Is it difficult to be a female CEO in agriculture in Australia?

By Melinda Hashimoto, CEO, Egg Farmers of Australia


For this article I was asked the question, is it difficult to be a female CEO in Australian Agriculture?

The answer incorporates a number of elements.

CEO is a generic term but there can be a vast difference in the roles of a CEO from one organisation to another. One organisation may have a large number of staff and the capacity for teams or outsourcing of work whereas the CEO of a smaller organisation may need to undertake the majority of work inhouse.

Structures differ, constitutions differ and so too do policy formulations.

Some organisations have a large membership base but with a staff of a couple of people, some oversee the organisation with input from their board as is the case of our organisation, where members are grassroots people involved in the egg industry across the supply chain.

“If you think being a female CEO is hard to explain, try being a house husband – both are met with judgment”

The biggest element relating to the ease or difficulty is by the way of the support that you receive in the CEO role. Some female CEOs may have elderly parents they assist or children and are juggling a range of commitments in conjunction with the role. Given research has shown that females carry the main load of organising in the home. There is a risk that one’s health, home or personal time is neglected in order to give 100 percent to the CEO role.

Many CEO’s have a partner or husband like mine who helps greatly behind the scenes, and some CEO’s have cleaning staff, gardeners or family babysit for them in order to do the role and travel.

If you think being a female CEO is hard to explain, try being a house husband – both are met with judgment.

Further to this, as a young CEO there is often an expectation that you will get the coffee or tea for stakeholders which can be frustrating as you try and do this while listening out to the meeting. I have found as I have become middle-aged, there is less of an expectation to do this but I do believe it takes longer for females to have their experience noted.

To me it doesn’t matter what role you are in, there is always an opportunity to be a leader, a mentor, and the possibility to strive to improve policy that will help your stakeholders.

At the same time, there need to be boundaries in the work you do so you have some time to yourself. This is something I have not mastered but I am trying very hard to ensure a balance. An organisation that provides professional development opportunities for CEOs is of crucial importance. If you don’t have your health and wellbeing and this is not taken seriously it can impact you personally long term and could spill over into the role you do. I have seen this happen to some CEOs.

“Be aware that the boys club is still alive and well but as much as this is frustrating, you can’t dwell on it”

I have seen great change in the roles of women in Agriculture. My background is one from an extremely conservative family. There was a very clear differentiation between men’s work and women’s on the farm and yet my Mother and Father both worked full-time in conjunction with the farm to bring in off-farm income.

I have seen families now allow all their children irrelevant of gender to have a say in the farm. And yet, encouraging such discussion and decision making can only continue to progress the valuing of all opinions and make for a stronger business. Be aware though that the boys club is still alive and well but as much as this is frustrating, you can’t dwell on it and must just get on with it.

I recall one function I went to where although my stakeholders day to day are mainly male, there was almost a dismissal of the fact that I would want to talk about industry issues and some males thought I should spend my time speaking about non industry issues with the females attending.

Work and action speak loudly as to the work you do. This is where you as a female CEO can shine.

Yes, it’s hard being a female CEO and this will remain so possibly for years to come, but I encourage females to strive for a CEO position and, most importantly, to continue to mentor and help others when you are in such a role.



“I believe a farmer’s job is to continuously adapt and grow”,

Angela Ferraro-Fanning, Axe and Root Homestead, New Jersey (USA)   Not far from New York City, in central New Jersey, USA, Angela Ferraro-Fanning decided to reconnect with nature and grow her own food. She does not have an agricultural background, but as the years went on her curiosity allowed her to learn and grow her […]

Read More

Book review: The Reindeer Chronicles – And Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth

By Judith D. Schwartz   Some regions of the world bear wounds inflicted by disrespectful (agricultural) practices, often from times long gone. Cutting down forests to form pastures caused desertification, construction works along the seashore caused precipitation patterns to shift and monoculture sugar cane and fruit plantations destroyed entire landscapes. In “The Reindeer Chronicles”, writer […]

Read More

“My children get to grow up on a farm and that’s worth it to me”

Sarah Clulow, Bernard’s Farm, Chesshire UK)   Sarah Clulow is a first generation farmer. She doesn’t come from a farming family, nor is she married to a farmer. And yet, one day, she decided to leave the safety of job and home behind to become a farmer. “I worked in child protection for many years […]

Read More