Sue Middleton: Entrepreneur, disruptor and climate change advocate

08.09.20

Sue Middleton was named the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award National Winner in 2010. Sue’s story  will be featured in the upcoming AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award “Celebrating 21 years” book, and is about the importance of creating change and making your voice heard.

My name is Sue Middleton and I was the National Rural Women’s Award National Winner in 2010 and State Winner for WA. Winning this award had a profound impact but it’s not something I fully understood at the time.

At the time I wanted to highlight the importance of agriculture tackling greenhouse gas emissions and my project was based upon that challenge – to commercialise biogas technology in the pork industry.

But I quickly learnt after winning the national award that the winner becomes the spokesperson for much broader issues.  How I tackled it was to use the myriad of presentations and media events as opportunities to meet other women across rural and regional Australia and listen to their stories.  I tried to make my voice “resonant” with their voices.  It was my way of sharing the platform the Award gives you, and it also helped me build amazing networks across the country, many of whom are key parts of the Rural Women’s network to this day.

The RWA is the greatest national and state platform I know for rural women.  It shines a light on women making change happen in their communities, their industries and the regions.  I did not understand before the award that women aren’t visible.  Making women visible is what the Award does. For me, it’s not about building women’s leadership capacity, as the applicants are already enormously capable leaders. It’s about platforming and elevating the importance of what women are doing.

That is incredibly important for women as we know women look ahead of where they are to decide what is possible.  This is encapsulated in the comment, “you can’t be what you cannot see”.  Demonstration is incredibly important.  The Award not only builds networks and connects women and helps them to build their profile, it helps younger women to see the pathway to achieving their aspirations.  I think that is incredibly important and it’s why I keep contributing to our state-based RRR network.

My father, Ivan Middleton OAM, was a local mayor and he taught me that to lead you need to be respected, not liked.  That has helped me to be more comfortable in disruptor roles because I know that attracts negative feedback, so I expect it.  The Award attracts the outliers, the disruptors and the change agents from each industry.  And it helps women to become more comfortable in those roles.

Agriculture and regional Australia need disruptors.  We are inherently conservative and don’t jump at change.  That is both our strength and our weakness.  Climate change is a great example of that.  My project was specifically about designing a market response to greenhouse gas mitigation.  It’s extraordinary to think the pork industry has now reduced its emissions by almost 70% but we’re still having debates about climate change and its causes.

The best advice I’ve ever received comes from my friend and mentor, Cathy McGowan AO: “Value yourself, and speak to the listening”.

It has made me a much more powerful advocate for rural and regional Australia as it taught me to establish the value of everything I was advocating for and to communicate it in the listeners of the world.