How far have women come in Chile's fruit industry?

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How far have women come in Chile's fruit industry?

Two Q&As with Chilean fruit industry leaders show women seldom have much decision-making power, and traditional views on male and female roles persist. 

As part of International Women's Day, caught up with two leading women from Chile's fruit industry to discuss their experiences in a male-dominated sector: Carolina Dosal, head of apple grower Frutícola Dosa and leader of Fruséptima, a producer group representing the sector from the country's VII (Maule) region; and María Inés Figari, president of the Northern Agriculture Society (SAN) and director of grower group Fedefruta.

Note: These interviews were conducted in the Chilean cultural context which is very different to the situation in North America or Europe. Some readers might be very surprised at the responses. 

Carolina Dosal: "You see very few women in managerial roles"



How would you evaluate the situation for women in Chile's fruit industry today? 

I don't like the issue of 'women' very much, only because when you're asked about it that's already making differences. There are very few women in the fruit industry and I couldn't tell you why, or if the sector is more sexist than others. In particular, I don't feel like I've had greater problems because I'm a woman. For me it's not an issue and I'm not bothered. But I see fewer women, above all in managerial roles.

There are several women in the technical, agronomy and commercial areas, but on the boards there are few and you see that at the SNA (National Agriculture Society) there is not even one woman, nor in Asoex (Chilean Association of Fruit Exporters), except for Fruséptima which is where I am. In general they don't invite you to participate and I think there is sexism on the part of the leaders - it doesn't occur to them to invite a woman.

Why do you think this situation exists?

I think it's because of our history and it's always been like that. Here I think women have gained space and I don't think they suffer from discrimination for being women, but there just simply aren't many.

For me, in meetings I'm usually the only woman and at the start it was uncomfortable, but I got used to it.

Has anything changed in your 12 years in the sector?

I don't think so. I continue to see that there are very few women at the managerial level, because you see them in technical departments, in quality control or in the universities. In managerial roles no, and you rarely meet with women. At the start it bothered me because I felt uncomfortable with the men - they speak in a more masculine language, but then they see there is a woman and they become self-conscious. It's uncomfortable that they can't be themselves, but that is a problem I don't have anymore and when they know you the meetings are normal. One makes space and works in the same way as a man.

What do you think is the main contribution of women from the angle of the fruit industry?

The vision of women is more comprehensive. We consider many things and we have a global vision. We are more about consensus, and less about conflict than men are, and that contributes to any meeting.

Do you feel okay with being the only woman in a managerial role in your association?

I don't have a problem, but I'd love it if there were more. For example, it'd be better when traveling to fairs. Men don't have that because when they go they find so many colleagues but no women. At the Chilean pavilion it's 97% men, for example.

María Inés Figari: 'As women we are behind the men'

Maria Ines Figari

Maria Ines Figari

How has your experience been as a woman in Chile's fruit industry? Have you seen the same opportunities for women?

In truth, opportunities in the field have logically been measured in the sense of the strength that as women we don't have at times. Physical labor logically has separated us into different roles - it's not easy for a woman to lift heavy weights. But today we have had training and we have seen that women have tremendous potential in many agricultural activities - for example driving tractors, pruning, and so on - so you can see the opportunities are being given for those who are stronger, but today we are seeing that we're able to do jobs that were never for women before.

And how would you evaluate the experience at a business level?

In terms of business I think that as women we are a bit behind the men, in a good way, considering that in agricultural activities the boss is the owner of the property. There are very few women who are owners, and when they are they perform perfectly well in their jobs. So I believe that it has been through tradition that the husband works and the wife accompanies him, but every day I think we are seeing more association in marriages that part of a business can be overseen by the man and the other part by the woman. I think a woman's closeness with the people is very important, and I emphasize that. I always say that the fields need more heart than money.

In your personal experience, has it been complicated to become a part of the industry or a part of the workforce? 

Not at all. I'd highlight this and I appreciate it, that in truth all my co-workers have been very kind and respectful, and have given me all the opportunities that I have today.

In terms of other companies, what do you think about the latent sexism that exists in some sectors?

Well, I think sexism is retreating every day because it hasn't achieved much - finally, success has not gone hand in hand with sexism, and I think as women we are showing that we don't want to compete with men, and this is very important; it's on the contrary, we want to be part of development so why not think about supporting the same cause?

What do you think is the solution for ending sexism in the workplace?

I think as women we need to be bolder and not be so fearful, because in general I speak with people and they ask me how I've been able to do what I'm doing, and really it's nothing extraordinary that they can't do. You have to have a go, the vision has to be clear about where you want to go in life, what are the most important points, and with that you can work, train and always arrive at a good destination.

And what is your message to women who haven't tried to take on jobs that have traditionally gone to men?

You've got to shake life up - that's the advice I'd give. Never feel shy, never place the blame on others, or think 'they won't hire me because I'm a woman'. My call is for them to be daring, and logically measure what is important - there are moments in life when logically the most important thing is family and children. But when the children are a bit older, they're in school and you have more time, you have to decide and see what you're capable of doing.



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