More than eighty women participated in workshops hosted by QFF across regional Queensland during October. The workshops aimed to explore farming women’s business development and leadership aspirations and scope the support they need to enhance their capabilities as business and community leaders.
The workshops, held in Mareeba, Emerald, Bundaberg, Toowoomba and Caboolture, featured thought-provoking speakers, lively group discussion and opportunities for participants to reflect on their goals and define their next steps.
The workshops generated important insights relevant to many current programs, and provides valuable information to the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance.
ABS data indicates that 30 percent of the farmers and farm managers in Queensland are women. This somehow does not calibrate with the proportion of Queensland farming enterprises that are operated as family businesses, involving husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. At the workshops, we spent some time unpacking the issue of women’s identity as farmers.
The participants shared diverse perspectives about this. Many, however, said that while it is understood that women play active and essential roles in the farming sector, particularly in business administration, the title of farmer belongs to the person doing the physical work. The problem with this, is that if women don’t identify as farmers or farm workers in agricultural surveys or the census, their place in the industry remains invisible to government and policy makers. It can also reduce women’s willingness to take their legitimate place in decision-making and leadership forums– at business, industry and government levels.
Several key themes emerged regarding women’s interests and professional development needs.
A universal theme was around building the skills and accessing the tools to strengthen and grow the farm business. While for some, this is about improving core skills in farm business administration (or streamlining processes), many were looking to enhance their business planning and strategizing through access to mentors, coaches or advisors. There was also strong interest in commercializing or bringing to market new products or processes, or pursing technological innovation. Underpinning all of this is a need to find more effective ways to tap into finance and investors or to access government grants and subsidies. Many women brought a strongly global outlook to their current or future ventures and there were animated discussions about the need for all stakeholders – in industry and government – to more effectively facilitate export trade.
Building the skills and knowledge to better harness the opportunities presented by social media and digital technology was another significant interest. This played to a strong theme around farming women’s roles as information gatherers and sharers, organizers, and drivers of connections with customers and markets. Women are also increasingly rural advocates and story tellers, leading efforts to better connect farmers with the city. Many workshop participants were passionate about re-shaping the public perception of farming as a vibrant, exciting and technology-driven industry with diverse opportunities for young men and women. Women recognized that social media offers them a powerful way to pursue this.
The workshops also clearly demonstrated women’s willingness to pursue formal or executive leadership roles – at community levels, within industry organisations and in government policy forums and boards. While the participants acknowledged that the opportunity to take on senior leadership positions was strongly influenced by life (and business) stage, there was firm endorsement of the need for succession planning in boards, a greater emphasis on mentoring, and supporting women to complete corporate governance training through subsidies and sponsorships.
Around 20 percent of participants said they were currently acting as mentors to others, and a similar number indicated their willingness to become a mentor in the future. There was strong demand for a mentoring program tailored for farm business women, which could help connect participants with a well-matched mentor.
The insights gathered through the workshops will be further explored in an online survey which will be open throughout December.
QFF’s “Advancing leadership and business skills amongst farm business women” is funded by the Queensland Office of Small Business and contributes to the Advancing Small Business Queensland Strategy and the Advancing Women in Business initiative. QFF is excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), the Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN), CSIRO, AustSafe Super and Rabobank to deliver this project.
For information, contact Jane Muller (firstname.lastname@example.org)