Small businesses touch many lives, whether they’re in one of our great Eastern seaboard cities or in a remote location across our big dry land.
Workplaces and commodities might vary, but there’s usually a champion or two in place – either at the helm with the vision and the drive to carry it out, or pushing production and making things happen behind the scenes.
Across Australia, those in business deliver goods, serve them, buy and sell commodities and properties and create, build and facilitate in the digital world and the built environment.
Nowhere other than on the land has the army of workers keeping the wheels oiled, the workers fed and the livestock tended been at the heart of their sector and their community.
Recently in Tasmania, a long-standing group of hard-working agricultural women celebrated a milestone in their history – the twentieth anniversary of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture, a group which came together to support one another in the mid-1990s when times were really tough.
Their stories were documented in a book to celebrate the anniversary, and capture the journey of those farming women and the contribution they have made to agriculture in their state - changing the culture of farming, and the way in which farming women were perceived. Their stories are the journey from invisibility to acknowledgement of the roles they have played, carrying the baton on from their hard-working predecessors.
Fiona Stocker, author of the book A Place in the Stockyard says, ‘These women farmers were called the invisible farmer and classified as ‘unproductive’. There were no photographs of women on the land in government archives and no mention of them in the media.’
The stories told in the book document the myriad ways in which the farming women of Tasmania changed that in their state: getting off their farms and meeting with others, sourcing courses to educate themselves, taking key roles on industry boards, running farm safety campaigns and foundations, winning funding and lobbying government on issues affecting them.
I spoke with the author Fiona Stocker about what she learned from the stories she has brought together for the book, and the top three lessons any small business owner might take away from the experiences of this heroic bunch of women farmers. This is what she said.
1. THE NUMBER ONE LESSON IS DON’T DO IT SOLO
Get a network around you. Get out and meet people running similar operations to yours, and learn from them, be inspired by them, take succour and encouragement from them when you need it, and give it back when you can. Women particularly are amazing at generating what it takes to run a business, but we’re not wonder women, and it’s not good for us to do it alone.
2. GET BACK TO YOUR ROOTS
The connection between grass roots and those in power is vital, whether you’re talking business or government. It’s vital that those representing us in Parliament stay in touch with what’s happening on the land at grass roots level. You can see the mighty fall when it’s perceived that they don’t genuinely have the best interests of ordinary working people in mind! The same principle, that of leaders needing to have an authentic connection at every level, applies in the business world too.
Before moving to rural Tasmania, Stocker worked for one of the world’s top executive search companies placing CEOs in major national and multi-national corporations. The best candidates were always those who had the ‘common touch’, who could relate to anybody at any level of the business. They had real understanding of what drove people to turn up every day. Only then was that leader perceived to have the deep understanding they needed to be truly effective in the Boardroom or as a strategist.
3. ALLOW FOR DIFFERENCES
Some in your sphere of influence will want to work quietly and diligently in a role they’re good at, make their contribution and gain a working lifetime’s worth of satisfaction from that. Others will want to move upwards, challenge and educate themselves, take on new responsibilities, perhaps represent their industry. You’ve got to allow for all comers, and recognise that what everybody puts in must be cherished.
Through their endeavours together, she adds, these women gave meaning to and gained energy in their working lives, and eased the way for younger women moving up through agricultural education and into roles in the sector today. By any account, it’s an incredible legacy.