Women in the commercial seafood industry - Part 2​

Margaret Stevenson, a Queensland-based commercial fishing industry leader, has been active in the industry  for 30 years. In the second article of a two-part series, Eric Perez talked to Margaret about her leadership pathway and Margaret shares her advice for women leaders in seafood.

Eric Perez: I have had the great fortune to work and learn from outstanding women leaders in the Queensland and broader Australian seafood industry. This article explores the leadership path of one such leader, Margaret Stevenson. In addition to her work in a commercial fishing business, Margaret is the Queensland Director of the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community (WINSC) and a deputy coordinator of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) net fishery committee.

EP: Tell me about your journey to being the deputy coordinator of the QSIA net fishery committee?

Margaret Stevenson: I had attended a number of different consultation meetings with fisheries and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as well as QSIA and WINSC. I had expressed my views a number of times on various issues affecting net fishers and seemed to have gained some respect as someone who was able to express myself fairly well and who understood a lot about the industry in general as well as some net fishery specific issues. I had been nominated as the Flood Recovery Officer after the 2010-11 floods in Queensland and had conversed with many different fishermen throughout the state in that role.

As a result, I was encouraged to submit an expression of interest to be a member of a group to attempt a new format of industry representation for the net fishers. From there I was invited to be a participant on the new net committee and was voted as chair. After a year I stepped aside and nominated a younger member of the committee as chair and became one of two deputy chairs. 

EP: What do you think are some significant barriers to female leadership in seafood?

MS: Initially, I think the men lacked confidence in women’s understanding of day-to-day fishing but I feel like that is changing. I now get phone calls and messages from fishermen asking me my opinion about some issues so my opinions now seem to be respected more.

On the other hand, in spite of governments’ supposed inclusiveness towards gender equality I think they play politics in speaking with females rather than necessarily taking their comments seriously.

The first time I ever spoke with a fisheries minister I was in attendance at a meeting, in a supportive role to my husband, on dealing with the issue of the announcement of a ban on netting for spotted mackerel. In spite of the fishermen in attendance, the minister pointed to me and said, “I want to hear your story” and showed no interest in what the men had to say throughout the entire meeting. I was thrown in at the deep end in being a spokesperson for the fishermen that day. Fortunately, I had done my homework and knew the issue inside out. I had prepared a folder of evidence supporting our arguments and claims as I anticipated that my husband would speak on the issue. Therefore, I spoke with sure knowledge of the issue almost as if I had actually been on the boat myself for years. At least that is what the men said afterwards! I felt that the minister expected me to not really know much and to stumble and complain about how I could buy Christmas presents for my children due to the ban. However, if that is the case, the minister did not get what was expected.

In the eyes of the public, I am not sure what the perception of women in the industry is. People have told me in person that I explain things well on Facebook and that they support me and want me to keep going with it, even though they do not necessarily say so in comments on social media itself.

EP: What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

MS: Having a seafood industry to lead. It is very evident that unless the public actually start to speak up for their own seafood supplies it will not be long before the public will not “own” their seafood or fisheries resources any more.

EP: How do you manage work/life balance?

MS: With great difficulty at times, especially when another discussion paper is released hot on the heels of a previous one as has been happening almost constantly since I became involved almost twenty years ago. It was especially hard when I had young babies to care for as well as normal work responsibilities such as bookwork, business activity statements, wages and purchasing. I felt it interfered severely in our personal lives simply due to the amount of time required on a constant basis to deal with so much additional paperwork.

I found I concentrated best late at night when there were no other distractions and interruptions but that then interfered with my sleep habits and contributed to health issues from such prolonged stress and pressure and sleep deprivation. The worst of it seemed to be required of us right when our children also needed greater care and attention. I find these days, I sometimes have to walk away from the computer and work in my garden for a few days to find some balance and restore some feeling of sanity, peace and clarity However, this means I lose touch with what is happening for a short time.

EP: From your experience, what advice would you give to female leaders in seafood?

MS: My advice would be:

  1. Prioritise your family and relationships and, for the sake of your relationships, face industry challenges together.
  2. Listen and learn as much as you can so you can get a grip on processes, practices and procedures so that you can discuss these issues in any situation.
  3. Join industry or sector groups and encourage your family to do the same.
  4. Do not be afraid to volunteer for roles within industry organisations as early as possible.
  5. Participate in various networking opportunities.
  6. If at all possible, attend the annual conferences. I have gained much at the ones I have been to and wish I could have attended more.
  7. Try to do better than I have done with balancing life with work by delegating set times, if possible, to work on fisheries issues.
  8. Be patient with yourself and others. We are involved in another huge social story and the personal, financial and social impacts on individuals and families are all too real and heart-breaking.

If you would like to contact Eric or Margaret please send an email to AustAgLeaders@gmail.com.

Eric Perez - MBusResearch USC, BCom GU, BBehSc GU 

For more information about Eric, please visit his website.

E-mail: AustAgLeaders@gmail.com, Mobile: 0414 841 532

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