WAFarmers calls for farmers and ag industry to call out Sexual Harassment

Date of publication:  9 November 2018

Farmers long ago worked out that the safest topic to talk over the farm fence to friends, neighbours, in fact anyone, is the weather.  Too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, it’s much better to complain about the season than to get into much more sensitive topics like politics or sex.

But sometimes we have to venture into areas that are a little more sensitive.

As employers, workmates, parents, friends and neighbours, sometimes we have to raise topics that may make people feel a little uncomfortable. One of the topics which has become increasingly topical in the media is that of sexual harassment in the workplace, and how we as employers, workmates or friends need to respond to inappropriate behavior.

In the past, agriculture has had a reputation of hard men performing hard physical work on the land. The contribution and involvement of women in working and building farming businesses was largely invisible, even though they often played an equal role.

Farming was all too often seen as a world of tough men, tough language and hard old school views. Our shearing sheds were full of rough roustabouts with even rougher views towards female rousabouts. Attitudes towards women were clearly sexist, local town tyreshops had walls proudly displaying raunchy Pirelli calendars on the walls.  It was not a world we are comfortable looking back on today.

That world is long gone, condemned to the dustbin of unacceptable sexist attitudes.  Agriculture has changed and our attitudes need to change with it, to ensure that women feel safe and comfortable working in any job anywhere.

Since 2003 more women than men have been studying agriculture at university across Australia. More women are completing TAFE qualifications that lead to jobs on farms. These women are providing the technical support and knowledge needed for our innovative and productive modern agricultural industry.

As more and more women and men are working together in the bush, the tone of our workplaces, and indeed most workplaces in most industries, has mostly changed for the better.

No longer is it acceptable to speak or act in a manner that is inappropriate. Derogatory sexual behaviour towards women is being steadily drafted out of our industry.

Community expectations on workplace behaviour have changed and farmers have and must continue to respond.

Employees, contractors or neighbours who are out of line are being pulled up by those people who are prepared to step up, have those difficult conversations and speak out against unacceptable behaviour.

While we would all much prefer to talk about the weather, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our workmates, our communities and our industry to ensure our workplaces are a physically and emotionally safe environment for everyone working in the agricultural sector.

WAFarmers welcomed the recent discussion raised at the Rural, Regional, and Remote Women’s Network #USTOO luncheon held on October 31. The event was not a blame session, rather it was run to recognise that there is an issue in agriculture we all need to address.  It was time to have frank conversations about values and standards to ensure our workplaces are safe and comfortable for everyone.

At the luncheon, Australian National University academic Skye Saunders told us that 73% of women in regional areas had suffered sexual harassment, and an astonishing 93% of women who work in agriculture had experienced sexual harassment. These statistics highlight the need for all of us to be proactive and drive changes to attitudes and actions.

The take away message is simple; sexual harassment is not ok. We all need to be prepared to call out unacceptable behaviour wherever we see it. Are you prepared to step up and have those hard conversations?

Trevor Whittington

WAFARMERS CEO

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