When Joanna Williams was a young girl, her dad would always talk about how the pigs they raised were for the national supermarket Woolworths.
Even to this day, Jo isn’t sure whether her dad was telling the truth or if it was just his way of motivating her to work harder on their farm.
But it didn’t matter – it worked.
From a young age, Jo developed not only a solid work ethic but also a deep appreciation for the meat industry along with companies like Woolworths that support it.
Fast forward several years later, and the wheel has come full circle.
Jo is now the Head of Trade and Channel Supply at Greenstock, a red meat supply chain business under Woolworths Group. She’s also a director on the Western Australian Meat Industry Authority and a member of the Animal Welfare Committee of Western Australia – both of which were appointed by a state minister.
This makes her one of the small but growing numbers of women in executive roles in the notoriously male-dominated meat industry.
And now, she’s blazing the trail for other women in agriculture.
Looking back on her career so far, Jo shared with us some of her top tips for women in agribusiness. Here’s what she hopes other women can learn from her story.
1. Go for it
It’s surprising to learn that Jo wasn’t always as passionate about agribusiness as she is today.
“In high-school, I promised myself I’d never do anything with agribusiness. When I left boarding school, I moved to the city with no desire to be doing what I’m doing today.”
After studying teaching in university and finding out early on that it wasn’t for her, she remembered her roots and gave agriculture a go.
“When I found my place as a sales coordinator in the first agribusiness I worked for, I realized it was something I truly loved being a part of.”
Another career turning point involved one of her mentors asked her whether she knew anyone who would be interested in a Site Operations role for Woolworths Group. She grabbed the opportunity and went for it, telling him that she was interested. Jo eventually got the role and became one of the first women to become a Site Operations Manager in the company.
2. Lean on your experiences
Jo’s farm roots helped her tremendously once she entered the industry, giving her an intuitive understanding of the industry’s inner workings.
“My early roles allowed me to lean on my country roots through their supply chain network with growers, producers, and even freight companies. This gave me the ability to understand end-to-end supply chain management and customer service.”
She advises that if you have a similar farming background, make the most of it in your role.
But even if you don’t have the same country upbringing that Jo had, there’s plenty of room to grow and advance.
Jo also recommends tapping into whatever life experiences you’ve had and applying the lessons you’ve learned to your work. She did the same thing when she first started in the industry.
“I loved being able to speak to the farming communities that I grew up playing footy, basketball, and even singing in. All those things cultivated my understanding of the importance of network, connections, and community.”
3. Work with a company that aligns with your goals
Succeeding to the executive level as a woman in a male-dominated industry requires working with a company that’s invested not only in your growth but also in the industry’s.
And Jo has found that with the Woolworths Group.
Jo’s promotion to her current role was part of a growth recruitment project for the Greenstock business. New roles of varying seniority were created, 36% of which were taken up by women. An incredible feat when you consider the industry standard is only a 26% recruitment rate of women.
And it’s not just improving the gender ratio that Woolworths Group is working on – it’s also investing in the future of the industry.
“I have seen a huge shift in the agriculture industry over the past three to five years, and I feel that Woolworths Group and Greenstock have led a positive change in this space.”
“There is a real shift happening in agriculture. And when I look at my own journey, I’m proud of where I’ve gotten to and the opportunities that Greenstock will continue to provide me.”
4. Understand the big picture
The meat industry is an enormous and complex industry, with many parts working together to bring products from farmers to customers.
More importantly, each part plays a significant role in a product’s journey.
Jo understands this clearly, knowing just how vital her department is in ensuring the entire system works flawlessly.
“I always look at the supply function as the engine room. If the cogs aren’t in sync, the engine will falter. And if we can’t get supply correctly, the customer and business reputation will be at risk.”
No matter which part of an agribusiness you’re in, always keep in mind how it connects to the other parts of the system and the role it plays in the industry.
5. Be comfortable with unpredictability
As anyone in agriculture will tell you, the industry is unpredictable.
Whether it’s due to economic or environmental factors, one day can be completely different from the next.
For Jo, this unpredictability is what keeps her on her toes and drives her to excel every day.
“The most challenging part of my role is also the part I love the most: the ever-changing shift in market conditions and unknowns. It makes for an incredibly exciting and dynamic role.”
To succeed in agriculture, you need to be flexible and have the ability to respond quickly when things don’t go as planned. Because as Jo reminds us, that will often be the case.
6. Build a solid support system
One of the biggest lessons Jo has learned – and the one lesson she hopes others will remember – is to have the right people on your side.
A solid support system is invaluable in any industry, but especially so for women in agriculture. Maybe even more so, when you’re a mother to three children and commuting from WA to the East Coast as part of your role.
“It can be tricky at times. But I have learnt that the people you surround yourself with will be a major factor in your ability to maintain balance and succeed.”
Jo has had the great fortune of having people who have guided her and pushed her to go further along every stage of her career. Whether it was a mentor who helped her find her feet when she first started, or the colleagues she works closely with now during the company’s transformational period, Jo has people she can always count on.
Her parting advice: “Surround yourself with people that challenge you the right way and encourage you to grow.”