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 - - In Focus - By Denise Landow

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.”

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