Are more women being employed in the agricultural sector?

By Dr Ray Johnson, Managing Director Agricultural Appointments

At the Universities and agricultural colleges offering rural and veterinary courses in Australia, there has been a dramatic change in the gender balance of students over the last 25-30 years. In many instances women now make up the majority of such training courses.

As I have previously written about, there is a major digital revolution underway in Australian agriculture. While other higher education programs such as engineering are still struggling to enroll women in STEM specialties, women are responding favorably in the high-skilled agricultural professions as evidenced by the now roughly equal gender balance. Women are now comfortably using digital technology like smart phones, drones, GPS imaging and complex data analysis software. Increased computerised systems in the food production systems call for specialists in areas like pathology, food science, and wildlife biology and irrigation engineers. And more women are easily taking up these jobs.

It is clear that women are nowadays not shy to plunge into careers requiring technical expertise. As leaders of modern agriculture use advanced technology to feed the world, there are more female graduates in agriculture, environmental sciences and veterinary medicine programs.  Yet in all the significant publications looking at the skills shortages in Australian agriculture, the so-called experts largely shy away from assessing whether women are indeed now an increasing proportion of the rural workforce, both on-farm and in agribusiness service industries.

In the most recent analysis of the gender balance across industry sectors in Australia (Gender composition of the workforce: by industry Workforce Gender Equality Agency, April 2016), agriculture had one of the lowest level of employment for women, with only 14.6% employment by women in full-time roles compared with 56.2% employment by males (Mining was 12.9% female and 85.4% male).

Based on the proportion of women now graduating from rural training courses in Australia, it is clear that there is a significant talent pool not being utilized in Australian agriculture. Indeed, this paradigm is exasperating the skills shortages in Australian agriculture and needs to be addressed.