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AUSTRALIAN agriculture is on the brink of enormous growth, and increasing diversity in rural industries will play an important part in unlocking the innovation necessary for the agriculture sector to grow and prosper, says AgriFutures Australia* managing director, John Harvey.
Recent research by AgriFutures Australia covering more than 200 businesses examining diversity in decision-making in rural industries showed that:
- Only 15pc of rural companies have formal diversity strategies
- Only 20pc of large businesses have appointed people under 30 to decision making roles in the past 2 years
- Only 26pc of small businesses and 41pc of large businesses have appointed females to decision making roles in the past two years, and
- 32pc of large businesses have appointed people from diverse cultural backgrounds to decision making roles in the past two years.
More importantly, 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,” Mr Harvey said.
“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,” Mr Harvey said. “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.”
“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.”
Case study: Ade Ariantika
ON 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 with budgets ranging up to $3 million in value.
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.
Ade is known for being an enthusiastic go-getter who loves a challenge, but it was still a surprise to her family in Indonesia, and to her friends at her Brisbane university, when she accepted a job working at a meat processing plant on the rural Darling Downs of Queensland.
She said it had turned out to be “the best decision she ever made” and today, Ade is pursuing a post graduate degree in business administration and working as project engineer for Oakey Beef Exports.
Ade said her conservative parents were strong believers in education, who encouraged her to pursue her passions. They impressed upon her the importance of hard work at an early age. As a result, she was just seven years old when she knew she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps as a mechanical engineer.
In 2012, she moved to Australia to finish her degree at the Queensland University of Technology, and when she saw an ad for a company-based project at Oakey’s rendering plant, she seized the opportunity to undertake work experience on a feasibility study.
“When the company offered me a position, I took it and I have not looked back,” Ade said.
Her role now includes conducting feasibility studies, developing business cases, and managing and leading project installation across various departments, as well as the management of sub-contractors.
“The most satisfying part of my work is to see the project or installation that I created come alive and work as expected, especially to be able to achieve this within the limitations that were given,” Ade said.
The red meat processing industry plays a vital role in Australian trade, and in rural and regional Australia. It contributes $23 billion to Australia’s GDP per year, and the supply chain connects cattle farmers, retailers, logistics providers, the public sector, the construction sector and more.
Ade believes the contribution she makes to her team at Oakey, and the red meat processing industry more generally, is significant, and attributes some of this success to the diversity of her background and the way it has shaped her approach to decision-making.
“My different perspective towards problem solving allows me to make a strong contribution to my team,” Ade said. “We collaborate to produce the best outcome, taking into account the given constraints along the way. It is all about team integration.”
“Sometimes we are successful at tackling challenges, and at other times it provides learning curves that are also beneficial for everyone.”
“Our General Manager encourages us to work hard, take risks and prove that we can lead. His attitude obviously plays a big role in creating a healthy working environment and encouraging diversity in decision-making.”
“My role at Oakey is always evolving as my career is progressing. At first it was technical; now it involves understanding people’s behaviour and managing the team’s key performance indicators. I enjoy the challenge of understanding people and igniting their inner drive to perform and achieve work goals.
“I’m proud to be part of a strategic industry, which continuously develops itself through research and innovation. I’m inspired to prove that jobs in rural industries aren’t just for a specific group. They can also be for a young female who is committed to doing something she is passionate about,” Ade said.
* AgriFutures Australia is the new trading name for Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC)