A city girl gone country, Tracey Polson’s thirst for learning has taken her from administration in accounting to forging a successful career in the dairy industry. Not afraid of getting her hands dirty, Tracey started out as a 50/50 share-milker alongside her husband, before becoming an LIC Artificial Breeding Technician, an Agri Manager and then a Territory Manager – all underpinned by a passion for the dairy industry that she never knew she had. Now based in Taranaki, this lifelong learner absorbs everything she can, not just from her environment, but through watching, reading and constantly immersing herself in further education. Embodying the ethos “if you are not learning, you are not living”, she’s heavily involved in Agri-Women’s Development Programmes and is a strong advocate for promoting women into management and governance.
When asked what concerned Tracey about the health, safety and wellbeing of those in rural industries and communities, she mentioned the inability to deal with stress when the tank is empty. Reflecting on her own experiences, she describes the temptation to ‘just suck it up and deal with it’ – however upon seeking help from a professional, she allowed herself to take a step back, put things into perspective and adopt strategies to navigate the intensities in life. Counting her blessings to work for a company that prioritises health, safety and wellbeing, Tracey knows just how important it is to weave those discussions into regular meetings – not only for staff, but for business performance and staff retention. A staunch advocate for crystallising health, safety and wellbeing at the forefront of the minds of leaders, Tracey also reinforces just how critical it is to and get employee buy-in by making them an integral part of the decision making process.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Loyal, honest and trustworthy.
Tell us something interesting about yourself...
I am a city girl, born and bred. After meeting my husband and going on our two year overseas excursion, we came back to New Zealand where we entered the dairy industry. My background up until then was administration in an accountant’s office and playing netball to a high level. My husband and I went into a 50/50 share-milking arrangement in the Taranaki region and then spent 13 years in South Canterbury. I became very passionate about the dairy industry as I wanted to be involved in our business and help it become successful, so I had to learn very quickly about dairy farming and what it involved. I am not scared to get my hands dirty, so I trained as an Artificial Breeding Technician with LIC and watched and read everything I could on dairy farming. I found I was very passionate about the industry. Through this passion and the skills I had obtained over the years, I became an Agriculture Manager for LIC which led into my current role as Territory Manager. I have kept myself educated over the years through the Agri-Women’s Development Programme, doing accountancy papers, leadership courses, emotional intelligence workshops and many more. I am a people person, and I am strong on women being involved in management and governance and making sure myself and my team have a good work/life balance so we are successful in both our personal and professional lives.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am most proud of becoming the LIC Territory Manager for the lower North Island. Through passion, commitment, courage and totally stepping outside of my comfort zone, I got to this position sooner than I had thought. Leadership puts you in so many positive and negative situations where it tests your character, your beliefs and develops your personal brand. I am a firm believer if you are not learning, you are not living. There is plenty of learning in leadership.
What makes you truly happy?
Family, friends, exercise and making a difference in someone’s life – no matter how big or small.
What do you love the most about being a rural woman?
Rural women are so lucky to have so many fantastic organisations and development programmes available to them to help them on their journey, whatever that may be.
Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing.
A restructure within my organisation saw some challenging times for the team, our farmers and myself. I was fortunate to keep my job as one of the leaders who was required to implement and manage the team through change. Many did not feel the company had made the right decision and felt the need to express their strong and verbal thoughts to myself and the team. The constant negativity wore members of the team down. We must remember that everyone is human, we all have feelings and generally try and do our best for all. You also never know what is going on in someone’s personal life and wider circle, such as sick family members, the death of a friend, day-to-day work commitments and financial pressures.
What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?
When we are at a low, the best thing is to talk about it and remember the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Sometimes you need to talk to people (professionals) totally outside of your immediate environment to get clarity and a clear perspective. I am a strong person and thought I just had to suck it all up and deal with it. When I did go and talk to someone, they wrote all the things on a white board that were going on in my life which really put things into perspective for me. They gave me strategies to work through the many things that were going on in my life at that time, prioritise and declutter my mind. When you have so much going on in your life and one issue is rolling into the next, you can’t see the wood for the trees. Honestly, after one session I felt 100 times better. As kiwis we think we have to suck it up and move on. It is ok not to be ok, just don’t stay in the ‘not ok’ for too long without talking to someone.
Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner or those you work or spend time with are more willing to make changes to the way the work is done, or are more open to making safer, healthier choices?
Our company is strong at keeping health, safety and wellbeing at the front of mind for our leaders and the wider business. Health, safety and wellbeing is part of our regular meetings. We have agenda items to discuss how we can work better, safer and more efficiently. I am a strong advocate in this area, it is hugely important for staff retention.
If you could give any advice to another rural woman about health, safety and/or wellbeing in rural industries and communities, about influencing change in business - or just in general - what would it be?
Keep talking about health, safety and wellbeing. If you are running any company – no matter how big or small – this has to be at the forefront of our minds. Get your team members (work, sport or community) involved in the decision-making around health, safety and wellbeing and allow them to share their ideas on how it could work in their environment. You need to get the team’s buy in, and that way it doesn’t come across as the ‘Big Brother’ tactic.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Make sure you have a ‘why’ and goals. This helps with giving you purpose, clarity and direction.
My why is summed up in the acronym PEOPLE:
P – Passionate person
E – Encouraging
P – Performance
L – Leading
E – Effectively