Breaking Barriers: Female Leadership Shaping Australia’s $45 Billion Agri-Finance Industry

July 18, 2023

Agricultural Finance, the study and analysis of the financial aspects of Australia’s farming businesses is a key sector of Australia’s economy and is valued at billions of dollars, and with agricultural production in Australia increasing, agri-finance is predicted to grow alongside it. For decades, this industry has been largely considered a male dominated industry, however, as more women break the barriers of this industry and rise to leadership roles traditionally dominated by men, this long held perception begins to shift. As women begin to bring their unique expertise, perspective and ideas to the table, this previously male-dominated industry is beginning to reshape into a more inclusive and diverse industry.

SheSociety spoke to trailblazer Sophia Benedetti, Co-Founder and Chief Financial & Risk Officer of Legacy Livestock about her experience in this male dominated industry and her advice for driving transformation within the sector. Sophia moved to Australia from South Africa 18 years ago and spent many years of continuous dedication to her role to work towards her current position on the executive team at Legacy Livestock. Below she discusses her experience, the industry shift, and her advice for women within the industry, or those who may be considering it.

1. Why did you choose to pursue a career in agri-finance? Can you tell us a little about your journey?

I made the move from South Africa to Australia in 2005 and spent over a decade working for Wesfarmers. Having spent the previous five years in Queensland, I can say I feel at home. 

During this time, I have primarily focused on the cattle industry, starting with NAPCo and more recently transitioning into livestock finance. The experience has been immensely rewarding, and I am grateful to be a part of this incredible community. 

I have had the opportunity to work in various sectors throughout my career, but I have found a true sense of belonging in agriculture. The people in this industry are simply remarkable, and their unwavering passion for the land and strong sense of purpose are truly inspiring

2. What is the most rewarding aspect of your role at Legacy Livestock?

Our main focus at Legacy Livestock is creating tailored financial solutions for our clients. We take pride in working with a team of great individuals who bring their expertise and dedication to the table. Together, we aim to build strong relationships with our investors, funders, and clients, ensuring that we deliver exceptional results. 

One of the most exciting aspects of our work is the challenge of starting something from scratch. We thrive on the opportunity to build and innovate, constantly pushing boundaries and creating new possibilities. It is this combination of client-centric solutions, a remarkable team, relationship-building, and the thrill of building from the ground up that makes our work truly rewarding.

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry, and how did you overcome them?

Throughout my career I have come to appreciate the strong intuition that women possess. It took some time for me to fully trust and develop my own approach to business, but I have learned valuable lessons along the way. 

I have had the privilege of encountering talented and determined women who have served as crucial role models in my journey too, and their guidance has been invaluable to my personal and professional growth. 

At the same time, I have also had the opportunity to learn from remarkable men who have provided me with their support and mentoring throughout my career. I am grateful for the diverse perspectives and guidance I have received from both women and men, which have contributed to my overall development.

4. How have you seen the role and opportunities for women develop in this sector? What are some of the opportunities you see in the future for women in the agri-finance industry?

I have observed a strong representation of women in the agricultural sector, which is inspiring and encouraging. It is humbling to witness the success and effectiveness of many family teams who effectively manage multi-million-dollar businesses in a highly commercial and efficient manner.

Personally, I firmly believe in the philosophy of “if you can see it, you can be it.” Having visible examples of women achieving diverse accomplishments in our sector can be incredibly powerful. These examples serve as inspiration and provide others with a reference point to consider pursuing their own aspirations. By showcasing the achievements of women in agriculture, we can empower and motivate others to explore the numerous possibilities available to them.

5. What unique skills do you think women bring to the agri-finance sector?

Beyond intuition, I think it’s the ability to build strong relationships, being highly organised, and detail-oriented are essential qualities in any field. Understanding who excels in which areas and by effectively utilising their talents, teams can achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. These qualities, combined with intuition, create a well-rounded skill set that can contribute to personal and professional growth.

6. What advice would you give to women who aspire to be in leadership roles in the agri-finance field?

Achieving excellence in your chosen field requires dedication and a commitment to self-improvement. To achieve excellence in your chosen field, it is crucial to invest in yourself. Once you have mastered your area of expertise, it opens new possibilities for what you can accomplish next. 

However, in my experience, it is important to remember that success does not come without hard work. Putting in the effort and staying determined are key factors in reaping the rewards of your labour. 

7. How do you balance work and personal life, and how have you maintained that balance?

In my opinion, achieving perfect balance in life can be elusive. Instead, I believe in fully immersing myself in the task at hand, whether it’s work or motherhood. When I dedicate myself to work, I give it my complete focus and effort. Similarly, when I am fulfilling my role as a mother, I prioritise being a mother above all else. During vacations, I also make a conscious effort to disconnect and fully enjoy my time off. 

However, sometimes, I do have to multitask and, in those situations, I make sure to be as transparent as possible with my team so they can have full visibility. Likewise, there are times when my family needs to understand that I am in work mode, even when I am meant to be in family mode. One of my top tips for maintaining balance is outsourcing tasks you don’t have time to do yourself, if you can afford to.

8. How can we encourage more young girls, as well as women generally, to enter and succeed in the agri-finance sector?

A wonderful way to empower and inspire young women in our sector is by creating opportunities for them to connect with experienced women and listen to their stories. There is something special about sharing stories over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

9. Why do you think it is important to drive innovation to the agriculture sector?

In our sector, we have established effective ways of doing things. There are always exciting new developments emerging that have the potential to enhance our current approaches. By maintaining an open mind and embracing innovation, we can explore fresh ways of doing things that we may not have previously considered. 

This willingness to try new approaches can lead to new possibilities and improved outcomes. Being receptive to change and actively seeking out innovative ideas can drive progress and ensure that we stay at the forefront of our field.

As women such as Sophia continue to break free from the norms and stereotypes of this industry more women join, bringing fresh ideas and a more collaborative work culture to the agri-finance industry. The future of agricultural finance is bright as these inspirational women continue to to achieve inclusivity, innovation and success.

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