‘I wasn’t part of the boys’ club’: Now, farmer Emma Germano is leading one
Emma Germano might be the Victorian Farmers Federation’s first female leader in more than three decades, but she prefers not to get sidetracked “by talk about me being a woman”.
“I didn’t do this to advocate for women, I did this to advocate for farmers,” she said.
When asked about International Women’s Day, Germano was not opposed to using March 8 to celebrate women’s rights and achievements.
“But I think sometimes it misses the mark … It sometimes feels to me like people are being sidetracked from what I’m actually talking about or trying to share, to talk about me being a woman,” Germano said.
Appointed to the position in December 2020 at 36, she is the Victorian Farmers Federation’s first female leader in more than three decades. When Danyel Cucinotta was appointed vice president, the pair became the first female duo in the federation’s history to occupy the organisation’s top two positions.
“We’re in a cultural minority, a gender minority, and an age minority in the organisation,” Germano said. Cucinotta and Germano are of Turkish-Cypriot and Italian background respectively.
These factors – on top of their fierce advocacy work – won them their leadership roles.
“I wasn’t part of the boys’ club. What I see is an opportunity … because we already look like change,” Germano said. “We look different, and people expect different.”
Conversations and a shift in thinking around gender and diversity in the corporate world have not happened at the same pace in agriculture, and farming remains a male-dominated industry. Some tasks around Germano’s family farm, which grows potatoes, broccoli, zucchinis and cauliflower, are beyond her physical limits, so Germano – and countless other women – have drifted towards operations, logistics and the administration side of the farming business. The average age for a farmer has also increased by 10 years.
However, Germano said the industry is changing. More than half of young agriculture graduates, who bring crucial knowledge about technology and automation to the industry, are women. She also saw more female farmers in management and leadership, as well as in the media.
‘Yes, men get resistance, and we see that in politics, but it’s a different type of warfare that’s used against women.’Emma Germano, Victorian Farmers Federation president
While Germano’s forthright demeanour has earned the trust of most Victorian Farmers Federation members – “I don’t pull any punches. I think that resonates with farmers, who don’t like to be bullshitted” – she has also observed “unconscious bias”.
At the federation’s most recent annual meeting, Germano faced questions for more than two hours, one of the longest AGMs in the lobby group’s history.
“There’s no question that that’s partly because of unconscious bias where people probably feel more comfortable to question a woman, which is both good and bad,” she said. “So I often think, ‘jeez, you know, the men didn’t receive this’.”
When she was running for re-election as president, a caller tried to force her to withdraw by threatening to reveal false details about her personal life. “Yes, men get resistance, and we see that in politics, but it’s a different type of warfare that’s used against women.”
She attributed her attitude to her father, who encouraged her to speak her mind, and to her Italian background more broadly.
“Everybody’s telling everyone when they think that they’re right or wrong. The smallest topic you can create so much passion and argument, but it’s all OK. It’s OK to have an argument,” she said. “I don’t think that’s an overwhelmingly Australian trait.”
As a leader, Germano has instigated small but impactful changes in the federation. Doubts raised by Cucinotta about being vice-president while pregnant or caring for a newborn were swiftly allayed; Germano said she also keeps an eye out for smart young women in the organisation to make sure they are not missing opportunities.
A personal highlight for Germano was a recent branch meeting in Dederang, a small town in north-east Victoria. Not only were many young people in the room, but mothers had brought their babies.
“It was a really powerful moment for me,” she said. “I really genuinely was like, ‘this is what I’m doing this for’.”
“It’s the community who own the Victorian Farmers Federation. It just brings more joy and sense of family and community to a group of people who are coming together … [to] talk about what farmers need.
“That’s not because we did anything different; it might just be because there is a sense of change and you do see two young women now. Maybe that’s just the thing in someone’s mind as to why they turn up or why they don’t.”
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