Federal border representatives ‘board’ of gender inaction

The agriculture industry is lagging behind and needs do more to improve the representation of women on its boards, believes federal members from both sides of the border. 

Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, called for the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources to increase representation of women to a minimum of 30 per cent on agricultural boards.

“If you’ve only got men on a board, you’ve only got half the picture,” she said. 

“Women have a huge contribution to make and agriculture is less if we don’t have women and young people on boards.”

Ms McGowan found an unlikely ally in federal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, who in previous years rejected the idea of female quotas.

“If I had stood up here 15 years ago, I would have said, 'No, no, no, leave it as it is,” she said.

However, Ms Ley said she was now sympathetic to Ms McGowan’s sentiments and where the government contributes funding, they should lobby to change “not the appointments, not the individuals, just the broad composition” of boards.

Ms Ley said as a representative of the ‘wonderful women of the west’ she had seen firsthand that women did not play supporting roles, but were leading ladies in agriculture.

She said her view had changed over the past 15 years and while she once would have described herself as a ‘farmer’s wife’ she now would say she had been a farmer for 17 years.

“[The drought] was 10 years of the most heartbreaking climatic and societal conditions that any family could face,” she said.

“But it was the women who kept things together. 

“The women never took a top-down approach to life and the future; it was the women who always did everything from the grassroots up. We need those women on our boards. We need them making decisions. How dare anyone suggest that somehow they're not capable? We know that they are.”

Ms McGowan said she had not discussed the motion with Ms Ley and was surprised but delighted her counterpart had changed her mind on the issue.

“It’s lovely to work together across the border on a topic like this,” she said.

She said in 2016 the government set a target for women to hold 50 per cent of government board positions, and in June 2017, women held 42.7 per cent of government board positions.

“In agriculture, it’s a different story. In agriculture, there are 18 government boards with 114 positions and 39 women in those positions, which is 34 per cent, way short of the target,” Ms McGowan said.

The pair said hard commitments were needed, not just talk.