Belinda Hazell MBA CF on Leadership

Belinda Hazell MBA CF is the 2021 recipient of the Tasmania Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership. We had a chat with her to find out about her leadership life, her biggest inspirations, and what she is currently advocating for. In recognition of International Day of Rural Women, we wanted to reshare this interview with Belinda, who is leading the way for so many other exceptional women leaders in rural, regional and remote communities across Australia.

Tell us about your leadership life to date? 

Like many, leadership is about what inspires you – and others – to achieve a common goal. For me, this inspiration has grown from involvement in the primary industry sector. Having started work for an horticultural exporting company at a young 15.5 years (immediately from graduating year 10), I floundered until joining the Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania. This organisation gave me the confidence to reach and explore different opportunities such as exchanges to New South Wales and Sweden. I held various club, regional and state position until family and farming responsibilities became priorities.

In 1994 I joined the newly formed Tasmanian Women in Agriculture (TWiA), holding various roles until appointed as Chair from 2016 to 2020 and now as Emeritus Chair. I am Deputy Chair of Freshcare Limited (Australia’s largest assurance program for fresh produce, providing food safety, quality and environmental standards), Director of Rural Business Tasmania and Deputy Chair of the Environmental Protection Authority in Tasmania. In 2014, TWiA recognised me as an Outstanding Contributor to Agriculture.

In 2018 I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate the use of horticultural QA Standards to stay ahead of social license demands – this is where my focus on #howandwhywefarm was born – inspiring farmers to tell their stories about how and why they grow their produce. My aspiration is to advance the standing of primary industry both at a State and national level. Our farmers are critical to the health and wellbeing of our nation and are essential for our future food security – they produce safe, quality, nutritious and sustainable food for our communities to enjoy. They are quiet achievers and deserve more recognition from Australians for what they do. 

What is your proudest moment as a leader?

Delivering resources focused on addressing sexual harassment in the rural workplace. A national survey conducted in 2018 found that 93% of women working in agriculture have been sexually harassed in some form and I am one of these statistics. Speaking up or remaining silent about workplace bullying and harassment are decisions faced by workers daily. SafeWork Australia reports that one in three women and one in five men who claim to have a mental disorder stated it involved bullying or harassment in the workplace. Australia’s rural sector has a culture of male dominance and isolation which increases the likelihood of bullying and harassment, particularly against women. 

As the then Chair of TWiA, I coordinated a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission into sexual harassment in workplaces as I believe that the rural sector was not adequately represented. I also collaborated with industry stakeholders to obtain project funding from Workcover Tasmania on a project to review existing bullying and harassment resources and initiatives with the aim to develop practical guidance tools and behaviourally based training specifically focused on rural workplaces to prevent, respond and reduce the harm of sexual harassment and other forms of bullying and harassment.

In Tasmania, a TWiA survey conducted in 2018 found that 3 out of 4 women report being been sexually harassed in the rural workplace in some form. This issue is not gender specific, but the fact remains that women are mostly impacted. Commissioner Jenkins also said the results revealed that formal reporting of workplace sexual harassment continues to be low, with only 17% of people making a report or complaint.

Alarmingly, research undertaken by Associate Professor of Law at the Australian National University, Dr Saunders, finds that 70% of rural women employed in rural workplaces that were interviewed said they had witnessed a colleague being harassed in the workplace. Clearly the increasing trend and pervasive nature of sexual harassment in workplaces needs to be addressed. There is a lack of transparent processes for those people experiencing or witnessing unwanted behaviours. In Tasmania, TWiA survey results show that rural workplaces need to reassess the methods used to identify and deal with sexual harassment, and that many rural workplaces do not have any policies or procedures in place as a preventive measure. 

They have limited to no information on their legal obligations and how to respond to complaints, let alone have a contact person available. They are not aware of what is required to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and can also be worried about the costs of recognising and acting on incidents – or indeed, failing to act. Victims are faced with the decision to permanently leave the sector due to inappropriate behaviour as the harasser is generally a peer or in a position of power; or they are unable to access resources to help. Victims can also face long term psychological impacts. Rural workplace impacts include an increase in absenteeism and/or staff turnover, lost productivity and poor workplace culture. 

Who are some of your inspirations as a leader? 

My triplet sisters (Allison Clark and Caroline Brown) are essential to my sense of self – they inspire and challenge me to be a better and different person, always looking for ways to benefit others. They have been with me since the early days of Rural Youth and are there when I need to find a way.

In her political career, Julie Bishop delivered strong, clear and decisive leadership particularly as Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. She remained steadfast in her role particularly with challenging issues facing the country at the time. Even though many women in leadership roles are criticised for their appearance, Julie Bishop inspires me – she always looks amazing and confident. If I could walk a mile in her awesome shoes I would be happy!

Rosa Parks – she was an American activist in the civil rights movement, best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, where she refused to give up her seat to a white man. Her actions inspired the bus boycott; the United States Congress called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of freedom”. Rosa Parks became a nationally recognised symbol of dignity and strength focused on the struggle to end racial segregation. She showed that leadership can come from any person, not just the privileged few. 

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

At a TWiA State Gathering in St Helens, Brigitte Muir spoke about how she started her career in mountain climbing. She said on her first climb she found herself in a difficult spot and felt she couldn’t continue up. Her partner told her ‘there is no such as can’t – you just have to find the way’. This advice has stayed with me and in difficult situations, I endeavour to think outside the line of sight and work to find an alternative path.

For those of you who have not heard of Brigitte - in 1997, Brigitte became the first Australian woman to summit Mount Everest and the first Australian, male or female to climb the Seven Summits (the highest summit on each of the continents). In 1998 she published her autobiography, The Wind in My Hair. Following her career in mountaineering and adventure, she now leads community building treks in Eastern Nepal, where she started a women’s literacy and empowerment program. 

How do you give back to women in your field?

I am currently the Emeritus Chair for Tasmanian Women in Agriculture. This volunteer organisation was established in 1994 to create visibility for women working in regional, rural and remote Tasmania. It connects, supports and celebrates women in Tasmanian rural communities and industries. Together with the Executive Team we are working on providing opportunities to network and support each other, encourage and empower women to realise their full potential, advocate and represent them and their rural communities, provide opportunities to gain and share knowledge, raise their profile as part of a forward thinking and vibrant agricultural industry that is vital to our Tasmanian economy. 

In the last year we have worked on a range of projects to keep the organisation connected during COVID-19 disruptions. These initiatives have included online Paddock Talks, training for farmers to take their products online On Farm to Online, a virtual conference Gathering in the Cloud and initiatives to support #buysomethingtasmanian – connecting Tasmanian consumers with locally sourced produce. 

What are you advocating for now? 

Addressing sexual harassment in rural workplaces remains the key priority. There is a lack of understanding of what sexual harassment, bullying and harassment actions are, how it should be treated and managed. In 2020 we launched our campaign with three contextualised videos and simple resources for rural workplaces to use. This campaign included a nationwide media campaign that ran for 1 month. You can see more information here. 

What does winning the Tasmania Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership mean to you? 

It such a great feeling to be recognised, particularly as I represent the rural sector. We are generally quiet achievers who just get on with the job. The Award confirms for me that what I do matters and is valued by my peers. It has also been a great source of pride for my three young adult daughters – I want to inspire them to achieve in their own way. I hope that I can use the Award to promote women’s achievements and leadership opportunities as well as open doors to future prospects for myself and also promote what can be achieved in the rural sector in Tasmania and more broadly.