Do you think the treatment of women within the agriculture industry still needs to be improved?

Question

Do you think the treatment of women within the agriculture industry still needs to be improved?

Answer

I have always felt respected and supported in my involvement in the Victorian grains industry so I have enjoyed my various roles and the contribution I have been able to make to agriculture.

I have always felt respected and supported in my involvement in the Victorian grains industry, so I have enjoyed my various roles and the contribution I have been able to make to agriculture. I have often been the only female on various committees and agronomy tours and sometimes it can be a bit intimidating. But my advice to others is to ‘stick with it’, because after overcoming a lack of confidence early on, after a period of time my knowledge improved and so did my confidence – to the point that often I have been the longest serving committee member with the most knowledge.

There are many successful women working in some areas of the agriculture industry particularly in finance, agronomy and research. I have found that these women are particularly supportive of other women working in ag. As it is a male dominated industry, women working in particular roles, for example – those working in shearing sheds, need to show extra determination and willingness to succeed in the industry and perhaps it is these women that need extra support.

Farmer: Chris Plant - Northern Mallee

Catherine Velisha talks about her experiences in agriculture

Good morning, my name is Catherine Velisha from Velisha Farms, and I’m really privileged to get to answer this question for Open Gate for Victorian Farmers Federation.

Now, the question is ‘does the treatment of women within agriculture still need to improve’? So, the short and long answer is yes, but in saying that I don’t think agriculture is any different to many other industries still. So I also want to defend the industry that I love, so I guess I need to give some context.

I’ve been working within this industry since I was 19. I’m now 37 and I grew up in this industry. My father was a part of this industry. My grandfather was part of this industry and my whole family still are so I’ve always been a very in a very privileged position.

So please, when I explain my views on this – this is only my view, and I do not want to take away from anyone who had a harder experience than I’ve had for being a woman in this industry.

What I can say about this industry is – and I do like to say – I see ourselves as – we’re kind of the entrepreneurs and the start-ups, the originals. So no, we don’t have any tech, but we did have a lot of bravery and be it a grain farm or a veggie farm, you know, it started from nothing. People took risks, and they worked their way up and up, to build into businesses.

With that is also a lot of inherent cultural issues. So, I guess traditionally agriculture and horticulture have obviously been a bit of a man’s domain – probably to do with the fact that there wasn’t a lot of technology involved, and there was a lot of brute force. However, I think my grandmother would probably argue that a little bit, I know that my aunties and grandmothers had to work in the fields as well. It was hard work.

As technologies have evolved though, I think it’s opened up a space for women to come in. So again, I just want to reiterate, my experience as always been from the point of privilege. I’ve always been in a powerful position within the business that I’ve worked in and I’ve been the daughter of the boss. We were quite a well-known family in horticulture, so there’s always been a bit of an external, I guess, respect that maybe a lot of other people haven’t got.

But my experience is of this industry, is we’re the original start-ups, we give people a chance, and we can evolve. Once our powers start to rise within agriculture – and there’s plenty of examples of that, that there is, is we now start to use our power that we’re gaining, to help lift other people up.

One of my passions is about bringing diversity of that and reflecting our workforce’s up into leadership roles. I don’t think there’s nearly enough of that.

So is there enough women in agriculture, or is there treatment getting better? There isn’t enough and their treatment is getting better but also, what I think our champion should be is not about bringing women along with us, also. But in trying to get diverse faces up in Boards, up in management within our own businesses, within greater peak bodies. So our workforces need to be reflected in our management teams.

So if our workforces are women, they need to be reflected in our management team. If our work forces are Malaysians, they need to be reflected in our leadership team. We need diverse leadership on all levels in all our businesses. It brings a lot to culture. It brings a lot to safety, which is I think is a key thing too. I think that makes things safer, and the more women that can get involved, and the more women that feel confident to get involved – I think it makes the whole agriculture community a better place.

So hopefully, by the things that I do and the things that I know other women do within horticulture and agriculture – hopefully that inspires a safer environment, and also inspires individuals to be able to follow in the footsteps.

There is a bit of a common tendency to sometimes be in competition with each other as women, because we’ve always been fighting for spots. I think I try to – and I know a lot of my peers have tried to take that out.

So, please feel confident if  you’re thinking of a career in horticulture or agriculture – that you’ll find a network of women that want to support you, want to lift you up and want to make it the best career that you can have!

 

Farmer: Catherine Velisha - Werribee South

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