The good news for women in agriculture is that the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up flexible work options for women in white-collar roles, enabling more of them to work from home.
- Calls are being made for agriculture to increase the number of women to half the workforce
- COVID has enabled more women to work from home
- Men in leadership are being asked to call out sexist language and foster female talent
But women are still paid less, there are very few at the chief executive level, and they make up just a third of the agricultural workforce in Australia.
Simone Tilley, National General Manager of Retail Broker Distribution at the ANZ bank, wants to see more women coming into agriculture.
Simone Tilley discussed diversity strategies at a national grains forum with Brianna Peake, the Chief External Relations Officer, at the massive West Australian grain business Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH).
Gender has been a hot topic in Australia this year due to sexual harassment and abuse claims in the federal parliament — an issue that clearly frustrates Brianna Peake.
She is concerned about the signals that are being sent to workers, including those in agriculture.
“We want to look up to the people that govern our country and believe in their leadership, but I really struggle with that at the moment.”
Big gaps for women still exist
Globally the World Economic Forum said that COVID had delayed progress on gender issues, and it will now take more than 135 years for women to reach gender equality.
That concerns Simone Tilley, who said tremendous progress had been made as a nation.
“But only 18 per cent of women are CEOs, and average salaries for women across all occupations are 15 per cent less,” she said.
On the positive side, she said she saw more men gaining access to parental leave, and she thought it was important for women who wanted to prioritise their careers.
Ms Peake said there was plenty of evidence to show that diversity was good for business and the question to address was how they were going to do it.
“[You have] better financial performance, better cultural fit and feel and better resilience when you have that diversity of thought.”
But she is concerned that agricultural companies were fighting a losing battle against mining companies to retain women.
“They are better than us at gender diversity. So, foster your female talent, know who they are, what they want, where they want to go and make it happen.”
Ms Peake said COVID had opened the door to more family-friendly work practices at CBH, like working from home two to three days a week, but she said she was concerned about sexist language in the workplace.
She said that kind of thing needed to be called out, especially by the men in the business, so it was important to have conversations about appropriate language on site and how to respond when you see it.
“The standards we walk past are the standards we accept, and everyone mimics the leadership, so we all have an obligation to intercept things that are going wrong.”
“Your teams and your organisations are really looking for that. They want to see it. They want to know that you truly believe in it, and they’re watching what you do all the time.”
Other ideas highlighted at the forum include looking over your documents for language and images that stereotype women.
To look for opportunities to amplify female voices, discuss how the organisation handles ideas.
And to make meetings a safe place without fear of embarrassment or ridicule, run training in how to run meetings and supervise teams in a way that supports women and tap into training and resources available through the National Ass for Women in Construction.
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