National , 3rd August 2023

How to improve the talent ratio in favour of women in the Indian agri and allied sector? -- Uma Nand Jha, GM - HR & Admin, Yara India Pvt Ltd

Use of speciality fertilisers picking up as more farmers shift from cereals to fruits and veggies: Yara’s Sanjiv Kanwar - The Hindu BusinessLine

Over the past several decades, women have come to occupy more and more positions of leadership. In 2023, more women than ever before are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies: they’re at the helm of more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies! The glass ceilings that have existed for decades are being repeatedly shattered as women make their way into leadership roles in industries that were earlier considered male preserves. However, in the agricultural and allied services industry, women have yet to make the kind of gains they’ve shown in other sectors.

The unique challenges of the agricultural sector

Working in the agricultural sector and allied industries presents unique challenges to women. It’s because of these challenges that there are few women in leadership roles in these industries. One challenge arises from the dearth of last-mile facilities in rural areas. As farms are spread across vast
distances in rural areas where infrastructure is poor or non-existent, women find it difficult to work in the field. Another challenge relates to women’s safety. For instance, women who work in the field must guard against hazards that their male counterparts needn’t consider. Often women themselves choose not to work in the agricultural sector because of such concerns. Also, women often choose to forgo a career in the agriculture sector and instead opt to work in other, better-paying industries. Finally, traditional societies in India are still averse to having women in key decision-making roles. Each of these challenges stands in the way of women rising to leadership roles in the agricultural sector.While these are significant challenges, they’re not insurmountable.

Shattering the glass ceiling in the agricultural sector

One way to ensure that more women work and succeed in the agricultural sector is by grooming women early. Setting up scholarships for women who pursue courses in agriculture at the graduate and undergraduate levels will encourage more women to enrol in such professional courses. The challenges
presented by the last mile may be addressed by setting up the necessary infrastructure in rural regions. Also, when necessary, women may be allowed to work from home.

At the corporate level, companies in the agricultural and allied services sector need to make their company culture more accommodating to women's needs. Women colleagues in such companies should be given the support they need to excel. Also, the mindset of those who work in the agricultural sector needs to be changed. Employees in this sector need to be more accepting of inclusivity. And finally, to create a level playing field at work, employees in the sector need to be trained to overcome any conscious and unconscious biases they have about women.

A recent success story

A leading crop nutrition company has made great strides in increasing the number of frontline female representatives in its sales force. It did so by sensitizing its workforce, and channel partners, and by finding new talent-sourcing opportunities. In addition, the company provided mentoring to female agronomists, took steps to improve women's safety and security, rolled out policies that make field travel easier, supported alternate ways of working, and attained pay parity between women and men. As a result, the percentage of women working in the organisation increased from 6% to 13% in 2022. The company is confident that female representation in the organisation will increase to 35% as early as 2025.

The world’s leading organisations have set ambitious diversity and inclusivity targets. The reasons for doing so are clear: a diverse workforce is a source of strength and helps foster innovation. Therefore, when more women join the agricultural sector, the industry will become more innovative and perhaps
more profitable. These are powerful reasons for the agricultural and allied industries to take steps that lead to more women working in the sector.