Significant leadership transition in New Zealand fresh produce industry to drive gender equity

The vital role that women play in New Zealand’s $6 billion horticulture sector has received a significant boost as United Fresh gears up to lead the industry collective, Women in Horticulture (WiH).

United Fresh New Zealand Incorporated is New Zealand’s only pan-produce industry organisation with a vision to help support a sustainable fresh fruit and vegetable industry for New Zealand.

Paula Dudley, General Manager of United Fresh and Chair of WiH says the initiative has a critical part to play in supporting gender equity. “United Fresh and its members have been working for many years to raise the profile of women in the industry. We’re proud to be taking this next step towards that goal,” she says.

WiH was founded in 2019 by a group of women leaders in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. The purpose was to foster an environment that empowers, values and supports all women to thrive in horticulture.

Dudley acknowledged this dedicated group of women, who, with the initial support of Horticulture New Zealand, started up WiH. “The team have done a fantastic job. We’re honoured to be continuing this important kaupapa. “United Fresh is perfectly placed to support the work of WiH. Our diverse membership includes over 90 organisations representing the entire value chain from seed and grower through to producer associations and retailers, we have a strong network to draw on. Management of WiH is an exciting opportunity for us to champion women and diversity to promote the best possible productivity through inclusive practices. While women make up about 50 percent of the horticulture workforce, we only represent about 20 percent of senior leadership. That’s a statistic that WiH and United Fresh are committed to changing,” says Dudley.

The support and empowerment of women in a sector which nurtures us all through the provision of fresh produce has been emphasised by the United Nations as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“United Fresh adopted the UN’s SDGs as part of our vision for a sustainable fresh fruit and vegetable industry for New Zealand. Like the UN, we recognise the wide range of horticultural activities that women are involved in throughout the country. We also acknowledge the unique set of challenges that many face such as juggling work and family commitments. WiH provides a platform to unite and support women at all levels of the industry and to advocate for equity on their behalf,” says Dudley.

A strategy meeting for WiH has been planned to coincide with the Horticulture New Zealand conference in August. In the interim, United Fresh are developing a database of interested people within the industry to enable WiH to connect to women working in the regions.

The WiH Executive Committee are planning a series of activities which will occur nationwide. Potential funding streams to support the work of WiH are also being explored to provide management capability.

“We’re looking forward to sharing the important work of WiH to drive innovation and collaboration amongst everyone involved in keeping healthy kai on the tables of all New Zealanders.”