International Women's Day - Robin Stonecash
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International Women's Day - Robin Stonecash

Robin Stonecash

It’s a memory still so fresh in her mind, it serves as a timely reminder how far women in the workplace have come – Dr Robin Stonecash – a promising, young lecturer being asked by her senior male colleague to do his photocopying.

With a Masters Degreein International Trade from The University of Wisconsin and a PHD from The University of NSW, her response was not subtle.

“I told him exactly what he could do with his photocopying, but he was staunch, insisting I wasn’t doing my job,” she recalls. “When I corrected him, politely pointing out I was in fact a lecturer, he wouldn’t hear of it, and continued to tell me that women couldn’t be lecturers, they could only work in the office.”

The time she was told that women simply couldn’t do maths, their brains weren’t ‘wired to be mathematical’ provides further insights into the ignorance Dr Stonecash quietly endured on her ascent to becoming one of Australia’s most accomplished, and celebrated, educators.

While her grandmother and great aunt who were both teachers – her grandmother was the first woman to get her Masters from Syracuse University in 1903 – Professor Stonecash laughs that she ‘swore I’d never be a teacher’. Luckily the genetic pull was too great.

During a career as varied as it is impressive, ProfessorStonecash, a trained economist, has worked at global institutions such as the US Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and for President Carter’s Council of Wage and Price Stability in Washington.

Today, she is the Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Law and Arts at Southern Cross University, and an independent consultant specialising in Agribusiness.

And while this urban, US native found herself in the Australian agricultural space quite by accident, the unlikely sector has clearly become very close to her heart.

“My family love to cook, my great grandmother had a wonderful restaurant and I’ve always had an appreciation for good food, and cared where it came from,” she explained.

This ignited a quest for knowledge, and Professor Stonecash admits the more she researched, the more astonished she was in the capacity of Australian farmers to grow such quality food and fibre in the face of so many challenges, such as droughts, floods, pests and isolation.

“I really felt an obligation to help our farmers, I don’t think many people appreciate quite the job they do.”

Her passion for agriculture and gift for teaching has proved a fortuitous fusion for Australian farmers - for over a decade ProfessorStonecash has enjoyed the role of Program Director for Rabobank’s Business Management Programs, guiding learning and development, challenging thinking and compelling participants to view and manage their farming operation as a business.

And while personally she’s navigated her way to the top of what was once a male dominated industry, it gives her perhaps even greater pleasure witnessing first-hand the rise of more and more females taking a lead in agriculture.  

This International Women’s Day she reflected on the ‘quiet, strong women doing remarkable things on the land’ –women who she said were increasingly becoming the driving force behind farming businesses.

“When I started working with the Business Management Programs there were perhaps one or two women, and now while not quite 50/50, I’d say 40 per cent of the class is female.”

The program’s alumni tour also affords ProfessorStonecash the opportunity to maintain her relationship with many past participants, and follow the continued business, and personal growth of many of these women.

“I look at women like Susie Daly, who entered the program to create a plan to use waste from the family’s Tasmanian potato farm. She has now developed a potato distillery producing quality vodka, and it’s been an enormous national success.”

As for the hand she has personally played in empowering and supporting these women, Professor Stonecash regards her contribution humbly.

“I just want to help women gain the confidence to run their business better – because when you can enjoy a thriving business you tend to be happier at home, sleep better, eat better, have better relationships – If have had some small part in that then that’s the best reward ever.”

And for a woman of such high acclaim and accomplishment, another of her greatest rewards is equally as humble.

“I have to say, I feel most content when I’m walking my dogs, it’s a great time to contemplate and relax – how can you not be happy when you are walking two dogs that are so clearly enjoying life!”


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