Charles Sturt University professor Jim Pratley puts spotlight on gender equality in agriculture

SPEARHEADING CHANGE: Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley with Charles Sturt University bachelor of animal science student Emma Lynch. Picture: Les Smith
SPEARHEADING CHANGE: Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley with Charles Sturt University bachelor of animal science student Emma Lynch. Picture: Les Smith

Imagine a farmer among cattle: there’s a strong chance it’s a man who popped into your head. 

But women are making a serious mark on agriculture, and one CSU professor believes it’s time the workplace caught up. 

Prof Pratley presented his paper Agriculture- from macho to gender balance at the Australian Agronomy Conference last week. 

He analysed enrollments in agricultural subjects throughout history, a boys’ only zone for over 100 years. Since becoming co-educational and free under Whitlam in the 70s, a flood of women have filled the halls of universities and colleges.

“It took until 2003, 15 years after equality across the general population in universities, that women for the first time had more enrollments in ag courses than men,” Prof Pratley said.

They’ve maintained that majority ever since. 

Female representation is in stark contrast to other traditionally male degrees such as engineering, where it sits around just 13 per cent. 

“We’re maximising the availability of talent to come into our industries, ag is up there as a really smart sector,” he said. 

For bachelor of animal science student Emma Lynch, the dominance of women in her classes came as a surprise. 

“Out of 60 when we started we might have had 10 guys in the class- It’s very female orientated,” she said. 

Ms Lynch is currently completing her honours year looking at different nutritional options for cattle.

Despite the overwhelming presence of women around her, she says sexism is still a problem. 

“Especially on more physical, laborious pracs, there’s an idea that ‘oh females can’t do that’, but of course we can,” she said. 

“Being a young woman you do sometimes also need to step up to older males who’ve been in the industry for many years and say yes, I do know some things and I can help potentially improve it and make a difference.” 

Prof Pratley wants to see workplace policies which reflect women’s significant contribution. 

”The further you get away from graduation the bigger the gap will be in terms of salaries, superannuation, and seniority. I’m putting a plea out there to say let’s find a way to lead this by creating workplace arrangements that support families,” he said. 

Ms Lynch believes women are seeing the worth in Australia’s booming agricultural sector, and as a soon-to-be graduate in the livestock industry herself, she encourages young students to keep at it. 

“A woman should be able to apply for and get any job a man can,” she said.

“If you love it, follow you dreams, just keep going,”