“I was always taught, if you want to get anywhere in life put your hand up, not out”

“I was always taught, if you want to get anywhere in life put your hand up, not out” says Kate Dunlevy. Salt of the earth and not afraid of hard work, the 30-year-old from Southland describes herself as ambitious and someone who enjoys a challenge. Brought up in Invercargill, Kate is now living her dream working on a sheep and beef farm in the Manawatū with fellow lady of the land, Heather Gee-Taylor. 

Leaving school, Kate always knew she wanted to get into the agricultural industry. She saw an opportunity in the environmental space, completed a degree at Lincoln and became a land management advisor. Kate worked for the regional council for five years, which led her to farm consultancy. With a strong desire to make the break from the office, she worked as a livestock representative for Alliance for 2 years. “I have always been interested in the red meat value chain. In my work as a livestock rep, I loved the hands-on work that drafting provided and equally the relationships with a range of people”.

Female livestock agents are few and far between in the industry, however Kate explains the interest is growing. “I had nothing more than a positive experience in the industry, I would highly encourage females who are interested out there to give it a go. Both farmers and colleagues were really supportive”. There is a lot that the job has to offer, it takes you to some remarkable places and exposes you to a great network of like-minded people", explains Kate. 

Kate embodies overcoming antiquated ideas about women in farming and agriculture.  “I’ve been fortunate to have not really faced any issues or biases. All of my farmer-facing roles have been encouraging and people have received a female rep well. But like anyone regardless of the situation, respect is earned and not given, so we may have to work a bit harder for it to break the barrier, but so be it”. Kate also believes the physical side of stock handling is a non-issue, “look at all of the female shearers out there now, that idea is probably just an excuse”. 

Times are changing and Kate is one of the dedicated women at the forefront of the industry paving the way for others to follow in her footsteps.”There’s always going to be those people who challenge your position or your capabilities, but it’s often just their upbringings and their experiences that have defined their opinions. They’re actually the ones I really enjoy coming across because it’s quite rewarding to win them over. It’s 2024 now and in my opinion, that way of thinking is in the past. If you do hear the odd negative comment, it’s often more embarrassing for the person saying it than it is for me because it’s so outdated. But, mostly I just ignore it, because they’re making themselves look unprofessional if they’re making negative comments like that.”

Challenging the status quo takes bravery, and Kate has some pretty clear values and opinions that buoy that courage. “I think if you’re doing a good job and going over and above for people then you’re going to be received well. If I ever hear any negative remarks, it just adds fuel to my fire to want to do well. And if you can prove yourself, then you can earn respect and you set a precedent for other girls coming through”.

When considering the future of the red meat sector, Kate is positive about the growing role of women on the land and in hands-on industry support roles. “Women have proven themselves in all other areas of the Agri sector so far, so there’s a huge opportunity for them to do the same in this area. Generally speaking, we are empathetic and good communicators which are valued skills in the red meat sector.”  

When it comes to women considering working in the red meat sector in a hands-on role, Kate’s message is clear and tangible. “Make yourself known and back yourself. The sale yards are public places, so just get along and start talking to people. And I am more than happy to talk to anyone and give advice, it would be cool to see a few more females coming into this line of work. There are people who have been made their whole careers in different roles in the red meat sector, which I think shows it’s a great place to work.”