Recruitment: Addressing the gender imbalance challenge in ag

Grain Central, June 1, 2018

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Ag minister David Littleproud and NFF president Fiona Simson, with program mentees from left, Skye Douglass, Mary Retallack, Sally Martin, Amy Cosby, Brigid Price, Deanna Lush and Lucinda Hawkins (absent Penny Schulz)


AN industry gathering at Parliament House in Canberra yesterday focused attention on the gender imbalance in agriculture, and remedial action being taken to correct it.

“Women have been the backbone of farming since agriculture began in our nation,” National Farmers Federation’s inaugural female president Fiona Simson said during yesterday’s Parliament House lunch.

“However the fact remains, female representation on-farm is not matched in the senior ranks and around the board tables of our farm representative organisations and agribusinesses. And our industry is poorer for it,” she said.

“When I take a look around the organisations advocating on behalf of farmers and agribusinesses servicing our industry, there is a distinct lack of female representation. I believe this is out of step with actual farm businesses, the vast majority of which are family owned and where women absolutely play an equal role.”

According to ABARES Data from 2011, there are around 70,000 women working in agriculture in Australia.

Ms Simson told yesterday’s gathering NFF was moved to establish the program, in recognition of the stark inequality that exists in the representation of men and women within agriculture leadership.

She said currently, only 2.3 percent of chief executive officers in Australian agribusinesses were female, compared with an average of 17pc across other industries. In leadership roles, only 13pc of representatives are women, compared with an average of 28pc in non-ag related industries.

“NFF and our partners are seeking to make progress towards changing this.”

As part of the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program led by NFF, eleven leading government, corporate and farm representative bodies yesterday pledged to enact change that will see more women in leadership roles within their organisations. The group included the nation’s two largest beef producers, Australian Agricultural Co and Consolidated Pastoral Co.

Ms Simson described yesterday’s event as a ‘watershed moment’ for agriculture.

“It is an extremely powerful message delivered by these leading bodies within our industry,” she said.

“Government, agribusiness and farm representation bodies have made it clear: no longer are positions of influence and leadership in agriculture only the domain of men.”

Other organisations to pledge to the program include the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, AgriFutures, Cotton Australia, NSW Farmers, Monsanto, NFF, Rural Bank, Rimfire Resources and Syngenta.

The practical steps the 11 organisations have committed to take range from the setting of gender targets; the development of ‘gender equality and inclusion’ policies; and providing more flexible working conditions for men and women.

As part of their involvement in the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program, partners have committed to continually measure their progress towards increased gender diversity.

Ms Simson said what amounted to ‘meaningful change’ would vary for each organisation which had made a commitment. “It may include setting a target for the ratio of female staff and/or board members, developing a diversity policy within their own organisations, providing focussed personal development opportunities for junior female staff and/or facilitating more flexible work arrangements for all employees,” she said.

Mentoring opportunity

Another important part of the Diversity of Agriculture Leadership Program is a one-on-one mentoring opportunity for eight aspiring female leaders. More than 120 women applied to be a part of the program. The eight successful applicants took part in an introductory workshop, where they met with their mentors and discussed their leaderships goals, before attending yesterday’s Parliament House lunch.

The 2018 Diversity in Agriculture Leadership aspiring female leaders are:

  • Amy Cosby – Willow Grove, Victoria
  • ​Brigid Price – Injune, Queensland
  • Deanna Lush – Palmer, South Australia
  • Lucinda Hawkins – Dubbo, New South Wales
  • Mary Retallack – Crafers West, South Australia
  • Penny Schulz – Field, South Australia
  • Sally Martin – Young, New South Wales
  • Skye Douglass – Neumgna, Queensland

Under the program, the eight participants have been matched with accomplished mentors – both male and female.

Mentorees will set out their leadership goals, and work with mentors on how to achieve their aspirations. Importantly, the program will establish an alumni of female leaders with skills relating to agriculture and business and who have an interest in, and passion for the sector.

“I was blown away by the diversity of the qualifications and experiences of applicants and their approach to what agriculture needs in terms of leadership into the future,” Ms Simson she said.

The inaugural cohort of the Diversity in Ag Leadership Program hail from regional and urban bases with experiences and skills in disciplines spanning farm management, education, science, natural resource management, exporting, media and finance.

Benefits well-recognised

As one of the inaugural signatrees to the program, AA Co chief executive officer Hugh Killen said the benefits of increased gender diversity were well recognised.

“Women bring differing views to all aspects of business from investment, risk, managing people and understanding stakeholders.

“Increasing female representation is not only the right thing to do, it undoubtedly makes sound business and strategic sense,” he said.

Mr Killen said almost every family farming business had a female within its ranks, and AA Co’s properties had a large contingent of female station staff – however the challenge was to ‘join the dots’ to the leadership level.

“While women are entrenched in the practical side of farming, whether that be on family farms or in corporate operations, their ascendance to positions around agribusiness and representative Board tables has stalled – which is to the great detriment of our industry.”

Keynote speakers at the luncheon included agriculture minister David Littleproud and former NT Cattlemens Association CEO Tracey Hayes.

About the Diversity in Ag Leadership Program

There are two main elements of the Program:

  • An opportunity for agribusiness and ag-representative bodies to commit to auditing their gender diversity and to formally pledge to making meaningful change towards evening the gender ledger, and
  • An opportunity for aspiring female leaders to benefit from one-on-one mentoring. Graduates of the program will go on to be a part of a valuable alumni of skilled female leaders with aspirations to apply their leadership skills across the agricultural sector

With their mentor, each mentoree will be required to establish ‘leadership goals’, outline steps to achieving these goals and, and put in place steps to measure progress towards these goals.

The 2018 Program will culminate in a Graduation at the NFF’s National Congress during October and the establishment of the DiALP Alumni.

To find out more visit


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