A View from the Top of the World: Interview with Salmon Group CEO- Women in Food and Agriculture
Back when Anne-Kristine Øen, CEO of Norway-based Salmon Group joined the industry, she recollects, there were not many women among management, particularly in the most senior roles. These days, however, it is a pleasure to notice that an increasing number of senior positions go to women.
Throughout a career including stints as Communication Manager at Odfjell, the Grieg Group, and Marine Harvest, as well as General Manager at Maritime Bergen, Anne-Kristine has had the chance to observe gender dynamics from both within and without the industry.
“Shipping has always been seen as very conservative and I think it is fair to say aquaculture has been fairly conservative as well, but fortunately this is changing.”
Speaking from a country considered to be a world leader in terms of gender equality, Anne-Kristine, recognizes that in Norway, no matter your gender, you can have a good work-life balance, something that isn’t possible everywhere in the world.
“One thing Norway can give back to women around the world is to show it is possible.”
By offering flexible work arrangements, generous parental leave and quality childcare, she says, Norwegian politics have created a situation where men and women in work have the same opportunities. Moreover, since 2004 the government has required listed companies to have a 40% female board. “Things like that make big differences and make things change rather fast. That is great. I am very fortunate to have had such good work life balance because I happened to be born in Norway.”
In fact, in some ways, Anne-Kristine says, the pendulum is now swinging in the other direction. It is becoming a worry in Norway that, as women increasingly gain better grades, more positions at top universities, and places in medical and law schools, future advancement for women may come at the expense of men whose horizons would be increasingly narrowed.
At the same time as government support for professional women has been instrumental to achieving important gains, she also acknowledges that changes in public opinion have been just as crucial.
“I don’t think the food and agriculture industry is unique in attitude and behaviour towards advancing women in industry; in this respect we just have to keep on going. It will happen and it is just a question of when.”
“In Norway, we do still have the equality discussion. Some women decide not to become top management as they want more time to themselves or time to look after their children. They want to decide what is the best life balance for them. And you know what, a lot of men refrain from top management positions too, so I think that hasn’t always got to do with gender, and we should be very careful not to put everything in the gender box.”
“We need a mix. Men and women often take different perspectives. Therefore, diversity makes for a good working environment.”
Anne-Kristine is particularly happy to be involved and work with the organization “Young Fish” for young people in the aquaculture industry. “The future depends not only on gender equality. It is just as much a question of generations. The next generations are going to think and feel quite differently.” Many of the companies the group works with are family-run, and many started out as land farms with perhaps a bit of fish farming on the side, then moved permanently away from traditional farming when the aqua farms became a significant source of revenue. Anne-Kristine says they are already seeing that the next generation come from a “different place” and have a different viewpoint on issues of diversity.
Moreover, she highlights, the next generation who have spread their wings and seized opportunities to travel, go to university, and work globally, will soon come back to take over. “I am sure they will make great changes. I think just as much as gender-based diversity, generational diversity is super important to address. It is really important to be a mentor to the young generation and give them what they need to make sure they can develop further.”
There are a number of people who have provided inspiration through her career. “My husband, Bjørn, for one, and my late former boss at the chemical tanker company, Haakon Ringdal, for another – a wonderful man and great inspiration. I’d also include my current colleagues as we have such a good working environment, with an open and reflective atmosphere, that we all feel very comfortable with and that really enables us to do a great job.”
Anne-Kristine sums up: “Women need to be aware there are opportunities everywhere!” The advice she gives is “Join the industry because it is so much fun. It is tangible, and we all need it. Everyone has an opinion about it that puts it high up on the agenda, in turn it gives you a lot of energy to carry on.”
Anne Kristine Øen is on the advisory board for the Women in Food and Agriculture initiative, which will culminate in a summit in Amsterdam on December 3rd and 4th.