In what is traditionally perceived as a conservative, male-dominated industry, Ruralco has shattered stereotypes winning the 2021 Gender Diverse Organisation Award. The team at Ruralco are extremely proud that more than 60 per cent of their people represent gender diversity across all levels within the organisation.
Board Chair, Jessie Chan – a Federated Farmers member – has won Inspiring Leader of the Year for her role in Ruralco, agricultural co-operative.
With a continuous desire to learn, grow and make a difference, and in her role as the first female Chair of a major New Zealand rural service co-operative, Jessie Chan, was the choice of the judges when she was presented the 2021 Inspiring Leader Award at the Women in Governance Awards, held at a Gala Dinner on 10 June in Auckland.
Jessie is an inspirational role model, as a mum of two young sons, Adam, 8, and Noah, 2, she balances raising her boys, alongside dairy farming, several directorships, and board representation. Jessie operates with integrity, intelligence, and a huge dose of empathy.
“I am proud to receive this award and I dedicate it to my father,” Jessie said. “He taught my siblings and I that we could be whatever we wanted to be and instilled in us that along the way we should help others to reach their potential, in whatever shape or form that might be.”
In an industry that has been traditionally considered male dominated, Jessie has spent much of her career breaking down barriers and perceptions. “When you pause and consider it, farming has always been a family effort of both a husband-and-wife team. The role of women in farming is a critical one, and in our business partnership, we play to each other’s strengths. In the past women had roles that were less visible. What has changed, is women are now taking on more public roles in industry or corporate leadership, governance or executive management” she said.
“Men and women have to work just as hard as each other to be leaders. Do not underestimate yourself because you are female, or too young or old, or a different colour. I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, take responsibility for my decisions, nor do I shy away from the hard work it takes to deliver results.”
For women returning to the workforce after having children, Jessie acknowledges that it is not an easy path. She said “it takes a mammoth effort, there are sacrifices made at home and additional support is needed. Be under no illusion that sometimes the wheels fall off, and when they do, just calmly put them back on and keep rolling.”
Robert Sharkie, Ruralco CEO said, “Jessie’s mantra is to lead by example, and this award is recognition of the passion and dedication in the way that she leads and inspires others.”
Ruralco named 2021 Gender Diverse Organisation of the Year
Accepting the award on behalf of the co-operative, Ruralco CEO Robert Sharkie said “we are proud to receive this award, because at Ruralco, it’s always about the best person for the job. We have created an environment that treats everybody equally, fostering an open-minded culture, not just putting quotas around gender.”
Ruralco has led the way with the co-operative members voting women to four of the seven seats on the Board of Directors. Robert says “having a mix around the boardroom has an advantage to the overall success of the business. By having that diversity of thought around the board and executive table, it means the organisation is much better placed to understand their customers and stakeholders and benefit from fresh perspectives, new ideas, vigorous challenge, and broad experience. I firmly believe this approach to business gives Ruralco an edge.”
“We acknowledge the influential role women play in the farming business and wider community. Ruralco takes pride in our collaborative culture, our flexible working practices, and our ability to act quickly to embed change,” Robert said. “The success of our swift response to the last year’s rapidly changing trading environment demonstrated to us that our team has resilience, determination and the culture to meet future challenges head-on.”
The Women In Governance Awards are administered by Governance New Zealand and are held annually and recognise and celebrate innovation, excellence, creativity and commitment to diversity by both organisations and individuals.