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International Women’s Day 2021: How Women Across GSI #ChoosetoChallenge And Build a More Sustainable Future for Aquaculture

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COVID-19 has put a stop to many things over the last year, but one thing still very much on is International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD, a global event aimed at calling for gender equality, looks to celebrate the accomplishments of women around the world from a political, economic, social and environmental perspective. This year’s IWD is especially important because we cannot let the pandemic slow down any progress being made in ensuring gender parity. In what the BBC has coined the ‘shecession,’ women have been more greatly affected by the pandemic than men – from unemployment, rises in the gender pay gap, greater inequalities within the home, and higher chances of gender-based violence. We must take a moment and use this day to increase awareness and drive positive change.

At GSI, we believe that collaboration is the way to drive change. GSI members seek to be change-drivers not only by contributing to nutritious and sustainable diets around the world, but also by building more equitable and inclusive workplaces. At GSI, we #choosetochallenge by highlighting the achievements and stories of women across our diverse member group, reflecting on the lessons learned and continuing to work collectively to drive further progress across the aquaculture sector.

Which is why this year, GSI wishes to mark the day by inviting some of the inspiring women across our network to share their perspectives and experiences in driving change.

In this blog, GSI CEO Sophie Ryan connected with a number of the women within GSI to discuss a series of questions on this year’s #IWD2021 theme #ChoosetoChallenge, and here we share their responses:

  • Estefanía Humud, Sustainability Specialist, Blumar
  • Silje Ramsvatn, Sustainability Manager, Cermaq
  • Kristin Storry, Certification and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Grieg Seafood BC
  • Jemma McCowan, General Manager Brands & Sustainability, New Zealand King Salmon
  • Therese Log Bergjord, Chief Executive Officer, Skretting
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“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so lets all choose to challenge.” International Women’s Day

Sophie: This year’s IWD theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, which I find to resonate with GSI’s mission to challenge the status quo and work collaboratively to shape a more sustainable future for the salmon farming industry. Driving change in terms of equality and greater diversity is no different – individually and collectively - we have the choice to make a change. But as we focus on the topic of equality, we cannot deny that aquaculture, like most sectors today, is still a male dominated sector. This undoubtedly has its fair share of challenges for women entering the sector. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing women in the workplace, and specifically in the aquaculture industry?

Jemma: One of the biggest challenges is breaking down the perception that we are women operating in a man’s world. We’re women in OUR world and we have such a great contribution to make.

Silje: When it comes down to finding candidates for executive positions, the process still leaves room for gender bias. I am sure it’s not intentional, but there is a hidden bias as many of the men on top will find ‘male qualities’ more qualifying than more ‘female qualities.’ This can be damaging to the group as a whole, as there will be a bias in the mindset and types of people represented.

Estefania: For many women, finding the right work-life balance is a challenge. It is important that we are able to conciliate them and maintain a good balance across the different dimensions of life, ultimately supporting good well-being, health and career potential.

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Sophie: One positive I do see is that many of the women who are a part of GSI have been working in aquaculture for many years, and it’s definitely a sector where women find many excellent opportunities and enjoy their roles meaning they stay for many years, even whole careers. However, there must have been challenging moments when you look back, how have you found ways to overcome these?

Jemma: I’ve spent years around meeting tables as the only woman, and often the youngest in the room. You’ve got to believe that you’re there for a reason and the strengths you bring to the table are valued. To keep that confidence up, it’s important to identify great supporters, whether peers, leaders or partners who recognise and value your strengths, and act as your advocate – and not just female supporters!

Therese: I have accepted that I cannot have it all, so I do not try to be perfect. I do not mind showing my weaknesses as we all have them. The trick is to surround ourselves with people we are inspired by and who know more than we do.

Estefania: The challenges that I have faced always have a common point in the best way to face them - communicate the challenges and solve them together through advice and new points of view.

Sophie: We can each testify that the aquaculture sector is evolving and innovating rapidly. Even within GSI we have seen huge changes over the last seven years both in terms of environmental performance and social progress. When I started working with GSI in 2013, there were no women at the board level and now we have one-fifth which is excellent progress. I have no doubt we will see even more women take up leadership positions. What do you see for the future of the sector in terms of expanding equality and diversity? And what changes do you see in the next five years?

Therese: I think the industry will see major benefit from having a much larger participation of women. It cannot afford to not utilize fully this great source of skills. Teams can change completely when there is a good mix for the better!

Kristin: Women are stepping up and taking charge of their careers, and more are coming out of university with advanced degrees and aquaculture training. Already more women are becoming directors, managers, and assistant managers where that before was uncommon. I see this increasing in the future and more women will start taking more leadership roles in aquaculture.

Silje: I believe we will have more women in the top positions and at sea. I also think we will see more women in technical positions. Having different types of people in all parts of a business and the value chain is important. Different backgrounds give a variety of perspectives and we will improve faster and make better decisions.

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Sophie: A key theme I have seen across the GSI members is a desire to continuously improve and to be at the forefront of responsible business action – from environmental improvements, transparency, innovation, social equality and more. I am aware of many great initiatives occurring. Can you share an example of change happening within your roles or organizations?

Therese: Within Skretting, I’m very proud that we have set clear targets to improve diversity in our company. We know that diversity is much more than women/men, but this is our starting point that we will expand on. We will have 30% women in leading positions by 2025, and one third of new hires will be women. Some different initiatives include our ‘taking the stage’ program to empower women, and we also use mentoring and coaching as a tool for developing more female leaders. All of our operating companies have established local diversity and inclusion plans, so this is something that is working throughout our business.

Silje: In Cermaq, we have so many women of all ages and types of positions, and so many great women! I think we are about 50/50 men and women in administration and middle management, and we have a goal of increasing the number of women at sea with 50%. We also have discrimination and equality training for everyone, which I believe is a great demonstration of the industry-wide commitment to improving awareness and understanding.

Kristin: At Grieg we also participate in the SHE Index - an Index developed by EY which has been designed to reflect the true status of gender equality in corporate life, and we anticipate receiving a score of around 20 in 2021.

Estefania: For Blumar, gender equality is a challenge which we are actively tackling. It is part of the Blumar culture and is taken into account at the time of hiring, so that applicants are evaluated on their skills and not their gender. We can see this reflected in the high percentage of women in the plant and in the administration. In addition, in recent years women have been incorporated into positions that have historically been occupied by men in the cultivation centers.

Jemma: NZKS is working very hard on attracting a broad range of talent to our business to keep up the pace of innovation, creativity and leadership our company is renowned for in the salmon industry. As a larger company in our home region of the Top of the South Island of New Zealand, we’re also conscious that we have a part to play in inspiring other businesses to adopt practices that encourage diversity and equality, so we actively participate in community events and collaborations to support better social outcomes.

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Sophie: We mentioned earlier that many of the women within GSI have worked in aquaculture for many years. Why do you think aquaculture is a good industry for women to work in?

Jemma: There are so many opportunities for women to make a difference in aquaculture – both for their own careers and the unique outlook they bring to the industry. With the variety of skills needed in our industry and the fact that our industry encompasses farming, food, hospitality and retail, there are great career advancement opportunities. Women can bring creative skills, technical skills, relationship skills and specialist knowledge to all areas of aquaculture. It’s exciting to increase our diversity and challenge any physical barriers that have restricted female participation.

Kristin: This industry is always evolving, and it is great to be part of a job where advancements are regularly occurring as it allows for room to grow and advance your career.

Estefania: It is a good industry for both men and women, since it is an industry that is focused on providing a high-quality protein in a sustainable and responsible way. This industry also has the opportunity to contribute to great current challenges such as sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, equity in every sense, stable jobs and good working conditions, responsible management of the oceans, and so many more.

Therese: It is a great industry! Aquaculture enables sustainable protein for a growing global population. It has a purpose, it is science-based but with a great foundation with farmers across the world. People in aquaculture share a passion to make the industry better.

Silje: Being part of an industry producing sustainable and healthy food is motivating and fun. There are lots of different people, and always new challenges. I learn something new all the time. It’s a relatively young industry and we are evolving so fast, so why wouldn’t women want to work in aquaculture? It’s the industry for the future!

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Sophie: I know for me personally, having great women and men to inspire and mentor me has been hugely helpful. If you could take this moment to offer one piece of advice to women thinking about entering the sector or just starting out in any role what would you say?

Kristin: An educated answer is the best answer. Many people can be tough on something they don’t know and especially something that is new. Aquaculture is a new industry and with that comes people who are not supportive. I always deal with any difficulty with science and evidence. I learned that there are times to listen and there are times to speak. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Jemma: Be brave, do what you love, ask for help, try new stuff.

Therese: Prepare yourself for having loads of meaningful experiences in a global arena.

Estefania: May they come with a desire to learn what aquaculture is – a sector which has huge purpose in providing food and nutrition to many people, and an area where they can contribute to supplying a sustainable protein to a growing population.

Sophie: We cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic has profoundly challenged all our lives over the last year, but it has also offered many learnings and new experiences. As we look to drive change across our work and communities, what would you say this year has taught you?

Jemma: The pandemic has really shown how leaders respond in a crisis and how teams can pull together at amazing pace. Opening the doors to imperfections, admitting vulnerabilities, and communicating “work in progress” has already started to change leadership styles for the better, especially in aquaculture where transparency is in demand.

Estefania: The pandemic has sharply challenged the way in which our society develops. It has forced us to reflect on the role of companies and we have seen ourselves as workers in a much more personal and humane way, since we all share the same concerns.

Kristin: This has been the time where new ideas have flourished.

At GSI, we believe recognizing each other’s differences and strengths, and mobilizing these, will help drive the change society needs. By choosing to challenge we are each accepting our responsibility to be change drivers.

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