Growing up in a small country town, I had a real sense of the strength of the women around me. Women literally ran my world. They ran the sports carnivals, they taught me at school, they hired me at their small retail businesses, they spear-headed the local chamber of commerce, they raised funds to support cancer patients, they organized the protests when the town’s only franchised clothing store was shut down and they established rural financial counselling when drought brought the town to its knees.
Many of these women were farmers - partners in large and small agricultural enterprises whose success (or otherwise) more or less dictated the wellbeing of the local economy.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that none of those fearless, strong businesswomen had the legal right to call themselves a farmer. Up until 1994, Australian farming women were legally defined as ‘silent partners’.
The invisibility of women in agriculture extends well back.
The ABC reports that in 1891, the national census deliberately excluded farming women. Farm inheritance has traditionally favoured men, and women were not allowed to enrol in agricultural courses in Australia until the early 1970s.
So, it’s with a huge amount of pride to be a part of Nutrien Ag Solutions as we embrace the notion of creating a workplace that celebrates and encourages the role of women in agriculture.
In Nutrien Ag Solutions (Australia), about 35% of our employees are women and 65% are men. But when we measure who holds the leadership positions in our business, we only have 17% of women in these roles.
These figures put us on par with our peers in Australian agribusiness. But we are the leaders in our field – we don’t settle for average anywhere else, so I wouldn’t expect that we’d be happy with just being average on this metric either.
The business case for pursuing gender equality is compelling – the research shows companies perform better on all financial metrics; employee engagement and pride in the workplace increases; innovation thrives, and better ideas are generated.
The Nutrien Ag Solutions Gender Working Group has recently been established and we are building on the shoots of change that were already growing in the business. We have created and launched a Women’s Leadership Mentor program with the aim of ensuring we have more women in the leadership pipeline. Our parental leave policy was reviewed and boosted when we combined the two legacy businesses (Landmark and Ruralco) – for both women and men.
Most importantly, we’re making sure we understand the data behind our employment and promotion statistics and ensuring we clearly understand the barriers to women staying in this business and taking on leadership roles – and then creating the changes needed.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, I pay tribute to all the women that continue to blaze a path in Australian agriculture – and to all the men that welcome us in as equal, not silent, partners.
Nutrien Ag Solutions Gender Working Group, Chair
IMAGE: Carissa Buckland with her Dad Geoffrey, son Ted, daughter Milli and kelpie Audrey on their family farm near Condobolin, NSW.