What began in 1998 as a small Waikato-based support network for women in the dairy industry, the Diary Women’s Network has grown into a network with more than 10,000 members nationwide. We caught up with Hilary Webber, Co-founder and inaugural Chair of the Dairy Women’s Network, who says women are equal partners in their businesses and are adding value every day.
In the 1990’s during her campaign to become a Director of the New Zealand Dairy group, Hilary could see that there was a lack of female representation in the dairy industry.
“As part of my director’s election campaign I visited around 700 farmers, and I met a lot of women who were out there actively farming and running their businesses,” she says.
“But when you went to the actual industry meetings, there was no female representation there. They were the invisible, silent force of our industry.”
Alongside a small group of four Waikato farmers they decided to do something about it.
Hilary and Dairy Women’s Network co-founder Willy Geck travelled to Washington DC to attend an International Women in Agriculture Conference. They met other women involved in Dairy from all over the world, including Australia and the United States.
The group were then inspired to set up a Waikato committee, and started with an e-digest email newsletter. It enabled women involved in dairying across the country to connect, start to share knowledge and build relationships.
The Dairy Women’s Network committee expanded, and organised a conference in Hamilton in 1998, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the guest speaker.
The group went on to hold annual conferences, hosting high calibre speakers and informative workshops. The aim was to build industry knowledge while providing an avenue for like-minded women to connect with each other, and thus enabling them to build a network for their businesses.
They then secured innovation funding, enabling them the resources to travel the country and set up regional support networks all over New Zealand.
The Dairy Women’s Network now has more than 10,000 members across New Zealand.
“Dairy Women’s Network is a support network about women getting together and really learning from and supporting each other,” she says.
“It’s exactly the same path Women in Forestry is going down. If you focus on women adding value to the business of forestry, you’ll succeed.”
“When I look back from 2019 to the early 1990s, what a wonderful change we've had (in the Dairy Industry). We have women now starting to come into the boardrooms in numbers."
Hilary says it’s about upskilling for greater benefit.
“It’s about supporting women in their businesses and giving them skills to run their businesses. We’re growing knowledgeable and profitable businesses,” she says.
“If you want to add value to the forestry industry in NZ, you acknowledge women as equal partners in their businesses and in their industry.”
“The more you can educate women, the more they will add value to both their individual businesses, and the forestry industry itself. All will be winners”
Hilary has also agreed to mentor the Women in Forestry Network.
“We are grateful to have Hilary on board on as a mentor, and her experience will be so beneficial to us in these early stages,” says Sarah Davis (Women in Forestry).
“Hilary will also attend the 2020 Women in Forestry Conference in Whangamata, and I’m sure our Network will enjoy meeting her and gain some valuable lessons through her experience”.