Speaking up for dairy women

By Alana Christensen

WHEN KATAMATITE dairy farmer Simone Ross went to Canberra as part of the Developing Dairy Leaders Program, she never expected to get a front row seat to a leadership spill.

The tumultuous week of politics, which saw then-Treasurer Scott Morrison become Prime Minister, was the backdrop for the trip in which 14 participants — from farmers, business managers and export sales representatives — presented a series of projects to politicians and department heads.

The culmination of two months of workshops, research and investigation, the first generation dairy farmer, who milks 300 cows on a 259 ha property, said the focus of her research project was one close to her heart — female representation in dairy.

“Only 25 percent of leadership positions are filled by women, and some of those are multiple positions filled by the same woman,” Ms Ross said.

“It’s a hard sector to break into.”

Having had experience herself being the only woman in the room, Ms Ross said it was important to ensure women are encouraged to enter leadership positions at all levels — not just the top.

“It can lead anywhere. You can be the middleman and do a lot of progressive stuff doing it the right way,” she said.

It was a thought and a passion that she took with her to Canberra, discussing the issue in depth with Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson, who was invited as Ms Ross’ guest to the program’s main function.

Given the nature of her project, Ms Ross said it was only right to invite another woman to hear her perspective on the issue, and she added she was left thrilled with the level of support her project received.

With the support of her mentor, former Victoria Police chief commissioner Christine Nixon, Ms Ross has also presented her findings to both Australian Dairy Farmers and Dairy Australia, who supported the program.

“The ADF are looking to develop a taskforce to address female representation,” Ms Ross said.

“The doors that the program has opened up are incredible.”

ADF president Terry Richardson encouraged young farmers to participate in the program as a pathway to becoming industry advocates.

“The DDLP is an important step in teaching a new generation of industry representatives how to channel their passion for dairy into effective advocacy,” Mr Richardson said.

“Many of the participants came to the program with little or no exposure to dairy advocacy, but they have now presented and debated ideas, gained professional development and learned how to manage personal and work priorities.”

Ultimately, Ms Ross said she hoped for a stronger dairy industry, where dairy farmers — men and women — could be assured they would get a fair go.