragement, guidance and pragmatic tools for all women wishing to make stronger contributions at any organisational level because they naturally support and enable current leaders. They also represent a pool of potential future leaders. Even if they don’t want to push forward now, they may do so in the future.
Driving change for women all starts with changing their mindset and inner beliefs, says Teresa Ciprian.
It’s very empowering for women to know that those key influencer and leadership roles are attainable, and are worth working towards.
Teresa is certain there is a diverse set of reasons as to how and why women think, feel and experience the working world as they do. She observes that such ingrained mental and societal habits are unlikely to change in the short term. But as women find their way forward, she’s sure that what needs to rapidly change is how those initial barriers are dealt with now.
She is confident that fundamental and easy to accomplish steps are being put in place. These include: mentoring, establishing networks and direct access to those who have succeeded. People involved in these activities will help to overcome barriers and as a by-product, their protégés will set new energies in motion.
The younger generation coming through now is going to give the old establishment’s thinking a quiet but certain shake up.
“We certainly see the younger generation of women in the kiwifruit industry proactively seeking opportunities and
making progress. A great example is the most recent winner of the Bay of Plenty Young Grower of the Year competition, Apata Grow’s, Erin Atkinson.”
Technology will continue to topple old barriers, because everyone exists on an equal playing field when using a tech device – that is, if they know how to operate it.
Teresa cites such things as a good example of ‘it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it’. In principle, technology should be a positive enabling factor for women, in that it enables both men and women to work with far more flexibly and from home.
Technology also often removes the need for physical strength to perform some roles both on orchard and in the packhouse.
Teresa Ciprian affirms that the kiwifruit industry must commit to the creation of an open, positive, objective success measurement regime, while encouraging behaviours from everyone to reinforce this new thinking.
“Kiwifruit industry leaders need to support our capable women. This can be done by offering advice and mentoring, and encouraging them to see their potential.
“Development opportunities need to be brought to their attention, including nominating women for leadership, governance and all senior roles when they become available.
“The industry needs to identify and then work to remove the things that prevent women from progressing in our industry,” she adds.
Women also need to take control of determining the outcomes they want, she states, which goes hand in hand with driving the necessary changes needed to get there.
A key reason for launching the Women in Kiwifruit network this year is to create opportunities for women to support, learn from, inspire and encourage each other in a positive environment.
“It’s also important to acknowledge there are many men in the industry who are right now actively helping women advance at all levels,” she says.
Women’s contribution to the industry is already firmly established – even if, historically, it has been largely taken for granted.
Teresa says women’s efforts are huge because they make up 50% of the population – that’s quite a large number of people from whom employers can source skills. In addition, she believes that most women bring different approaches and thinking styles to problem definition and resolution. Such different insights can beam fresh new awareness into areas of opportunity. Work environments can be encouraged and motivated effectively by using soft skills along with more diverse communication styles.
Teresa Ciprian sees the future of horticulture in New Zealand as exhilarating with much to look forward to.
“The kiwifruit industry has an exciting future; with continued strong growth in volumes and sales, and opportunities to create long-term value for our growers and shareholders,” she says.
For example, Zespri has a target to increase global sales revenues to $4.5 billion by 2025. To put this in perspective, when the Zespri brand was created 20 years ago, New Zealand kiwifruit sales were $538 million. Women are going to be a big part of that.
Women make up half of the world’s population and at least half of the world’s consumers. As a consumer-focused industry, we need to understand the people buying our kiwifruit because those insights shape what we deliver as an industry, she says.
Another fundamental point is the value of diversity in decision making, and women need to be involved.
“There is a significant talent pool of highly capable women to turn to for the advancement of the industry.”
“If I take a high level view, I’d say our women will drive the changes they want to see. For starters, that would include a change of mindset from decision makers.
“From now on that means bringing more women into positions of leadership and influence. Current leaders appreciate and understand the impact women can have and recognise they are equally qualified for those roles.”
“Right now our women should be acknowledged for the contributions they make. I’d like to encourage women to change their mindset of themselves, their own personal expectations and, of course, their potential.”
Teresa is clear that women must achieve by being the best person for the job.
“It’s key to remember that a woman must land one of these jobs because she as an individual is the most capable, not just because she is a woman.”