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International Women's Day interviews

International Women's Day 2020

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual event to celebrate women’s achievements and spread the message of female empowerment and gender equality across the world. To celebrate IWD this year, we spoke to four inspiring women who are participating in the ISCF Transforming Food Production programme. We asked them about being a woman working in agritech research and innovation and what gender equality means for them.

Lyndsay Chapman is the Chief Executive of Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL). CIEL, based in York, is one of the UK’s 4 Agri-Tech Centres established as a key pillar of the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy. Lyndsay has a wealth of experience having spent 25 years in the UK dairy sector prior to joining CIEL in 2017. She held a variety of roles covering communications, business development and corporate responsibility and during this time worked in collaboration with farmers and supply chain partners. Lyndsay is an enthusiast & champion for the promotion of British food, farming and the wider environment.

Why is it important for women to enter the agritech innovation space?

We need to attract the best talent.  In general women are enquiring and will ask different questions and therefore arrive at different solutions to questions in the agri-tech space. They are also natural collaborators. I was recently asked to participate at the inaugural Women in Food and Agriculture Summit.  It was an international gathering and clearly demonstrated women’s ability to network and share!  There was also a real desire to make a difference in producing healthy food through sustainable methods, whilst being responsible citizens.  

Can you tell us about an example of work led by a woman in research and innovation that has inspired you?

I’ve come across a lot of inspiring women during my career in food and farming, especially in the corporate commercial sector.  A good example within research and innovation would be from the first Innovate UK funded project I was involved with when working in the dairy industry.  The project was about Novel Forage Proteins and the lead scientist was Dr Christina Marley of Aberystwyth University.  Her scientific and practical knowledge of establishing, growing, harvesting, ensiling and feeding different forage crops was very impressive. However, it was her enthusiasm and ability to translate the science for impact with different audiences that was so infectious and impressive.  Coincidentally, Aberystwyth University is one of CIEL’s academic partners, so I have the pleasure of now working with Dr Marley in a different capacity!

Nia Davies is the Managing Director of Davlec. Davlec, based in Powys, is an electronics manufacturer specialising in parlour automation equipment for the dairy industry. Nia has been Managing Director of Davlec for 18 years and is also a board member of Technology Connected.

What is the importance of supporting girls and women in research and innovation?

Supporting girls and women in agritech is the difference between them doubting their contribution to advances in agriculture and them feeling empowered to embrace their achievements and make suggestions and improvements to benefit the entire industry. Making sure that women and girls feel heard by supporting them in their roles and connecting them to a network of likeminded women can make a huge difference to the level of contribution they are willing to make. We need to ensure that women and girls entering the industry for the first time know that there are plenty of us out there cheering them onto success.

Alison Wright is Research and Development Project Manager at B-Hive Innovations. B-hive Innovations, based in Lincolnshire, was created by Branston as a stand-alone agritech business to solve the real challenges facing the fresh produce industry. Alison previously spent 13 years in the Royal Air Force as a Mechanical Aircraft Engineer and as a member of the RAF Aerobatic Display team the Red Arrows. Since joining B-Hive Innovations, Alison has overseen the team grow to 16 employees, launched their first UK patented commercial product as a co-inventor and worked with project partners to successfully win innovation funding.

How can we encourage more women to pursue work in agriculture as a career?

The key is to show that there is more to agriculture than just farming. With the development of companies such as B-hive Innovations there is a real opportunity to make a difference to this industry through technology and this provides additional benefits such as travel. It is important to encourage women into STEM subjects whilst highlighting what potential opportunities might present themselves in agriculture. 

It is also not about just targeting graduates but women who might be looking at a second career in a different industry. There will be women out there with transferable skills that won’t realise what opportunities are available in agriculture.

Andrea Jagodic is Co-Chief Operating Officer at Beta Bugs. Beta Bugs, based in Edinburgh, is an insect genetics company focusing on insects as a source of sustainable protein. Andrea also works for Children of Rwanda, an NGO delivering education, healthcare and income generating farming programmes in Western Rwanda.

What would you say to any young woman who is thinking about joining or starting their own agritech business?

It would probably be a similar message to that for women in STEM and entrepreneurship in general. We need our female leaders and innovators to drive our future. There is far too little diversity in leadership positions and underrepresentation across the field, and it is so important we change that.

Your every success opens the door for more women to drive change and shape the future of our world. Take inspiration from the amazing accomplishments of female scientists, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs and do what you are passionate about. Demand more from yourself and the world around you and do not be afraid to fight for it.  My key message is that your contribution matters and we need you.

Katrina Hayter, Challenge Director Transforming Food Production on supporting women and girls in innovation -

“What could be more important than supporting girls and women in research and innovation? As a planet and people we are facing one of the greatest challenges of all time – the climate emergency. We need the ingenuity of everyone, that ingenuity being very much based on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, we need the talents of women and girls here in shaping the future of our world.”