Gender gap in conference spotlight

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Portrait of Maree Crawford

Australian Summer Grains Conference chair Maree Crawford highlighted the gender gap in the national grains industry in her opening address on 8 March, which was International Women’s Day.

PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

Australian Summer Grains Conference chair Maree Crawford focused delegates on the “invisibility” of women in the Australian grains industry when opening the northern grains conference on International Women’s Day this year.

In a keynote presentation, Ms Crawford, who is the Elders technical services manager for the northern region, said women are under-represented, under-recognised and under-valued in the grains sector.

“We’ve got an epidemic of women being under-valued as growers, particularly in Australia,” Ms Crawford said.

“Engagement and inclusion of women at all levels of our grains industry is essential to overcoming the ‘invisible woman’ syndrome.”

She said there is a low ratio of women to men working as agronomists, scientists and growers, and a dearth of women in some disciplines, such as plant breeding and genetics. Statistics from the Australian Government’s Gender Equity Insights 2016 report also confirm that more men occupy senior industry roles than women.

“In Australia, in the 1990s, there were very few women in public roles within agriculture,” said Ms Crawford, who was one of 14 female speakers at the conference featuring about 60 speakers.

Drawing on her experience running farm information days, she said grains industry events have low female participation compared with the horticulture, dairy and pasture industries. For example, up to 50 per cent of participants at horticulture events are women, she said.

“When it comes to grains information days, women are invisible [yet] the Australian agricultural industry is heavily dependent on women’s on-farm and off-farm work.”

Ms Crawford highlighted the findings of a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation report that shows women contribute nearly half the total farm business income.

“So if you add together the value of their on-farm contribution, off-farm wage and the value of household, volunteering and community work, women contribute up to 48 per cent of the total real farm income,” she said.

Ms Crawford said the scale of this contribution is also reflected in the global agricultural sector where women in developing countries make up 43 per cent of the farm workforce. In southern Asia women’s contribution to the farming sector is as high as 70 per cent, she said.

She said mentoring, education and increased representation, particularly in rural decision-making and policy development, are needed to help overcome the gender gap facing women in the Australian grains industry.

“We have a responsibility to ensure engagement with females, especially at the farm level,” Ms Crawford said, adding that the majority of Australian agricultural businesses are family-owned.

“Mentoring and education programs will be vital in producing the next crop of agronomists, scientists and growers.

“Having a critical mass of women in key roles across all aspects of our industry translates into being able to attract and retain more women – meaning the gender gap starts to resolve itself.”

However, she said rural women also have a role to play in helping to overcome the historical perception of women as growers’ wives and daughters.

“Rural women need to back themselves,” she said. “Very rarely will you find a woman who says that she is a grower. They refer to themselves as grower’ wives, even though when you visit the farm and see the business, you know that she is a strong force in that business.”

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