Ceres ‘goddess of agriculture’ inspires female agri-business leadership

Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and growth, is the muse behind a new women in agri-business network, that aims to inspire another generation of role models within the industry.

Over the last year, 10 distinguished female professionals – from a diverse range of agri backgrounds in academia, consulting and agri-business – have been quietly meeting to develop the unique group intended to promote “leadership and diverse thinking”.

Tomorrow, Ceres will host its inaugural conference, entitled ‘Shaping the Vision for Ireland’s Agri-Food Industry 2030’, at the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD).

The founding members of Ceres are: Karen Brosnan (chair), management consultant at Appian Point; Mary Delaney, head of equine and tillage sales at Glanbia; Grainne Dwyer, communications manager at Animal Health Ireland (AHI); Monica Gorman, lecturer at University College Dublin (UCD); Bridget Lynch, lecturer at UCD; Finola McCoy, CellCheck programme manager at AHI; Roberta McDonald, farm profitability programme manager at Aurivo; Amii McKeever, digital channel manager at Glanbia Connect and Agricultural Science Association vice president; Deirdre O’Shea, executive director at Agri Aware; and Karina Pierce, lecturer at UCD.

The provision of safe, nutritious food and the challenges for global trade will be the main topics under discussion at the conference; contributions from prominent experts in Irish agri-food and international markets will also be heard.

‘Unconscious bias’

Speaking to AgriLand, chairperson Karen Brosnan, also a director of Nuffield Ireland and board member of Gurteen College, said the group is committed to evaluating the current position of women in agriculture.

After years of interacting in similar agri circles, the women initially set up as a peer mentoring group to shape the knowledge of individual members.

It was going really well. Then, after seven or eight months, we said the group can be a social club, or we can commit to facilitating change and be a conduit for more dynamic conversations around diversity in the workplace.

“We want to look at different groups within the workplace, such as millennials, baby boomers, women and others, to identify barriers and assess how those barriers can be removed. We want to establish how these groups can maximise their potential,” she said.

Brosnan explained that, as all members work in environments with male colleagues that they respect, the group is mindful that conversations on workplace gender diversity are addressed with “a level of subtlety”.

“Everyone knows that when women – or any diversity – is represented as a token for quotas it rubs everybody’s back up. It is a difficult position to put a woman in because she has to work twice as hard to prove herself.

“But there is a perception now that women are getting through, or getting the promotion, because they have to get through,” she said.

By addressing diverse work needs in relation to women, Ceres hopes that similar obstacles in relation to ageism and disability will also be acknowledged.

“It’s really about supporting thinking, thinking differently, and thinking with less judgement. The biggest obstacle in the agricultural sector is unconscious bias; while there is a certain amount of conscious bias that is working its way out, we have to look at education around conditioned learned beliefs and judgement,” she said.

‘Nudging forward’

The name Ceres, a mythological Roman deity of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relations, was unanimously agreed on by all members.

It spoke to all the values that we had identified including diversity, equality, competence, respect, innovation, creativity and collaboration.

“We are not putting ourselves out there as the leaders, we are putting ourselves out as a conduit to bring that leadership thinking together, so the industry moves forward.

“It’s great to have a lot of really credible women in ag as role models today, however, there isn’t necessarily a succession plan in place where women are equally coming up behind.

“The movement will continue to require encouragement and nudging for another decade, and we’re part of the machine that does that – we are part of the many other agencies that are nudging forward,” she said.

Highly-anticipated event

Fiona Muldoon, CEO of FBD Insurance; Pamela Byrne, CEO of Food Safety Authority Ireland; Michael Hoey, managing director of Country Crest; Darina Allen, founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School; Helen King, director of consumer insights at Bord Bia; and Pat O’Keeffe, head of farmer relations at Glanbia will speak at tomorrow’s conference.

The highly-anticipated event will consist of two panel discussions, followed by an open-space session to facilitate knowledge exchange and networking.

The first session will concentrate on the need to continually produce safe and nutritious food, addressing issues such as dealing with food scares and the control of antimicrobial resistance.

The second session will focus on navigating the global trading environment, touching on issues such as Brexit and Mercosur, as well as opportunities presented in emerging markets.

Tickets for the ‘Shaping the Vision for Ireland’s Agri-Food Industry 2030’ – starting at 10:00am tomorrow – can be purchased from www.eventbrite.ie at a cost of €25, which includes a light lunch.