Abstract: Few women have achieved leadership positions in Australian agriculture despite their qualifications, experience and contributions to the industry. Australian Research Council (ARC) funded research currently being conducted suggests various explanations for this position offered by key people in the industry. Some imply the notion that women lack what it takes to succeed (whatever that may be); others, that women are not interested in or comfortable with current structures and practices and that their absence is a form of resistance to gender oppression (Alston, in press). Yet, such explanations are unsatisfactory when one examines the statistics relating to the farm workforce. Women make up 40 per cent of farm business partners and 32 per cent of the paid farm workforce (Rowe 1997). As well, up to 50 per cent of farm women work off the farm for income to support their families and to allow their partners to remain in agriculture (Alston 1995; OSW 1988). Latest research reveals that women now contribute 48 per cent of real farm income ($14 billion in 1995-6) (RIRDC & DPIE 1998). Further, it is widely recognised in the industry that twice as many farm women as farm men hold tertiary qualifications, a trend that is not isolated to Australia (Gooday 1995). Despite their very evident contributions and qualifications, current figures suggest that only eight per cent of industry leadership positions (Centre for International Economics 1997) and 17 per cent of DPIE sponsored Board positions are held by women (DPIE 1997). There is only one woman on the 40 member National Farmers' Federation Council (National Farmers' Federation 1997). Agriculture is not the only industry which limits the access of women to leadership. Korn-Ferry research (1997) found that women's representation in corporate governance was six per cent, and only one per cent of Australian executive directors of companies were women. This paper examines the way gender and power relations and the culture of farm organisations act to restrict women's access to leadership positions despite the outspoken support for gender equity from some industry leaders. By offering public support for the idea of gender equity and then by failing to facilitate women as leaders, farm organisations appear able to absolve themselves of any further efforts. 'We've tried and failed. There can't be any women out there' appears to be the message. The male culture surrounding agriculture and the gendered nature of traditional farmer organisations are addressed in this paper as well as structural impediments which act to restrict women's access to leadership. In particular, the paper will focus on interviews with women who have attempted to gain high profile positions in agriculture.
Notes: historical perspective