Promoting the Role of Women in the Olive Sector

Jill Myers founded the Women in Olive Oil network to connect women across the sector while promoting their voices and highlighting their contributions.
Jill Myers founded Women in Olive Oil from her Virginia home in 2020.
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Jan. 3, 2024 16:25 UTC

Jill Myers is on a mis­sion to pro­mote the role of women in olive grow­ing and olive oil pro­duc­tion.

My jour­ney with extra vir­gin olive oil began in Italy in 2014, spark­ing a pas­sion that led to my becom­ing a som­me­lier through the Olive Oil Times Education Lab and the International Culinary Center,” Myers said. This expe­ri­ence con­nected me with global extra vir­gin olive oil experts.”

Women tend to hold on to the cul­ture and her­itage and teach chil­dren the recipes and secrets, which then are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. They are essen­tially the cus­to­di­ans of agro-wis­dom.- Jill Myers, founder, Women in Olive Oil

Thereafter, she imported extra vir­gin olive oil from female-led pro­duc­ers, judged inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions and became a respected field expert, focus­ing on sup­port­ing women in the indus­try.

When the Covid-19 pan­demic shut down daily life in her home­town of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2020, Myers used her spare time to think of how bet­ter to con­nect with the many women she had met across the olive oil world.

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This was a time when we were all stuck at home, and I built this plat­form [Women in Olive Oil] to pro­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tion for women in the sec­tor, to work with each other and sup­port each other,” she said.

The Women in Olive Oil [WiOO] plat­form has helped to rein­force a larger net­work of women in the sec­tor, bring­ing together sim­i­lar plat­forms, includ­ing the Arab Olive Oil Women’s Network, Pandolea, Donne dell’Olio and Women and Olives LATAM.

The net­work now brings together around 3,000 women from 50 coun­tries that rep­re­sent a wide range of pro­fes­sions within the olive oil indus­try, from farm­ers, mill man­agers, researchers and chemists to retail­ers, importers, exporters, dis­trib­u­tors, mar­keters, soap mak­ers, artists, authors and chefs,” Myers said.

One of the goals of the net­work is to pro­mote female-owned brands and com­pa­nies in a sec­tor that men had tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated.

While olive oil sec­tor-spe­cific data are hard to come by, women rep­re­sent about 43 per­cent of the global agri­cul­tural work­force.

For exam­ple, one of the women in our net­work, a retailer, inten­tion­ally buys and sells women-made olive oils only,” she added. And more retail­ers are sourc­ing female-owned olive oils. It’s also a great net­work for mar­ket­ing female-owned brands.”

Although the olive oil sec­tor is still largely male-dom­i­nated, experts believe the work of female olive farm­ers is not always accounted for in offi­cial sta­tis­tics.

According to Myers, women are instru­men­tal in pass­ing down the knowl­edge of the olive oil-mak­ing process to the next gen­er­a­tion.

Women tend to hold on to the cul­ture and her­itage and teach chil­dren the recipes and secrets, which then are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion,” she said. They are essen­tially the cus­to­di­ans of agro-wis­dom.”

Myers has seen how women in France, Jordan, Portugal and Turkey pre­serve tra­di­tional olive farm­ing and oil pro­duc­tion tech­niques.

Mothers teach their daugh­ters to hand-pick olives,” she said. While in Jordan, the Arab Olive Oil Women’s Network led school work­shops on sus­tain­able olive cul­ti­va­tion.”

Emmanuel Dechelette pre­sides over an olive oil com­pe­ti­tion, Olio Nuovo Days, judged by chil­dren,” Myers added. She teaches them to dis­cern high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, instill­ing an appre­ci­a­tion for this craft. These moments show wom­en’s cru­cial role in nur­tur­ing the next gen­er­a­tion’s respect for olive oil tra­di­tion.”


In her efforts to pro­mote the role of women in the olive oil sec­tor, Myers has been work­ing with the International Olive Council.

In 2022, she met exec­u­tive direc­tor Abdellatif Ghedira to dis­cuss oppor­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Moving for­ward, enti­ties like the IOC could col­lab­o­rate with var­i­ous indus­try groups to pro­vide edu­ca­tional work­shops and sem­i­nars on pol­icy and wom­en’s roles in the olive oil indus­try,” Myers said.

Women in the sec­tor could estab­lish men­tor­ship pro­grams in part­ner­ship with pro­fes­sional net­works, wom­en’s busi­ness orga­ni­za­tions and agri­cul­tural groups, align­ing with the IOC’s ini­tia­tives for indus­try devel­op­ment,” she added.

In November, the role of women in the olive oil sec­tor took cen­ter stage at the IOC’s World Olive Day cel­e­bra­tion.

Myers said World Olive Day served as an oppor­tu­nity for the wider net­work of asso­ci­a­tions to dis­cuss these poli­cies while under­lin­ing the impor­tance of women in the sec­tor.

Women have always been deeply involved in man­ag­ing the olive oil value chain,” Imene Trabelsi Trigui, the head of the IOC’s pro­mo­tion depart­ment, told Olive Oil Times in a November 2023 inter­view. Thanks to their knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence, they play a cru­cial role in devel­op­ing this impor­tant field and sig­nif­i­cantly impact cur­rent and future gen­er­a­tions.”

Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, Myers plans to orga­nize more net­work­ing events, work­ing with var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate con­nec­tions for women with indus­try lead­ers.

Conducting aware­ness cam­paigns on the role of women in pol­icy-mak­ing, part­ner­ing with non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and advo­cacy groups, lever­ag­ing the IOC’s global plat­form for broader impact is also impor­tant,” she said.

We should also con­sider imple­ment­ing lead­er­ship pro­grams for women, involv­ing aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions, and tap­ping into other orga­ni­za­tions with aligned inter­ests and other indus­try experts,” Myers added.

Part of this will require work­ing within higher edu­ca­tion and research insti­tutes to study the role of women in the sec­tor and guide pro­mo­tional poli­cies with data.

Finally, we could look to offer­ing schol­ar­ships and grants for women in part­ner­ship with edu­ca­tional foun­da­tions and phil­an­thropic orga­ni­za­tions,” she said. “[We could also] high­light suc­cess sto­ries, col­lab­o­rat­ing with media net­works and lever­ag­ing part­ner­ships like those with the IOC for wider vis­i­bil­ity.”

With WiOO set to turn four later this year, Myers hopes the orga­ni­za­tion and its many local coun­ter­parts will con­tinue to gain sup­port and amplify wom­en’s voices.

I hope for more sup­port. For instance, hav­ing more women voiced in pol­i­cy­mak­ing,” Myers con­cluded. It is impor­tant to rec­og­nize the poten­tial of women. So far, the col­lab­o­ra­tion and knowl­edge shar­ing in our net­work has cre­ated pos­i­tive spillover effects into other indus­tries, includ­ing health and beauty.”


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