West Australian, Catherine Marriott heads  Influential Women an organisation committed to creating conversations that connect urban and rural populations by building confidence, capacity and skills in people. Catherine’s ability to embrace change at all levels and her passion for the agricultural industry makes her one of Australia’s inspiring women. Unafraid of tackling the ‘red hot’ subjects in agriculture here she talks about; change, the live export trade and the importance of a ‘social license’.

Avoiding Change is like holding your breath…… if you succeed, you are dead! (Annimac, a futurist.) Change is all around us, in everything that we do. Change takes courage as there is a whole new world of unknown out there. We can make a best guess at the way a situation will go, but then we leap….. and see where the cards fall. Just recently I have taken that said leap…….. and I am having a hell of a time adventuring, meeting amazing people and contributing to our inspirational agricultural sector.

Photo's of moi_Web10I have grown up and worked in Agriculture my whole life, what a cracking industry to be involved in. I feel truly blessed. Change number one…. Growing up on a sheep farm and then careering full steam ahead into the northern beef industry! My career started as a ruminant nutritionist. I wanted to work with livestock and with feeding the animals a balanced diet, I knew they would be healthier and would then produce healthy meat for us to eat. I worked in the northern beef industry in QLD and the Territory for 4 years before starting work over in Asia…. There is that change again.

It turns out, to start with anyway, that this was a complete flop…. But I was determined to have an adventure so stayed there and experienced all Asia had to offer, I wasn’t disappointed. As a result of my adventurous little nature, I have had the most fulfilling career as a technical consultant in the Asian beef industry for the past five years. My role involved working with farmers on the ground in our destination countries, helping with nutrition, feedlot management, animal handling schools, breeding program and in the abattoirs.

Recently I have had another change, this one involves working more broadly across Agriculture and in particular in communication and engagement. I launched a company called Influential Women to create conversations that connect urban and rural Australia, by building confidence, capacity and skills in our people. After working in the Live Trade, I realized how important it is for us to share what we do in agriculture but more importantly why we do things and to invite people to see what we do rather than being nervous and always trying to hide it.

Following the horrific footage on TV, our social license was taken away from us. This means that the public no longer believed that we were doing the right thing so they rally together to put control on us or stop it all together. I reflected a lot on what we could do to ensure that this didn’t happen again. The thing is, no-one really knew about that industry, then all of a sudden, it was thrown into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and people were in uproar, and I can’t and won’t blame them for that. In fact, if there hadn’t been a public outcry, I would have questioned the sanity of our country, as it was horrific.

IMG-20110901-00045The reason the response was so great was because we had not been a part of the conversation. People then thought that footage was normal in our industry. In agriculture, we are very good at what we do, we are not so good at engaging with other people and sharing what we do but more importantly why we do things, this needs to change. Our social license is so important if we are going to continue operating. When people disagree with something that you are doing, it doesn’t matter in what industry, they can rally and stop you doing it.

Historically, this has been done at a policy level, however now in Australia, we have two main supermarkets, so if they decided, like Coles has, to only sell hormone free beef or sow stall free pork, it fundamentally changes the way we operate at a farm level. We need a voice that uses the passion that we have already, and have that passion and energy fly in formation. We need messages out there that are articulate, values based and easily understood by the people who are genuinely interested in how their food is produced.

This is such an opportunity for us as we have an audience that is ready and willing to learn. We just have to make sure we don’t then lose our non-agricultural friends by using language that is too agriculturally based. We work in a very technical industry and are often not aware that the language we use, loses people. Social media is such a gift and is rapidly changing the way agriculture engages. I am so excited to see so many farmers sharing their stories every day and gathering large followings. For example the Facebook Page, Rural Miss. Gemma Lee Steere has nearly 6000 followers, mostly from urban audiences so this is a wonderful way to get our stories shared.

catherineMainstream media will not sell our story as it is a good news story, traditionally we have used this as an excuse so we don’t have to worry, however now we can have a voice and it is a wonderful thing… I believe Coles are now fully aware of the power of social media also. There are so many different social media platforms, they all offer different things so pick which one you think will suit you and have a try, start by just watching. It is amazing what you will learn.

(Above: Hannah Marriott, Penny Hooper, Tom Marriott, Pippa Gardner, Charlie Marriott & Catherine)

Some tips I try and remember when engaging with social media

  • If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it, it is there forever
  • Remember that you are talking to a whole myriad of people who aren’t engaging, but are watching and trying to decide which side of the fence to sit
  • Keep your messages simple
  • Listen to what people are asking and the values behind their questions. We all share values, so speak to those, it gives you common ground.
  • Don’t get angry or aggressive, you will never win
  • Have a strategy and understand why you are using it
  • Most importantly, have fun and give it a shot, Agriculture needs your voice.

Now working for Influential Women, I am loving this part of my journey, I am able to travel the width and breath of this fine land and meet the amazing people that we have working in agriculture and constantly be inspired but the energy, passion, intelligence and determination that the people in our wonderful industry have. Together we will be the change that we want to see in the world….. and it all starts with celebrating agriculture and the role that we play in making this planet a better place for generations to come.

I want to finish with a huge shout out to all who are working every day on the land, caring for our environment and providing us with healthy and nutritious food to eat. I respect and am in awe at what our farmers do every day and am so grateful of the hard work and dedication that we so often take for granted.