Opinion: Greater diversity will benefit rural industries

22.01.18

John Harvey, Managing Director of AgriFutures Australia says increasing diversity in rural industries will be important to unlock the innovation necessary for Australian agriculture to grow and prosper.

In Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, 16-year-old Josh Murray has 9,500 happy hens laying every day for Josh’s Rainbow Eggs. Josh started his business at age nine, looking for extra pocket money, and makes all his business decisions based on what will improve the lives of his chickens and what will make his and his family’s lives easier.

In Dubbo, New South Wales, Robert Riley is the co-owner of a native retail nursery and co-founder, with his brother James, of Indigenous Concepts and Networking (ICaN). The profits from the nursery fund ICaN’s unique programs that help people with training, skills development and long-term employment. Rob is guided by his passion to create opportunities for Indigenous people and makes decisions to ensure the nursery is a commercial success.

In Queensland’s Darling Downs, 24-year-old Jakarta-raised mechanical engineer Ade Ariantika is working as a project engineer for Oakey Beef Exports, overseeing jobs where the budgets range from $20,000 to $3 million. Ade attributes some of her success in making a contribution to her company, and the red meat processing industry, to the diversity of her background and the way it has shaped her approach to decision-making.

I wanted to share with you these examples of age, culture and gender diversity in the agriculture sector not just because they are real, but because they are rare. And also because it is important to talk about the positive impact that diversity has on our rural industries.

Australian agriculture is on the brink of enormous growth and embracing diversity is one way we can make future success a reality.

Recent research by AgriFutures Australia on more than 200 organisations examining ‘diversity in decision-making in rural industries’ showed that only:

  • 15 per cent of rural companies have formal diversity strategies,
  • 20 per cent of large businesses have appointed people under 30 to decision making roles in the past 2 years,
  • 26 per cent of small businesses and 41 per cent of large businesses have appointed females to decision making roles in the past 2 years, and
  • 32 per cent of large businesses have appointed people from diverse cultural backgrounds to decision making roles in the past 2 years

More importantly though, what the research showed was that rural industries stand to benefit greatly by increasing diversity. It found that there are real business benefits linked to senior-leadership diversity including increased profitability, productivity and innovation.

While traditionally the concept of innovation is associated with smarter people and better ideas, it is actually diversity that is the greatest force for innovation. So, changing the face of agriculture is important, and diversity – of cultural background, gender, age, geographic location and professional experience – is vital to our future success.

The nation’s workforce and the way people work is changing. Diverse candidates for rural industries’ jobs exist where organisations are prepared to embrace the forces of change: globalisation, technology and collaboration.

The obvious next question is how can we bring greater diversity to Australia’s rural industries?

Firstly, lack of diversity in agricultural decision-making is not a human resources problem. This is an issue of strategic importance to the future of our sector and it must be approached as such. We need an industry-wide strategy to harness diversity and we need to remove the barriers that are stopping people getting into decision-making roles in our rural industries.

Let’s give diversity a seat at the decision-making table. Our success as a sector depends on all of us working together, striving for diversity and actively encouraging new points of view in our businesses and our operations every single day. The more diverse the perspectives, knowledge and experiences available to us, the closer we get to making well-informed decisions.

We also need to be promoting and talking about Australian agriculture to people who are not involved in the industry. Through educating and inspiring these people about the sector’s unique opportunities and growth potential, we will attract new and diverse talent into agriculture.

AgriFutures Australia’s focus on industry collaboration and programs – like the AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award and AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship – are a great starting point for the sector’s diversity mission. They are about making a concerted effort to create pathways to leadership and decision-making positions for the next generation and people from diverse backgrounds.

Increasing diversity in the Australian agriculture sector aligns with AgriFutures Australia’s vision to see our rural industries grow and prosper. We know Australia’s rural industries operate in a complex and dynamic environment, and that to face the challenges of tomorrow, we need to accelerate the pace of change. What better way to do this than by supercharging our innovation through embracing diversity.

Media enquiries:

Samantha Munro, AgriFutures Australia, Manager Communications & Capacity Building
samantha.munro@agrifutures.com.au | 02 6923 6916 | 0409 966 182