Study looks at how gender bias plays into farm succession plans

University of New England (UNE) study looks at how gender bias plays into farm succession plans

Dairy
WOMEN IN AG: Rural women's advocate and engagement and events specialist Dimity Smith would like to see more women in the agricultural field. Photo: Supplied

WOMEN IN AG: Rural women's advocate and engagement and events specialist Dimity Smith would like to see more women in the agricultural field. Photo: Supplied

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Sitting down and starting an open and honest conversation early on could be the key to ensuring more women are part of the family farm's future.

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SITTING down and starting an open and honest conversation early on could be the key to ensuring more women are part of the family farm's future.

Despite the fact that women make up 50 per cent of those who graduate university with agricultural degrees and make up at least 30 per cent of the agricultural workforce, females still battle old-fashioned stigmas in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

A University of New England (UNE) study in 2007 discovered less than 10 per cent of Australian farms were inherited by women.

More than a decade on, that figure doesn't appear to have made strides to change, despite the positive shift in labour force trends.

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A team of UNE researchers are on a mission to find out why these trends are continuing through a new study called She'll Be Right which investigates the role of gender and sex discrimination in the succession space.

Rural women's advocate and GRO Events Group director, Dimity Smith saidshe believes female succession is a complex issue, and there's no single answer.

For the qualified psychologist and communications and engagement specialist, taking over her family's dairy farm in Scone was never something she had thought about.

"I know for a fact that had I stepped up and said 'I'm really interested in taking on the farm, can you help me learn and hand it on to me', I'm absolutely positive that my dad would have done that," she said.

"I think there's two sides to it, for instance in the agricultural industry, there's an ageing workforce, with predominately male farmers and the average age is 58 years old - that's 12 years above the national average compared to any other occupation.

"The farmers are already older, so they like to stick to the old-school, and you've got an industry that women didn't even know they could go into it kind of creates a perfect storm for women to not necessarily think that they can take the jump."

Similar to other male-dominated occupations, such as electricians, Ms Smith believes it's not necessarily that men are against women taking on the role, it's just not something that's been discussed or openly seen as an option.

"I've always been a believer in 'you can't be what you can't see' and I think we don't see as many women who are farmers, we just see the stereotypical male," she said.

"So for young girls and young women who are looking at career opportunities, they don't even know that it's an option."

Ms Smith believes the solution to reversing the trend is open family conversations early on, but it's also about women making their feelings about taking on the business known.

"I think it's really about the senior generation, whether that's a parent or a grandparent, starting those conversations with daughters and family members at the kitchen table from a young age or even in adulthood, raising the question have you considered taking on the farm, is this something you'd ever be interested in?," she said.

"But there's also the responsibility of the female or the daughter to really say 'hey, would you consider giving me a go, would you be open to this?'

"I think it's not wholly and solely responsible on the parent to step up and have it as an offer, because the daughter may never have shown any interest so how would they know that they're interested in taking on the business?

"So I think there's got to be both sides contributing and working towards a common goal, otherwise if there's not good communication these things aren't ever going to be discussed."

But agricultural industries have a role to play too, through sharing more stories about up-and-coming inspirational women in the industry, and providing more opportunities for females to become involved at a younger age, she said.

"I know here at our farm, we have a fifty-fifty split of female and male staff members and that's not overly common," she said.

"So whilst I might not be taking on the farm, we're supporting young women coming into the industry."

Researchers from UNE's Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law and Business School will begin by conducting a range of interviews with professionals in the succession space, including succession planners, financial advisors, rural legal experts and Rural Financial Counsellors, as well as representatives of agricultural groups like the Country Women's Association and National Farmers' Federation.

The research team believes the gender dynamics of farm succession have far-reaching implications, as the majority of Australian farms remain in family ownership and a growing number of ageing owners need to transition smoothly to retirement.

"The agricultural sector can only continue to meet future food security challenges if it can draw from a talent pool that is inclusive of women farmers," Emeritus Professor and member of the research team Alison Sheridan said.

"However, gender discriminatory succession decisions could see many talented, educated women with considerable agribusiness skills lost to larger metropolitan and regional centres, contributing to further rural and regional population decline."

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The story Study looks at how gender bias plays into farm succession plans first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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