Boosting Women in Ag Leadership

Grain silos and long days working on the family farm in western Victoria are in the DNA of young agricultural leader, Amy Fay. However, curiosity and adventure are also in the blood. 

Amy had almost completed studies in meteorology and political science when something powerful prompted her to dive back into agriculture, and she hasn’t looked back.

After working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation in Canberra, Amy moved back to Victoria for a role as Strategic Project Manager with Murray Dairy. Here, she became absorbed in natural resource management with a particular focus on water.

“The industry has undergone incredible transformation in the past five years,” Amy explains. “Dairy is a tight-knit sector, and I felt I’d had some real success and cemented my place in the industry, but working on these difficult issues had been gruelling, and that had taken a toll.”

A chance to take part in the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) came at the perfect time.

“When I applied for the ARLP, I felt I’d proven I could manage difficult contexts and lead through periods of change, but I doubted I had what it took to be a leader longer-term. Would it always come at such a cost to self-confidence, and incur compassion-fatigue and burnout?”

Amy didn’t quite meet the criteria, however, for an established dairy scholarship.

“My industry really commits to supporting farmers on these opportunities, and I didn’t fit the expected pathway,” she says.

“I was really excited but so surprised that the Thyne Reid Foundation were willing to offer me a scholarship. I felt somewhat stuck between two different industries, and they took a punt on me. They could really recognise the broader role I play in my industry and community,” she says.

“When they did support me, it was such a boost to my confidence and the picture I had of my own value. I thought: I am worthy.”

Another area Amy was keen to explore was where she would fit as a young woman participating in a rural leadership program.

“It can still feel like an exception-to-the-rule when you see younger women in lead roles in agriculture,” Amy says.

“The ARLP really revealed that it’s a trap to think there’s only one way to lead and be successful; and that it has to look a certain way.”

Instead, her Course 25 cohort gave Amy a “humanised” perspective on leadership.

“I realised we all have strengths and weaknesses and are all just trying to do our best. It took away any sense of intimidation,” Amy explains.

“I didn’t need to be something that I wasn’t – just confident in who I was and how I could be a leader. The Program also affirmed to me that working on ‘soft skills’ to increase my emotional intelligence and manage stress, which I had seen as a weakness, is in fact of real benefit. It doesn’t mean you can’t handle pressure.”

Having invested so much energy into change management within the dairy industry, Amy has been able to settle into her calling on a new level.

“The ARLP helped me realise that change is always difficult. We can’t, and don’t have to control every element for change management to be successful.”

Today, Amy, who is raising a young family with her husband on a property in Boort, Victoria, works part time for Murray Dairy leading strategic projects. She also works as a consultant supporting farmers to tackle change management.

“I love the flexibility to work with clients who often share common values, and I get to see direct outcomes for small businesses,” Amy says.

“And perhaps I’m not a very good consultant, because if a client thrives and outgrows my contribution, then I see that as a success,” she laughs.

The ARLP has given Amy insights into her own value, and where she can build her future impact.

“This experience has given me the confidence to have a voice and overcome my hang-ups about the label of ‘young woman in ag’. Women are such important drivers of productivity in our industries and are so affected by what childcare and health infrastructure is available. I’m seeking a governance role to help me have leadership in this space as well.”

She sums up the gift of the Thyne Reid Foundation’s support with two words: Confidence and freedom.

“It’s cleared the way for me to focus on what I want to achieve, knowing it will flow back into my community. My sponsor gave me this chance, but with no strings attached at all; and that is incredibly liberating.” 

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