Food and Fibre Great South Coast and our event partner, Westpac Agribusiness, welcomed leaders from across the region to celebrate International Women’s Day at Deakin University, Warrnambool, with its first ever contemporary leadership forum: Leadership for All Seasons.
Vibrant floral bouquets topping every table and a head of local garlic grown ten kilometres away for every attendee were the first signs this wasn’t your typical food and fibre event. Leadership for All Seasons was an event designed to showcase the types of leadership that get results, but don’t get used enough – skills like resilience, empathy, collaboration, and respect that are integral to bringing people together around a common goal.
Following a solemn and generous Welcome to Gunditjmara Country from Uncle Robbie Lowe, our four speakers, Dr Andrea North-Samardzic, Dr Nollaig Heffernan, Dr Prue Francis and Food and Fibre Great South Coast’s Chair, Georgina Gubbins, delivered unforgettable keynote addresses that busted myths, showed the value of winding paths, and encouraged us to challenge our own perceptions of what makes a good leader.
Grounding perceptions in fact is critical to advancing leadership, especially leadership by women, Deakin University Leadership Expert Dr Andrea North-Samardzic shared. Her research and experience show that, too often, women are wrongly seen as a homogenous group with one management style. Instead, we should remember that gender is only one part of our identity and women can, and do, encompass a breadth of leadership styles. Andrea powerfully reminded us that daily acts of diversity and inclusion (for everyone) are critical if we are to breaking biases.
International management consultant, Dr Nollaig Heffernan, grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland and visited Warrnambool to share her top five leadership observations learned over decades working with companies of all shapes, sizes and cultures globally. Nollaig continued to challenge the audience’s perceptions about leadership – naming her top five favourite leadership observations: beware charisma, eliminate distractions, embrace accountability, remain open-minded and embody respect. Of all five, the enabling factor is always respect. Nollaig encourages us to succeed – and facilitate success – according to who we are, not who we think we should be. She told us to lead with our own voice, and it was a powerful instruction.
Dr Prue Francis, marine scientist and educator, took us out of a boardroom and into the field. Wearing her jellyfish-print dress and through the anecdotes of her alter-ego, Professor Seaweed, Prue positioned her passion as her power and showed us how leadership comes from champions. Prue’s forthcoming childrens’ book, The Great Southern Reef, is a perfect example of innovative leadership in her field – inspiring the next generation of marine scientists and ocean lovers, whatever their gender.
In addition to chairing Food and Fibre Great South Coast, Georgina Gubbins is also a high-output farm owner and operator. Georgina showcased the toughness, determination, intelligence and vision that allowed her to overcome the structural barriers to women’s participation in her industry, including the inability for Australian women to formally identify as farmers until 1994. Georgina shared the value of teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie among women in helping to achieve change, even under the most challenging of circumstances. Her strong and steadfast stewardship of our organisation is testament to her leadership, and all that shaped it.
As MC and Food and Fibre Deputy Chair, Alistair McCosh said, Leadership for All Seasons means in the good times and the bad. “It’s about breaking down barriers and making sure they never get put back up. It means putting perceptions to one side, leading through the here-and-now, working with what we know and making no assumptions. Our speakers and event partner, Westpac, delivered an event that gave us all pause for thought and wisdom – as well as flowers and garlic – to take back to work.”
We couldn’t be more grateful for the day’s success.