If it’s going on in the red meat industry, Dalene Wray knows about it. With a career spanning over two decades and numerous countries, Dalene has received a number of awards, including the Chief Executive Women – Austrade Women in Export Scholarship to Harvard Business School, the Queensland Country Life Beef Achiever of the Year Award & the Advance Award Food & Agribusiness.

Dalene spoke to us about topics close to her heart, including gender diversity, sustainability and the event that’s set to bring together women from across the meat supply chain for the first time, here in Australia.

1. As OBE Organic group’s longest-serving employee, what changes have you seen across the industry since you started there 15 years ago?

It’s been great to see organic livestock production moving from niche to mainstream over that period. Back in the 1990’s it was considered niche however now it is seen by producers as another tool in their toolbox.

I’ve seen producers recognize the opportunities in export markets and I’ve witnessed how they’ve optimized their enterprises to ensure that their turnoff can be sold into the most number of markets worldwide. For example, there are producers who are able to make claims such as ‘EU Eligible’, ‘certified organic’ & ‘Saudi Eligible’ Producers have decided to take deliberate actions to manage their assets in a certain way, so as to be able to achieve the highest price possible for their livestock on the day of sale.

2. With your finger on the pulse of the latest innovations, what is needed in this area to ensure our livestock industries remain competitive internationally?

I think that we need to develop and teach a new, digital, language for our industry. There is so much ag ‘tech’ around these days (physical devices & ideas worth developing) & data sharing, that we, as an industry need to be conversant in the language of data and the internet of things.

In our submission to the RMAC Green Paper, we recommended a new focus on ‘transforming our assets to create supply chains of the future’. We consider that we will need two different sets of assets to remain competitive globally & these can be broadly categorized as ‘on-shore’ & ‘off-shore’ assets. Both are equally as important as each other and will be critical to our future prosperity.

We’ve also recommended a new focus on our under-valued and under-utilised supply chain infrastructure. I mean, how is it that we have trucks which haul around 8 million head of cattle and 32 million head of sheep to processing facilities in Australia each year, where, for about 50% of their journey, they are traveling empty?

To put it simply, we think our industry needs to be;

  • Relentlessly future focussed
  • Inclusive
  • Diverse
  • Exhibiting global leadership
  • Shifting dimensions of quality
  • Radically innovating professional development
  • Developing & teaching a digital language
  • Transforming waste
  • Realising the value in our infrastructure
  • Creating new pathways to market and
  • Getting the customer experience right

3. A lot of your work with OBE Organics is around ensuring sustainability in the beef supply chain. What would you most like to see change in this area across the industry?

We would love to be able to show the link between good environmental management & productivity and profitability. We have various studies and some anecdotal evidence which shows that if you manage your grass and natural assets well, you can be more sustainable & profitable. But a strong business case for change, doesn’t necessarily achieve a change in behavior at farm level. We’ve been tracking our sustainability performance at OBE Organic for the past three years and it is rewarding to have ‘put a stake in the ground’ so-to-speak, over three years ago, so that we can now reflect on the progress which we’ve made over that time.

But sustainability is not just about land and grass and livestock. It’s also about people. We would love to see more agribusinesses develop their own Reconciliation Action Plans. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made important contributions to ag supply chains in Australia for a long time. Many of the great pastoral enterprises in our country today, wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for the indigenous ringers, camp cooks, gardeners and nanny’s who cared for country, livestock and people over the past 200 years. Their connection to country goes way back and we should be doing more to recognise their valuable contribution to our industry, both past and present.

4. You’re a self-proclaimed champion for gender diversity in the workplace. What does an industry with full gender diversity look like for you?

Let’s face it.  Beef has a blokey image.  The cattle industry has a blokey image.

And as an industry, we’d be mad not to transform the hell out of that image.

Forget that saying, ‘customer is king’.  Our customer is queen.  We see this all around the world, where the typical consumer for our premium organic beef is a busy woman who is very conscious about what she is feeding her family and friends.

Women want to buy products they can relate to, so let’s start by telling the story of our family farms better, where women have long been acknowledged as equal partners in the family business.

And beyond the farm gate, let’s take gender diversity in our industry seriously. Really seriously.

Our industry has a handful of female leaders: Fiona Simson, Georgie Somerset, Anna Campbell, Margo Andrea and Anna Speers among them.  And yes, there are areas of the industry where the proportion of women is increasing.

But we can do better.  And if 50% of our talent pool is female, we can’t achieve our full potential as an industry until half our boards, managers and employees are female.

So let’s keep pushing.

Let’s keep challenging norms and barriers: what can we do to retain more women in this great industry so we keep their knowledge and help them grow into leadership positions.

And let’s make sure women are front of mind, inside and outside the industry, when we’re thinking about how to improve.  Because having real gender diversity is not just about balance, it’s fundamental to our future.

5. What do you think are the biggest challenges women need to overcome in the agricultural workplace?

I see lots of talented young women graduating from university and entering the agricultural workforce. Then I see them fall pregnant and rarely come back into the workforce in a full-time capacity. In doing so, they miss the steps that you need to take, to move up the ladder into leadership positions before they mature into ‘captains of industry’.

It is so terribly difficult to balance pregnancy, childbirth and raising young children whilst maintaining your identity, growing your skillset and navigating yourself into meaningful positions on committees and boards. I know from experience. My children are 4, 5 and 8 years old and it’s just plain hard.

So we need to think harder about how women can be supported through easy and difficult pregnancies, how they can return to work in a meaningful way and how they can be mentored and encouraged onto committees and boards where they can both learn and contribute.

Then I want to see more women leading the charge for better ag policy, instead of ‘holding the fort’ back on the farm, in the feedlot, at the processing facility or in the office.

6. What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their career in the red meat industry?

My advice would be to start thinking early about kids & career. You can have both, but it’s challenging to have both and be engaged in a meaningful way in ag, if you are not in the right environment, surrounded by the right people.

I would recommend that they involve themselves in a professional mentor program. Mentor Walks is a good one.

And don’t be afraid to ask for a pay rise every year, but when you do, make sure you can justify it with a tangible body of work behind you.

And it’s reasonable to ask for your employer to provide you with paid maternity leave, over and above their statutory obligations. Multi-million dollar businesses in our industry can afford to pay it and they should. Wouldn’t it be good to see employers in ag subscribe to these types of arrangements:

‘We are pleased to offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave for permanent full time or part time Team Members who are the Primary Caregiver for their new child, and have worked with XX Business for at least 6/12/24 months’

7. You’ll be speaking at the inaugural The Meat Business Women event in April. Tell us a bit about the event, your topic and its importance for the industry

The inaugural Meat Business Women event will be held in Melbourne on the 4th April. The event will provide opportunities for women in the industry to connect, educate, and contribute.

More details here: https://amic.org.au/mbw/

The day will headline prominent industry figures and speakers, as well as networking opportunities throughout the day including a speed networking session.

Attendees will be able to listen and contribute to discussions about successes and challenges for women in the Australian meat industry. Topics covered will be wide-ranging, with the aim to attract new female talent, create greater awareness of what is happening in our industry and an avenue for women to support each other.

There are many women working in our industry who are not getting the unique networking opportunities they need, and this event will create an open space to connect, learn and grow their red meat sector careers.

It is MBW’s goal to provide opportunities for women to progress in this field, helping them to realise their fullest potential through gaining knowledge and meeting valuable contacts.

8. You’ve won a number of awards and accolades, what stands out as one you’re most proud of, or as most memorable?

It’s exciting to be recognised by your peers, for work that you are doing in a job that you love.

When I accepted the QLD Country Life Beef Achiever of the Year award at Beef Australia in 2018, I acknowledged the support and guidance which I’ve received over the years from the team at Stanbroke Beef. I ‘cut my teeth’ on their boning room floor back when it was still called Valley Beef. That was pre husband and kids. Back in those days, when we finished our boning for the day and I came upstairs, there would always be a bunch of roses waiting for me in my RM William boots. They were freshly harvested from the rose bushes on plant. I remain eternally grateful to the men and women at Stockyard & Stanbroke who gave and continue to give generously of their time to support my professional development over the years.

When I accepted the Advance Agribusiness Award in Sydney later in 2018, I thanked my mentor Deirdre Lander. If it was the men and women at Stockyard and Stanbroke who shaped my first decade in the industry, it’s been Deirdre who has guided me over the most recent decade. It’s not easy for women to find their way in a man’s world and we need people who will support us, push us, counsel us and encourage us in equal parts. I met Deirdre through a Mentor Program back in 2013 and she has never stopped supporting me.

In July 2018, I joined an international cohort of about 150 people who came together in Boston, USA for a course at Harvard Business School in Disruptive Innovation. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about through a scholarship which was jointly funded by Austrade and Chief Executive Women. Disruptive innovation theory, when applied to your own business or your industry has a powerful ability to guide you on a pathway which is not well trodden by your peers or competitors whether they be in your own country or in international markets. When applied to complex challenges, like ‘How to drive a better red meat future’ the theory can guide the development of novel ideas, concepts and opportunities.