ONCE upon a time, “girl germs” freaked me out.
I persevered like most, got over it and found enjoyment in games like “doctors and nurses” - where the boy was always the doctor, and girl was of course the nurse.
Many in my generation seem to have left that conditioning behind, along with eating mud and watching Roger Ramjet.
To be honest, it’s so long ago that judging people on gender alone is rather challenging for me - I feel discriminatory. When I hear “women can be amazing leaders, CEOs, mothers and managers”, my response is: Yeah, why wouldn’t they be? It’s just not something I would even question.
In agriculture, my generation of men and women are only just making ground in an older, male-dominated industry. Women still face challenges and stereotypes that were largely dissolved in cities some time ago.
That said, we still hear of ridiculous cases of inequality women deal with in urban corporate and political life. In family businesses, however, they’re leaping over their brothers, fathers and uncles at astonishing rates.
Family businesses account for around 70 per cent of all businesses in Australia, and many farms are a part of that. Studies by Bond University’s Australian Centre for Family Business have seen huge increases in female CEOs and other senior management.
Fred Hughes from the 4.2 million acre Lake Nash Station in the Northern Territory said his fiancée, Sarah Chaplain, is without a doubt “the glue that binds the operation together”. Fred said Sarah is strong, understands the business, manages her roles and is especially good with the staff. What a wrap - and what a great foundation for a future leader in agriculture.
Sarah is just one of many women making a difference in a traditionally patriarchal industry.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson and Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold are strong advocates for agriculture - and they are far from alone.
Sue Middleton, former Australian Rural Woman of the Year, is a pork, grain and citrus producer from Wongan Hills in Western Australia and another important voice for the industry.
Jane Bennett, 1994 Tasmanian Rural Achiever of the year, 1997 ABC Radio Australian Rural Woman of the Year and the 1998 Young Australian of the Year (Regional Development category), is now a director of your ABC.
There’s a strong following across the country with women’s support and leadership groups. But still you won’t go far before you hear that phrase, “women can be their own worst enemy”.
Recently I attended the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) Women in Food and Agriculture Lunch at the Royal Melbourne Show, emceed by the exhilaratingly entertaining Catherine Marriott. Catherine is the founder and managing director of Influential Women, and also the 2012 National runner-up and Western Australia winner of the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award.
While I was blown away by the knowledge, passion, audacity and empathy that surrounded me, I still heard - twice – the idea that once strong, intellectual women crack through that glass ceiling they re-glaze it behind them, extra thick, in some cases, still remains.
The attitude still exists: “I’ve battled my way here, through droughts, market crashes and family feuds in a male dominated industry... I’ve earned this space, come back to me when you have some scars to show.”
I’m not questioning the dedication and experience it takes to achieve a leadership role, but was saddened at the thought some women might pull the ladder up once they've reached the top.
Her Excellency Penelope Wensley, Governor of Queensland, was quoted recently at the opening of the annual Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women's Network conference: “a strong woman is knowledgeable and works on building her knowledge and skills... using every experience and opportunity to observe and to learn about herself and from others being observant”.
Great point: we know that with knowledge comes power and with power comes responsibility. As women continue to build strength and power in rural and regional Australia, it’s essential they’re responsible to match.
They need to ensure as they gain momentum that they encourage and lead the next generation of young women that must also trudge through the aftermath of the olden days.
Women may have a bright future in agriculture, but agriculture has a very bright future with women at the helm.