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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Championing Ladies in Apiculture

Argentinian by birth, Hamilton beekeeper Sol Tejada has worked in New Zealand’s beehives for the past three years, in both North and South Islands. Noticing an under representation among female beekeepers, she was motivated to study the topic of women in beekeeping as part of the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme earlier this year. Having recently published her findings, she joins us to field a few more questions.

Sol Tejada’s Kellogg study has provided insights into the role of women beekeepers in New Zealand.

Q: Congratulations on completing the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme. What motivated you to do so, and what motivated you to choose your topic, Women in beekeeping: how to champion ladies in the apiculture industry?

ST: Thank you. I found out about the programme because a coworker did it and it sparked my curiosity. I was lucky enough to find out about it a day before the application deadline. It was a great chance to network with like-minded people from the food and fibre sector, a great chance to enhance my leadership skills and the opportunity to gain knowledge from very influential industry leaders.

I am passionate about the primary industry, but especially about beekeeping. I think there's profound wisdom in the bees' behaviours that can be applied to our lives.

Part of the programme is bringing to the table a concern or something you wish to improve in your industry. My dream was to become a commercial beekeeper in New Zealand and I realised that there were not many female beekeepers, or at least I did not come across many. The team I worked in was entirely men and I possess a huge determination to foster an environment where women not only enter the apiculture industry (and any place I am working in) but also thrive and hold positions of empowerment and power.

Q: One of the key findings was that, despite the two largest industry bodies having women as chief executive and president, female beekeepers see the industry as a place where they are under-represented. Why is this so?

Curious, right? The volunteers said they feel underrepresented because the ladies of the industry are not really visible, despite being in prominent leadership roles within the industry's bodies which reveals a nuanced challenge. They feel disconnected and underrepresented primarily because of a lack of visibility and accessibility to female role models to emulate. They do not know them.

The absence of a recognisable pathway for career advancement compounds this issue, contributing to a sense of isolation within the industry. They highlighted the difficulty to get in touch and network with other female beekeepers, also as a result of lack of networking events or clubs or hubs which are mostly dominated by men and tend to be focused on hobbyist beekeeping.

This lack of networking opportunities further compounds the perceived underrepresentation, inhibiting the formation of supportive communities and mentorship relationships crucial for professional development.

Sol Tejada’s studies have found beekeeper mentorship as “life changing” among some of the women beekeepers she interviewed.

Q: On that note, your research highlights improving ‘mentorship’ and ‘networking' as important to attracting and retaining women in commercial beekeeping. Why is this so and does that mean the mentoring and networking needs to come from other women?

Mentoring and networking were mentioned by the beekeepers interviewed as life-changing support received. Mentorship actually came from experienced beekeepers, mostly men that guided and supported the female beekeepers and provided the knowledge transfer that was key on the way of building a successful career in beekeeping.

From the literature review, it was possible to perceive that sometimes mentorship is not encouraged or it is hindered due to a bias relating to the relationship established between the individuals, especially when they involve individuals of different genders. “What are people going to think?” sort of thing. That's why healthy mentorship should be encouraged.

Networking brings a lot of space for collaboration, highlighting the value of local connections for collaboration and business opportunities. However, participants noted that the beekeeping community tends to gather around clubs focused on hobbyist beekeepers, posing challenges for commercial beekeepers to find suitable networking and support channels.

Q: Eight out of the nine women in beekeeping whom you interviewed perceived there to be a bias towards them in the industry based on their gender. Were you able to determine how this bias manifests itself?

Gender-based bias, often unconscious, is challenging to detect and address. There were 11 different types of biases mentioned by beekeeping women in the research. I will explain some of them here.

Gender delegation is assigning tasks based on the gender of the team-member, stereotypically assuming certain tasks are more suited for one gender over another, limiting opportunities or responsibilities based on a bias.

Sexual over perception bias is perceiving a flirtatious or sexual interest from the interaction with a team member when it is not real. Misinterpreting professional interactions as flirtatious or sexually motivated when, in reality, they are purely professional.

Maternalism is avoiding hiring women between a certain age, or assuming that the desire of being a mother would get in the way of their career.

Intra-gender bias is a bias coming from the same gender in the form of perceiving the person as a threat or showing a jealous behaviour.

Gender-based favouritism when hiring is when one gender is preferred, no matter which candidate is better suited for the position.

I would also like to mention that from the literature review It was possible to identify another bias when promoting women. Men are promoted or offered positions by their potential, but in the case of women, they are promoted by their achievements. So they are already running behind on promotions. How can you show what you are capable of, without the opportunity?

Q: You identify work flexibility as an important factor to attract more women to beekeeping. Does this not put in jeopardy the productivity of beekeeping operations that require high levels of dedication at certain times of the season?

Not at all, flexibility was actually considered one of the good things of being a beekeeper by self-employed beekeepers. They did not consider this as a perk of their job because it was intrinsic to their profession. It was mentioned by new beekeepers and beekeepers that have been in the industry for decades. They mentioned that they could plan their beekeeping duties to adapt to the time they needed to pick up the kids from school, for example.

If you think that cannot exist in big companies, I will have to disagree. Big companies will need to adapt their teams probably and give plenty of room for communication to allow their team members to express their needs and plan accordingly. It may seem impossible to achieve flexibility, but perhaps it sounds difficult only if it hasn’t been done before.

Q: The most measurable of your recommendations is to increase the presence of women at beekeeping conferences, including networking events for female beekeepers. Have you progressed these ideas with event organisers?

This was a request from some of the beekeepers I spoke to. They expressed this need and I mentioned these requests to one of the industry bodies during an informal talk, but I have not progressed these ideas in a formal way, yet.

Q: How do you hope your report is received?

I hope it is received as positively as possible. It is a very tricky subject and can create a lot of resistance from members of the industry, but the truth is the truth. No one is pointing fingers and my only intention is to see a more diverse industry.

I did not add my personal experiences and I only heard what women in our industry wanted to say and I asked questions they had not previously been asked. Following that, here is another of my recommendations: ask ‘why?’.

Why aren't women applying for high ranked positions? Why do I not have a female team leader or lead? Where are the women in the industry? Why are they in the background, as some mentioned?

I hope to see a new generation of beekeepers where diversity and inclusion is highly valued and equity in opportunities is offered.

I would like to thank all the ladies that participated in the interviews and would like to encourage the ladies of the industry that did not want to be interviewed to reach out to other female beekeepers, to find support and ask for help when needed. The apiculture industry showed itself to be very supportive. I heard amazing examples of how great things were achieved from the collaboration between beekeepers.

Thanks, from a beekeeper to all the beekeepers!

Contact Sol Tejada via email:


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