Communication – a driver of diversity in the bush?

As she embraces fostering a professional career from a desk in Mudgee, Cox Inall’s Susannah White explores how working remotely could transform diversity in Australian agriculture. 

I was surprised to read recently that only ten percent of farm successors in Australia are female.

Susannah White 300x300We know that farming, like construction and mining, is traditionally a male-dominated industry, but I had assumed that in 2018 this figure would be much higher.

The figure, from the University of South Australia’s Leonnie Blumson, is compounded by recent research from AgriFutures Australia which confirms that beyond the issue of gender, the ag sector is a bit of a laggard in the broader diversity stakes.

AgriFutures found that only fifteen percent of Australian agribusinesses have formal diversity strategies, and very few put people under thirty or people from diverse cultural backgrounds in key decision making roles.

At a time when the Australian economy is placing increased reliance on the ag sector, this research is troubling. The social benefits of more diverse and inclusive industries are clear, and there is a wealth of research demonstrating that increased workplace diversity can directly improve the business bottom line.

The AgriFutures report recommends avenues for improving diversity across the sector. One such recommendation is that we improve the way we communicate our industry to a broader audience, with the aim of inspiring and motivating more diverse talent to get involved in agriculture.

This got me thinking about other ways that communication can aid diversity, and how it could help build a more vibrant ag sector.

Remote Work

Working from my desk here in regional NSW, the opportunity most immediately obvious to me is that of remote work.

We know that thriving rural communities rely on more than just farming businesses. In fact, increasingly many farming families rely on both on and off farm income streams.

Personally, I am lucky to have an employer that facilitates and encourages remote work – my Cox Inall workmates are scattered all over Australia. While remote work does have its challenges (cabin fever), when you embrace the tools you need to communicate effectively over long distances, it quickly becomes clear that you don’t need to be sitting in the same office as your colleagues to do your job well. In fact, for us, being spread across the nation and embedded in the rural and regional communities where we live allows us to build rapport and connect with the audiences we seek to engage on behalf of our clients.

As regional connectivity improves, the potential for employers to effectively communicate with remote staff and run business from afar will grow. The wonderful thing about this is that as growing numbers of businesses embrace the option of ‘going remote’, regional economies will be boosted and diverse rural communities fostered.

Diverse markets

The agriculture sector in Australia is competitive, and farmers are increasingly needing to harness powerful communications to market their products.

Beyond linking suppliers with consumers, communication is aiding diversity in the area of recruitment as well. Tech startups like AgDraft (a platform that works like Gumtree for farm employment) are helping to get the message out there about what opportunities exist for people in agriculture, and in turn increasing the diversity of the sector.

Diversity of Succession

So, back to the stat that only 10% of farm successors are female.

What can communication do about this? Research being carried out by Nuffield Scholar Katrina Sasse has found that one of the barriers to female succession is a lack of communication around the avenues open to women in farming, partly due to a lack of visible women in high-level positions.

Sasse also believes that communication needs to occur early on in the succession planning process itself, in order to avoid the situation where daughters assume that a future on the farm is not open to them, and they pursue other careers as a result.

No doubt that improving the diversity of the ag sector will require an industry wide effort of which communication forms only one part – but the benefits are clear and present an opportunity not to be missed.

Susannah White is a Senior Account Manager with Cox Inall, based in Mudgee, NSW.

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