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Celebrating women in horticulture

Publication date: 8 March 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March 2021), we spoke to women from the Hort Innovation team to find out their greatest career achievements, why they are proud to work in the horticulture industry and to hear the best advice they have for young women seeking a career in the sector.

Julie Bird – Chair, Hort Innovation
With a career spanning over 30 years, Julie has enjoyed a variety of roles across the Australian horticulture industry. Julie was first elected as a Director of Hort Innovation in 2018 and is the current Chair, being appointed to this position in 2020. Julie is also the owner and manager of retail floristry business ‘Say It With Flowers’ and a Non-Executive Director of United Almonds Limited, an unlisted public company managing more than 1000 hectares of almond orchards in Victoria.

How did you get involved in the horticulture industry?
My involvement in horticulture has been more by default than by design. I grew up in the Riverland of South Australia where horticulture was a way of life. It was embedded in every aspect of the community. From the time I was in school, cutting apricots in school holidays, through to university when I would return home during breaks and worked in packing sheds, I was always involved in horticulture.

My formal training is in business and teaching. I started my career teaching in rural communities before I ventured into agribusiness. I have worked across a variety of horticulture commodities including summerfruit, almonds, broader nut industries, apples and pears, cherries, and citrus.

Overall, I have taken great opportunities and used those as stepping-stones to where I am now rather than any planned journey.

What are you most proud of working in horticulture?
I am most proud of the work I have done with people. For me, people are at the heart of everything. You can have a fantastic initiative or the greatest investment idea and unless you bring people along with you, it never amounts to anything. Throughout my career, I have focused on bringing people together and developing them – supporting and positioning them so that they bring the most out of their skills and strengths and developing them in areas they may not have previously considered. A lot more can be achieved when people work together and when they find areas of common interest.

What opportunities at Hort Innovation excite you?
I see horticulture in Australia as a large tapestry, I think it is quite complex but exciting. At Hort Innovation, we have a unique role of being able to facilitate and encourage collaboration within the industry – so what really excites me are the opportunities to bring people together and facilitate collaboration on areas of common interest across the industry.

What advice would you give to young women seeking a career in horticulture?
The advice I have to offer would be the same across any industry or any individual. I think it is important for women to not feel defined by their gender. To me, it is about your skills and experience and not letting gender be the main criteria. Focus on making sure you have the strengths and skills so that you are the best person for the role irrespective of your gender. Be confident but kind, be measured in your input, and ask questions.

Another area of advice I would give is to be open to opportunities. There may be opportunities that do not appear perfect or exactly right, but every opportunity or experience helps to build skills. If you are challenging yourself and growing those skills, they do become transferrable as you move through to new opportunities that may be better suited to what you are after. Don’t be closed-minded in terms of the opportunities that present themselves because they may lead you on a path that you were not expecting but ends up being valuable.