Recruitment: Where is the gender balance up to in Australian ag?

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More women than ever before are now choosing professions in the agricultural sphere, fulfilling roles which are highly technical, and developing and displaying extremely advanced skillsets. With this in mind, it should follow that females are now highly sought after employees, and that their employment rate in this industry is high, recruitment specialist Agricultural Appointments highlights in its latest Agribusiness Trends and Salary report


SURELY, anyone – male or female – with such technical expertise should find no end of opportunities in the farming and agriculture sector. But is this really the case?

More women than ever before are now choosing professions in the agricultural sphere, fulfilling roles which are highly technical, and developing and displaying extremely advanced skillsets. With this in mind, it should follow that females are now highly sought after employees, and that their employment rate in this industry is high.

How the other half lives

It’s certainly true that the male to female ratio for agriculture-related courses is now around 50/50. The latest statistics from University Rankings Australia show that women in fact make up 52 per cent of students on courses for agriculture, environment and related studies.

This shows that advances have been made in recent years. The paper ‘Agriculture – from macho to gender balance’ by J.E. Pratley reminds us that women were excluded from agricultural courses until the 1970s, but that it took until 2003 to reach gender balance in this area, some 15 years after it had been achieved across all university subjects.

Mind the gap

So far, so good. But does this translate to more women actually being employed in agriculture? Statistics say not, or at least not yet. The WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) report from November 2018 Australia’s gender equality scorecard found that despite women making up 50.1pc of the Australian workforce, the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector comprises only 34.8pc female employees, while a mere 16.9pc of managers in this field are women. To add insult to injury, there is a pay gap of $23,564 in favour of men.

The future’s bright

Of course, any general rule has its exceptions, and it’s encouraging to hear the stories of women who are thriving in agriculture and have a bright future there.

Sally Downie is one such example of a young female who has recently started out in agriculture and is already making her mark. She manages the family dairy farm at Jemalong in central west New South Wales, taking on the challenges of drought and the pressures of high feed prices and low prices for the farm’s produce. It’s the love of the profession that keeps her inspired in a tough world, as she says, “I love the cows, being able to work with them every day and the breeding side of it, to be able to breed up and see them produce, and I like how things are constantly changing”.

Isabel Coulton is a corporate lawyer practising in the agribusiness sector in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW where she lives with her husband who farms black Angus cattle. She credits her success in this sector to her background in farming, and the flexibility of her chosen career. “Technology allows me to work remotely for clients, delivering the same standard of services I would’ve otherwise delivered in Sydney,” she says. “This is key to me being able to retain bigger agribusiness clients, to avoid them taking their legal work to the larger city firms.”

Winemaker Nadja Wallington is another bright star of the agricultural world. After working hard for her degree in viticulture and spending a stint overseas to learn her trade, she settled into her career managing a teamat Philip Shaw Wines, Orange, NSW. She sees her field as woman-friendly, saying, “There are always different personalities you come across that feel as though women aren’t as capable, but they’re the minority, and it’s no reflection of the wine industry”. Nadja does her bit for encouraging others to follow in her footsteps, sharing her experiences of working in the viticulture business with other women and reminding them that gender shouldn’t be an issue.

Steps in the right direction

While it’s true that the viticulture industry is mainly made up of men, the sector is making great strides in encouraging women to pursue their career there. The Australian Grape and Wine body, which represents grape growers in the country, has produced a gender equality charter which includes organising awards to recognise women in the industry, and holding sessions on leadership, equality and diversity at conferences.

The Invisible Farmer Project, the biggest study to date of Australian women who work on the land, seeks to recognise the role women have always played in agriculture, ensuring that it is normalised in the future and that women are recognised as farmers in their own right.

The Future Farmers Network seeks to kickstart and support the farming careers of young people aged 18- 35, both male and female, through networking, bursaries and study grants, scholarships and regional support – an essential service given the numbers of women who are recent graduates in agriculture-related areas.

What next?

We know that much progress has been achieved in attaining gender balance across the workforce, but there is still a long way to go for the agriculture sector. Considering the numbers of women graduating in agriculture-related subjects, and the depth of their expertise now that the field is relying more and more on the latest technology, a sea change is inevitable.

For the future of agriculture, utilising the immense talent pool of women versed in these skills is critical if we are to find a way forward for one of Australia’s most essential professions. But this is just the first step. Change starts with employers holding a mirror up to themselves and asking whether their hiring process appeals to women at the outset. The younger generation have a far more balanced approach to jointly share the responsibility of raising a family, so employers need to offer flexible working hours and the ability to work closer to home when necessary for men as well as women. What’s more, they need to understand that their culture needs to welcome, encourage and nurture highly qualified women candidates by putting thought into their policies, language, attitudes and environment. It’s a responsibility but also an investment which is sure to be the key to the future success of Australian agriculture.

Source: Agricultural Appointments

Click here to access Agricultural Appointments’ 2019 Agribusiness Trend and Salary Report



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  1. Charlotte Ong-Wisener, June 17, 2019

    Perhaps we can, at a later date, also include women involved in agtech too?

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