SAIC chief executive Heather Jones, left, and Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon. Photo: Chris Watt / SAIC.

WiSA has progressed in salmon leaps and bounds

Members of Women in Scottish Aquaculture (WiSA) celebrated the third anniversary of the network today, which is International Women’s Day.

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Around 50 members of WiSA, representing all areas of the sector from producers and the supply chain to academia, were joined by Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, to mark the anniversary with a series of talks and informal networking in Edinburgh.

WiSA, which was founded by the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), now has more than 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.

Mentoring scheme

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.

Outstanding support

Gougeon said WiSA had proven to be an invaluable organisation that showcases the many career opportunities for women in a sector which plays a key role in the 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,” said the minister.

“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.”

Speakers at the 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.

Lindsay Pollock: Employers are trying to attract a wider range of people. Photo: Salmon Scotland.

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 industry organisation Salmon Scotland, gave an update on the organisation’s Sustainability Charter for the sector.

“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,” said Pollock, who previously spent 13 years in the aquafeed industry and holds a PhD in aquaculture.

“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.”

Great progress

SAIC chief executive Heather Jones said: “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.”