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Women in ag: Lindy Nelson

Meet Lindy Nelson, who's leading the charge in helping other women in the primary sectors with the Agri-Women's Development Trust.

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Lindy Nelson

The role women play in New Zealand’s agriculture and primary sectors has always been significant. However, their efforts have not always been recognised, often sidelined as the supporting partner behind the scenes. As times change and the demands of rural life evolve, women are becoming more hands-on in the day-to-day running of farms and rural organisations, with more women stepping into leadership roles.

In an effort to support primary women on these journeys, the Agri-Women’s Development Trust has developed a new type of programme to help women develop their leadership skills.

The Next Level programmed was created in response to agri women eager to lead and contribute to their industries, businesses, and communities. Agri-Women’s Development Trust founder and programme director Lindy Nelson says she has seen a tremendous amount of change occur within the sector and in the way the role of women is perceived.

“The key for women to get their voice heard in the primary sector is about having the confidence to advocate and make decisions,” she says.”It can be a challenge for women who want to create something alongside their farming business to find balance.

A lot of that struggle is how those women can support their farming husbands. “Ten years ago, the challenge was around finding a voice. Now, the challenge is really stepping into your role and being a vital partner and everything that means.

“Rural women are leading the way on some great farm transformations, in terms of finance and environmental change. There’s an increase in women who are leading industry boards,” Lindy says. “I think we have flipped the script in regards to how women see their contribution to the sector and flipped the script of how the sector views that contribution as well.

We’re seeing it everywhere – real transformational change. “I’m incredibly proud of the role that we’ve played in helping give women the confidence, the skills, and tools to be able to contribute and add value to their businesses, whether it’s with their business as farmers, to the community, or into industry.”

The trust researched, designed, and delivered the six-month Next Level programme, designed to enable women to create positive change. The programme is made up of face-to-face group interaction, individual online learning options, and executive coaching.

Learning is condensed with minimal time spent away from home. “It needed to be at a good price point, something that was easily accessible and something that was also innovative in its approach, design, and flexibility.

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2019 Escalator graduates

And so, as we’ve grown as an organisation, we’ve increased our bandwidth to be able to deliver this kind of programme,” says Lindy. Graduates of the two 2019 programmes came from a diverse range of backgrounds, including dairy, sheep and beef farming, horticulture, and leadership roles in companies, industry, and service organisations.

Lindy says the feedback they’ve received on the Next Level programme to date has been outstanding. “It met their needs, gave them the confidence, the tools, and connections with other like-minded women.”

Changing mindsets

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AWDT facilitator Kate Wyeth with Understanding Your Farming Business participants on programme

It was Lindy’s own transformation journey that led to the development of the trust. The switch to rural life after nursing meant she had to adjust to a different mindset. “I landed in that rural role of a woman where you’re an unpaid extra pair of hands on a farm.

I struggled to find my value and in my skillset in that role,” she says. “So I thought, I’m going to do some research around the problem and find out what a solution to that could look like.” So what was initially a three-year research piece turned into the formation of the Agri-Women’s Development Trust.

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AWDT facilitator and Rere farmer, Sandra Matthews, speaking at an Understanding Your Farming Business graduation in Gisborne

The organisation grew from having one programme with 14 women to now having more than a thousand women and men coming through the programmes every year, with trained facilitators delivering programmes all around New Zealand. “We have lots of stories now of women who have graduated from our programmes and have found their purpose and are making a big difference,” she says.

Coming home

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AWDT women: working together to achieve

Lindy says she has seen a lot of change take place in the agri sector, but the current COVID-19 crisis has been particularly significant. For women, a lot of the feedback she has received has been about the return to traditional gender roles over the past few weeks.

“It’s still very much business as usual for many farming organisations, what with juggling farm work, other work, and children. Right now, however, we’re seeing the return to the family home because of the lockdown.

Grown-up children with their own jobs they have to juggle are coming home to the farm,” says Lindy. “Women are saying that they’ve got the pressures of the farm, the drought, their leadership roles in organisations, and now their children are home from boarding school or primary school as well.

Right now, with the effects of COVID-19, it’s almost a flip back to times where women have those traditional nurturing roles and are juggling the demands of family at home, along with all of the business side of things.

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AWDT’s Understanding Your Farming Business programme for farming women

“This is the there’s a lot of stress that comes on women. And so, the AWDT is responding to that as well. Women are telling us what their immediate needs are and we try to meet those needs,” she says.

“I would encourage women to keep investing in their personal and professional development because it pays absolute dividends for their family, their community, and New Zealand as a whole.

“Now more than ever, New Zealand needs our agri women to pull us through this crisis.”

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