CELEBRATING the role of women in delivering one of Scotland’s most valuable exports, the Women in Scottish Aquaculture (WiSA) network marked its third anniversary with a celebratory event in Edinburgh today.
Around 50 members of WiSA, representing all areas of the sector from producers and the supply chain to academia, were joined by Mairi Gougeon, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands to mark the anniversary with a series of talks and informal networking.
In three years, the network – which was founded by the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) – has grown to over 300 members and continues to champion the diverse range of career opportunities for women in aquaculture. Since launching, WiSA has hosted and delivered a number of coaching, training and confidence-boosting programmes, as well as regular virtual networking meetings focused on specific challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through its successful mentoring scheme, the group has connected around 40 early-stage professionals and experienced aquaculture leaders, with one pairing even resulting in the formation of a new start-up company. For two years running, WiSA has also hosted a Scottish Government-funded returners’ training programme for women looking to get back into the world of work after a career break.
A dedicated virtual forum was launched in October last year, funded by Marine Scotland, providing a space for WiSA members to connect with and support one another, access events and share career opportunities.
Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said: “Since 2019, Women in Scottish Aquaculture has proved to be an invaluable organisation that showcases the many career opportunities for women in a sector which plays a key role in our economy.
“I’m delighted to have met with members of the organisation and discuss their experiences in an industry which is already providing a host of opportunities for women including high value and science-based jobs, particularly in rural and remote communities.
“The peer-to-peer support of the network is outstanding and encourages more young women with science, technology, engineering and maths-related degrees to take up careers in aquaculture.
“I was particularly interested to hear about the range of programmes on offer, including the success of the mentoring scheme for early career stage professionals.
“I am proud the support provided by the Scottish Government to the network has helped make a real difference in attracting and retaining the skills of talented women in the aquaculture sector.”
Speakers at the International Women’s Day anniversary event included Ellie Burch from Dawnfresh, Emma Matheson from BioMar and Debra Nichol-Storie from the Scottish Salmon Company. WiSA chair, Teresa Garzon, outlined the vision for the next three years, including a focus on the barriers preventing women from entering the sector, a range of initiatives to encourage and support women already working in aquaculture, and further awareness-raising to expand the membership.
Mary Fraser, head of skills and talent at SAIC, updated attendees on the success of the recent women returners programme, and Lindsay Pollock, head of sustainability at Salmon Scotland, gave an update on the organisation’s Sustainability Charter for the sector.
Lindsay Pollock, Head of Sustainability for Salmon Scotland, said: “I was delighted to speak at this event to celebrate the third anniversary of the Women in Scottish Aquaculture network. This coming together of members from all areas of the sector was a fitting way to mark International Women’s Day.
“In my role at Salmon Scotland, and throughout my time working in aquaculture, I have sensed a shift away from women in the sector being deemed unusual. More and more employers are encouraging diversity and inclusiveness in their organisations and are finding ways to be more visible to try and attract a wider range of people.”
Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, added: “In the three years that it takes a salmon to transform from fertilised egg to adult fish, WiSA has gone from a nascent idea to a mature organisation, full of life, energy and impact. We now have a well-established peer-to-peer network for women, supporting one another in what is still, numerically at least, a male-dominated sector. Our focus remains to raise awareness of the benefits of diversity and equality in aquaculture.
“In many cases, cultures and attitudes are already changing and we have seen some great progress made through the likes of recruitment approaches, parental leave policies and gender pay gap reporting. However, there is always more that can be done and WiSA has an important role to play in making that happen.”