Women in Cotton
This International Women’s Day, we have invited Eimear McDonagh (General Manager Export Marketing & Logistics at Namoi Cotton Alliance) to share her experience as a woman in cotton…
- When did you join the cotton industry?
I first started working in this industry in 1996 in a small Australian border town called Goondiwindi. I had just recently arrived from Ireland and had no idea about cotton as a farmed plant let alone as a traded commodity.
- What do you like the most about the cotton industry?
I have seen the Australian cotton industry change considerably over 20 years, and this continuous improvement and focus on sustainability and production of a high quality product means it is always interesting and it makes me proud to promote our cotton to the world. From a more global perspective what I enjoy most is the relationships that I have established over many years and in many different countries. I am meeting the next generation in many businesses – it’s a stark reminder of how long I’ve been doing this!
- What are the biggest challenges you have had to face?
I wouldn’t consider myself different from any other cotton marketer in that the biggest challenges I have faced are market volatility and achieving profitable returns for our company. Additionally, there are challenges around Australia being the driest continent on earth and crop size can vary depending on the inherent cycle of drought and flood. As a result, maintaining market share is certainly challenging.
- What is it like being a woman in the cotton industry?
This question gave me pause for thought because I have seldom thought of myself as ‘a woman in the cotton industry’. Since I began my career, the vast majority of those participating, from grower, ginner, merchant, supply chain logistics to buyers have been men. Perhaps in the early years I felt that I had to work harder to prove myself, but that was partly because I was learning about Australia as well as the cotton industry. As I got more experienced and advanced professionally within my company, I think it slowly dawned on me that we as women communicate differently and once I realised that it made me think differently and be able to contribute to discussions with a different view point and different view on risk. I believe it added to the depth of discussions, but you might have to ask some of my counterparts about that!
- What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in the industry?
Another interesting question and I have thought a lot about this. The cotton industry is global so challenges will vary from place to place, it may depend on where you live, certain cultural constraints and the segment of the industry that you operate in. However, it is probably no different to other industries in that women need to put their hand up and look for the next step in career and not feel that they have to be perfectly qualified in every aspect of any role in order to be able to do it successfully.
- Have you experienced many changes in the industry which have affected you as a woman?
Naturally over twenty years there have been many changes and overall, they have been positive. Today, technology is disrupting all industries and cotton is no different. The velocity of change in technology in many segments of the industry is remarkable, we see it on farm with irrigation systems, soil mapping, harvesting practices, ginning technology, data collection and supply chain management. The introduction of new technology also opens the way for more diversity in employment and this creates an opportunity for more women to enter the industry. Hearing the term ‘data scientist’ in relation to our industry is quite a change. More and more I see positive change, certainly in Australia where women in the farming community are leaders in the industry and I would greatly like to see it continue through all aspects of ginning, merchanting and supply chain logistics.
There will always be challenge in our careers, whether gender based or not, but I do support women to enter this industry with a long-term goal of influencing change and facilitating more discussion about diversity.
- What is your message to other women in the industry?
I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the global cotton family. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of women to our industry and to encourage them to participate more, to be courageous with their ideas and their plans, to seek out opportunities for career advancement and to looking for positive change that will benefit our cotton community for generations to come.