How the NSW drought sparked a ‘women in agriculture drought’ debate

Beef Central, 03/08/2018

Emma Thomas, Jackie Barker and Tracey Hayes at last week’s New England symposium


AS the drought continues to have devastating impacts on local farming communities, almost 100 aspiring, emerging and established women from across the New England (NSW) farming community gathered last week to discuss the lack of women and equal pay in agriculture.

The event, Leadership on the Land – a symposium of Australia’s leading women in agribusiness, showed there’s a real appetite to achieve greater equality for women in Australian agriculture. The symposium was hosted by specialist rural insurance company Achmea.

Achmea Australia’s chief executive Emma Thomas said the agriculture sector was a long way from closing its gender equity gap, where men comprise more than 97.7 percent of CEOs, according to a report compiled by the National Farmers Federation as part of the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program.

A second survey by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency found an average 21.6pc gender pay gap among full time employees in agriculture, between male and female workers, and a 25pc pay gap in agricultural leadership roles.

As the only female CEO in the Australian agricultural insurance industry, Mrs Thomas thinks it’s time for change.

“With more than 90pc of NSW in drought and farmers working around the clock to get through the driest winter since 1902, the well-attended symposium highlighted that women are passionate about ensuring they are afforded the same opportunities and salaries as their male counterparts,” Ms Thomas said.

In her opening address, she spoke of her own experiences growing up on a New Zealand farm, the importance of strong role models including her own grandmother who served as a ‘Land Girl’ during World War II, while discussing the need for ‘real change’ to address the barriers for women in agriculture.

“While women comprise nearly half of all agricultural workers globally, we continue to fall behind financially and professionally. Today’s grassroots discussion sparked a ‘women in ag drought’ debate and focused on translating women’s education into a more equal workforce,” Mrs Thomas said.

“To bridge the pay gap and inspire our next generation of young leaders, meaningful cultural change is needed. We need to back ourselves more, we need to support each other more, men need to continue to support women and recognise a career and motherhood aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Women had a significant amount to offer in leadership roles and increased representation at a decision-making level was vital for the future success of the industry, she said.

Former Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association chief executive Tracey Hayes plays a leading role in championing women in agriculture.

Delivering her insights during the symposium on women’s roles beyond the paddock, Ms Hayes described the ongoing gender imbalance in both agriculture and other public leadership roles as “a major challenge across the nation.”

“If we are to achieve meaningful cultural change addressing gender inequity, this is a national conversation to be had not only with politicians, policymakers and thought leaders, but also with our fathers, brothers and sons,” she said.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the men in my life, and I’m thankful for their influence in shaping the woman I’ve become. They will also play a key role in the future of women and leadership on the land, because it’s only through a cultural shift, beginning in homes and in classrooms, that positive change will become a reality,” Ms Hayes said.

The ensuing Q&A triggered a discussion about the 25pc pay gap in agricultural leadership roles, the under-representation of women in key business roles, tackling entrenched community attitudes and the ongoing gender discrepancies in both the home and the workplace.

Attendee Jackie Barker from Mullaley said “the speakers have given me a renewed motivation to go back to the farm and to continue to do what I love. It was also an opportunity to reflect and look to see if we are working the best way we can and how we can use our own skills to empower those around us and work together cohesively.

“Time is precious at this time of year, especially during the drought but today was a fantastic opportunity to meet likeminded women and to take the opportunity to step away from the farm,” Ms Barker said.

Both Ms Thomas and Ms Hayes were delighted with the high turnout. “The solidarity we’ve seen today will help shape the future of the Australian agricultural sector,” said Ms Thomas.




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  1. Paul Franks, 04/08/2018

    I notice a lot of gender imbalance in female fencers, machinery operators and so on.

    Isn’t it always strange how these articles always dwell on the lack of female representation in the highly paid professional jobs and totally ignore the lack of female representation in the lower more dangerous occupations. I did read somewhere though that female representation in the agricultural sector is far in advance then representation in the mining and construction industry.

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