Olam is committed to ensuring gender equality throughout our value chain – from our plantations and farms, to the processing units, offices and senior management. This includes wages, opportunity for promotion and training.
We currently have about 15,600 women in our direct supply chain and 47,000 men. To some extent this difference reflects the nature of our work and is fairly typical in our sector. At a management level, it also reflects the fact that many of our businesses started in the highly rural areas of emerging markets where the majority of applicants tended to be male. However, today there are many women beginning to grow into senior roles across Olam, rising further through the ranks on merit.
In 2015, we also welcomed our first female board member Marie Elaine Teo. As part of our 2016 International Women’s Day activities she wrote an inspiring account on “how real equality comes from each of us – men and women, having the freedom to make our own tracks knowing no boundaries apply”.
We are committed to ensuring equal remuneration for women and men.
Women in agricultural processing
According to the UN’s Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report, on average 43% of the agricultural labour force of developing countries are women. It notes that ‘new jobs in high-value, export-oriented agro-industries offer much better opportunities for women than traditional agricultural work’.
One of our most significant areas of contribution for female employment is the cashew sector. Here women excel at the delicate peeling process required by the cashew (read more about the process here). We therefore employ around 12,000 women across Africa and Asia. Of course, the more dextrous ability of the women drives our employment decision but our commitment to investing close to where the cashew is grown (where commercial factors allow), means that we have brought employment to women in areas where none previously existed. We also seek to empower those women by providing literacy classes and, where feasible, opportunities to develop into supervisors.
Read more about how cashew processing can empower women in this article that appeared on the Huffington Post for International Women’s Day 2015: Cashews, Co-ops and Constantine.
Not just jobs for the men!
But it’s not just processing where women from rural communities are able to find employment. Our Zambian coffee subsidiary Northern Coffee Corporation Limited (NCCL) is championing workplace diversity by introducing a training programme for women tractor drivers in the coffee estates. Based in Kasama, Northern Zambia, this programme is aiming to promote economic development and create role models whilst also tracking the progress towards women empowerment and gender equality.
The training programme lasts 2 weeks, with its main focus being on how to train these women to operate the heavy duty tractors safely. With practical instructions being a key component of the training, the women learn to handle and understand the maintenance aspects of the machines.
The coffee estates now have 5 fully trained women drivers (and another 10 expected in 2016), with Paul Bebbington, General Manager at NCCL saying, “When we hired the first female tractor driver on the farm, there were a few raised eyebrows from men working at the estate… By launching the tractor driver training programme, we created an opportunity for women to become role models and become an inspiration to their peers.”
This new initiative set up by the NCCL management has taken steps to create diversity on the estates, which also has a positive business and social impact. More and more rural women are becoming leaders and changing agents of economic growth by seeking jobs to increase their income and promote an environment for social change.
Next section: Career development