When the dream comes true – DWN celebrates 25-years of supporting dairy women

Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) celebrated 25-years on Friday 1 December at Red Barn, Waikato with 70 of its members and partners, past and present.

Jules Benton, DWN CEO says, “the day was one of celebration, acknowledging the founders who did something extraordinary 25-years ago in 1998. This is a salute to them and those that carried on their vision to today. We’re celebrating the silent achievers, the amazing women of the dairy sector”.

MC’ed by Julia Jones, she reflected that there have been many DWN touchpoints in her life over the years.

“You look at the history of DWN, it was set up with the intention to empower women in business. If you think back to 1998, women still had set rules and expectations about their roles, and they weren’t considered business partners – even if they were alongside their partner every step of the way. I went to the first conference, and it was the coolest thing I’d ever been to – and I became a proud sponsor. To me DWN makes empowerment more than just a word, they make it a way of life”.

The celebration featured a selection of speakers who shared their insights about DWN and the sector. 

Robyn Clements, one of the original four who launched DWN said, “to grow from 33 to 11,000 members is so exciting and I’m continually inspired by the wonderful stories I hear. These women are change agents across all levels. DWN brings positivity and energy and I get a skip in my step when I think about it”.

“What started 25-years ago has become enduring. We’ve made huge progress, and we still have so much we need to do. There are still gaps between male and female incomes, especially if you consider the ‘voluntary’ hours many women contribute. We need to count and value everything we do. I believe that you need to make time to put the ladder down to help women up – something I learnt years ago from another amazing woman, Jenni Vernon a Nuffield Scholar, and rural leader”, said Robyn.

The conferences were a constant theme as an example of the value that DWN brings to so many women. Robyn reflected that what she loves about the conferences are that there are no egos. “There is so much connecting and networking, it’s a place where people are prepared to be vulnerable and share their wisdom. Everyone is welcome”.

Trish Rankin, DWN Chair shared how, for her, DWN is a place for people of all ages, stages in and around the dairy sector and a place where people learn to dream.

“Having been a share milker for years and moved around the country – DWN was a lifeline. Everywhere I moved, I’d find the local group to meet new people and make friends. But more than that, it helped me realise my dream, that Trish, mother of four, wife and share milker could become Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year and attend Harvard Business School. It’s wow, just wow!”

Sally Coombe, a network partner with CMK Chartered Accountants, dairy farmer and Regional Leader reflects that for her DWN was a way off the farm, where she could embrace a world that wasn’t her children, husband, farming and connect with a community that supports one another.

Wayne Langford, Federated Farmers President was clear that DWN knows exactly who it is and what it’s here to do.

Another theme that came through was the impact of the ripple effect that often starts with one small DWN engagement, whether it’s the conference, training, regional leadership, business group or more.  As Trish reflected “the ripple effect is real and DWN gives people the confidence to realise their dreams and in turn they pay it forward”.

Jules, says, “I can’t emphasise enough how much DairyNZ, Fonterra and Ballance Agri-Nutrients has meant to us over the years. We couldn’t have achieved what we have without their consistent support. All our partners are incredibly important, and none more so than DairyNZ, our founding partner.”

Campbell Parker, DairyNZ CEO, spoke about how DWN and DairyNZ had great values and goals alignment.

“At DairyNZ, 62% of our staff are women and there is nothing like the energy and buzz you get from a combined purpose. I’ve been in the sector my whole career and have seen firsthand how far we have come in terms of the role women play”.

Anne Douglas, Group Director of Farm Source also shared that Fonterra is proud to support DWN as its about enabling, encouraging, and inspiring people in the industry.

“As a Co-operative, we know how much good can come from working together. That’s why Fonterra partners with organisations like Dairy Women’s Network that are operating at the heart of our rural communities. DWN is collaborative and supports our industry with real and meaningful impacts. When I meet women in the industry and listen to their stories, I don’t know how they do all that they do – they are unstoppable. I’m excited about the future. There is huge opportunity ahead of us and we need to be ambitious. I want every dairy farmer in New Zealand to be proud of what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading, together,” says Anne.

Amy Meade from Ballance Agri-Nutrients, and long-time DWN sponsor said, “I believe DWN and Ballance Agri-Nutrients we are a true partnership where we turn ideas into collaboration. For me DWN is about openness, honesty, fun – the gold comes from the people”.

The event concluded with Julia Jones summing up that DWN is truly about he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata, “here’s to a future where the DWN continue to be a beacon of inspiration, a force for positive change and a driving influence for the ongoing success of the dairy industry”, she said.


About DWN:

  • DWN launched in the late 1990s when Hilary Webber became a director of the New Zealand Dairy Group and saw women working at the ‘coalface’ of dairy but that were almost invisible in the boardrooms.
  • While attending the 1998 International Women in Agriculture Conference, Hilary, with Willy Geck, heard women described as the ‘silent heroes of agriculture’, which reinforced the need for DWN in New Zealand. This was the catalyst to lay the foundations for the DWN, along with Robyn Clements and Christina Baldwin (the original four).
  • Just two years later, in 2000, the first dairy group started with 33 women in the Waikato.
  • What followed was the creation of a formal structure, with Hilary at the helm as the organisation’s Founding Chair, and after some seed funding, Lynda Clark was employed as the first General Manager.
  • From there, the priority became setting up conferences in each Island and creating Regional Groups.
  • In 2005, the Trust Board was established, and DWN now had multiple sponsors, with an extra $70,000 of funding from DairyNZ to survey dairy women.
  • At this time, Willy took over from Hilary and that cemented DWN’s longstanding relationship with DairyNZ.
  • In 2007, DWN set up Celebrate U Award, which in 2013 became the Dairy Community Leadership Award and in 2020, the Regional Leader of the Year Award. In 2012, DWN also created the Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award, to celebrate the success of members.

Photo: Supplied; Dairy Women’s Network celebrating 25-years.

For more information:
Sarah van Munster
Insights and Media Manager
Phone: 07 974 4852

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