NFF President Fiona Simson

First female Ag Minister spells time for change

On Sunday, Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie was appointed as the Federal Agriculture Minister, the first women to hold the role in our nation’s history.

The gravity of Senator McKenzie’s appointment should not be lost on any of us.

Despite our nation’s considerable achievements since Federation, until now, not one female has held agriculture’s top job. Women have been intrinsic to the success of agriculture since farming began in this country, which was a significant time before 1901. And, today enrollments in tertiary agriculture-related courses are more than 50 per cent female.

Overall, 41 per cent of the farm sector’s workforce is female.

However, women remain grossly underrepresented in agriculture’s strategic decision-making forums. For some reason, our voice is almost silent around the board tables and in the leadership ranks of the industry of which we have given, and continue to give, so much to.

Only 18pc of management roles and 2.3 per cent of CEO positions in agriculture are held by women.

Fiona Simson, NFF President

I myself am the first female President of the NFF in its 40-year history.

But though we lament the past we can’t change it. We do, however, have the power to change the future. And the time for that change is now, a change that during my leadership of the NFF, I am committed to making.

I am joined in my resolve for change by the NFF Board and a group of committed and visionary partners spanning across agribusiness, Government and farm representative bodies.

The NFF and these partners have taken up the baton and established a movement – through the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program, to inject what I call ‘real life’ representation into agriculture leadership. Representation that realises the great outcomes that are achieved when men and women work together not in isolation.

Coinciding, serendipitously with Senator’s McKenzie’s first days as Agriculture Member, as part of the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program, the NFF will this week bring 10 outstanding women with skills and a vision for agriculture, to Canberra to assist them to realise their leadership ambitions. The two-day retreat starts a five-month mentoring journey, where each participant will determine their leadership goals and determine a plan for achieving them.

The women were selected from more than 150 applicants (also incredibly skilled and passionate females) from across the country, who put their hand up to be part of change.

To confirm our commitment to ‘moving the dial’ on gender representation, the NFF and our partners have this week each made a public pledge to enact ‘meaningful change’ towards gender diversity. Meaningful change that in gives women an equal voice in the positions of power that play a role in shaping the future of agriculture.

It’s change that is well overdue in a modern society and one that is needed if agriculture as a whole is to reach its potential.

Logically, the NFF has ear marked increasing the representation of women in agriculture’s leadership roles as a key component of our vision for our sector to achieve a farm gate value of $100 billion by 2030.

This week, we must acknowledge our first female Agriculture Minister and commit to each playing our role in ensuring the path laid by Senator McKenzie, is well worn by many others after her.

To see the pledges made by some of Australia’s leading agribusinesses, click here. To meet this year’s Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program participants, click here.

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson is the President of the National Farmers' Federation and a farmer from the Liverpool Plains.

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