Dairy farming is not a career for the faint of heart. Whether your focus is on the cows in the barn or delivering products or services to those who work with cows in the barn, you face many challenges. If, in addition, you are female, you also face being sidelined or ignored when it comes to leading boards of directors or being selected to join those making decisions for the dairy industry. In agriculture, we like to see ourselves as immune to the faults of Fortune 500 businesses. However, when it comes to combating gender stereotypes and championing the cause of women in leadership, dairy has its problems with putting ladies on the ladder to success and welcoming them to the board room table
MENTORS, ROLE MODELS and MEN’S SHIRTS
In 2019 there are still far fewer female dairy farm owners than men. Most veterinary, financial, suppliers and dairy support businesses reflect this same inequity of gender in their managers and leaders. Not only do ag women earn less on average than ag men, but there is also an added economic punishment for being the only sex that can bear children. This is not new. Woman multi-task and we do it well. What is new is that woman are asking to be recognized for their abilities not punished for their gender differences. Women want their leadership voices to be heard.
Dairywomen take ourselves seriously, and it is time that our industry did that as well. We are professional, efficient and effective in the dairy world. Let’s be recognized for that. We know how to mentor and be mentored by those who are successful. Oh – and when we do represent our business in the public eye let’s find a way to brand ourselves – not as company men in pants and shirts – but in professional attire that is appropriate to the work being presented. Too often, the company dress code requires women to look – uncomfortably — like men. Company colors, yes! Company clones no! Celebrate the uniqueness that makes a difference to success!
MISSES, MRS AND MYTHS IN AGRICULTURE
The mothers who raised farm daughters in the past emulated their mothers and added their experience to the teaching. We all have stories of female farmers who handled the bookwork for the family-run businesses. Their meticulous records of inventory, purchasing, banking and employees were a model of management for any successful business. Learning from their office style desk was a good start for career management. Women learned their passion for dairying in the barn, in the fields and in the office. When it came to careers, the expectation was to continue to take a role in making effective changes wherever they were needed.
Universities report rising numbers of women in agricultural courses. In some, women outnumber the male students. This is encouraging when there are many problems facing all sectors of the agricultural industry. Economics, animal genetics, political and human sciences and technology need to have strong leadership if dairy is to be relevant in the future.
However, when it comes to the business world and companies that lead the way in agriculture, the gap is once more a wide one between the genders.
So, what options do today’s dairy girls have? Do they ‘man up’ and become ‘one of the boys’ in the background or accepting lower levels of decision making or do they turn their years of experience on the farm and their passion for dairying into an ownership and management career?
A WOMEN’S PLACE IS IN THE BARN.
A WOMEN’S PLACE IS ON THE BOARD.
Where is a woman’s place? Why are there boundaries? We spend much time applauding women who step into managing the family farm, but recently the question has turned to “Why are there so few women in the boardroom?” of dairy associations, boards and councils?
Unfortunately, we live in a world where having just one woman on the board or senior management team of an ag company is seen as “progress”. Sadly, it is also true that some companies have yet to appoint even one woman to their board. Statistically, we know that for every 100 men promoted to manager positions, only 77 women are promoted and that women are more likely to take a top spot in a revolving door capacity, filling positions previously held by a woman. Is this happening in the business you work with and support? Issues such as compensation and placement in the boardroom still have some way to go before equality is reached. Does it happen on your dairy board or farm-related business?
FEARLESS FARM FEMALES. FIVE CHARACTERISTICS
- Women are not embarrassed to be females in agriculture. They’re empowered.
- They don’t see their position as a women’s position but as a dairy position.
- No matter where their dairy job takes them, they always study to learn how to do it efficiently, effectively and economically.
- Flex time is prioritized according to the goals of the organization.
- They care more about leading than about being liked.
You probably have all kinds of questions arising from these five statements. Of course, any one of them could be a source of conflict. The team that is involved can make an enormous difference in the ability of both men and women to succeed. The entire team has to buy into finding solutions. The dairy industry is facing challenges on all sides and maintaining a viable dairy or service company is becoming more and more difficult. It is a huge learning curve for everyone – male or female – who is motivated by a desire to do what is best for dairy.
Woman face a double-edged sword. Being a woman in a male-dominated environment offers an effortless point of difference. Woman and men are not exactly the same. We can be fearless. We can charge on. Or we can be left alone in the spotlight that seeks out and highlights every weakness and blames it on gender.
DOES BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING AUTOMATICALLY LEAD TO THE GLASS CLIFF?
Perhaps, like me, you have been encouraged by the progress women are making in all aspects of the dairy business? As an industry, we are recognizing that we can’t afford to overlook half of the people that could be involved on the basis of gender alone. We love stories of women having success in turning things around. That is all good. However, these are not the easiest of times to take a leadership role in managing a dairy or a dairy business. What if things not only don’t change but what if they fail entirely? Reasoning says that either outcome is possible in today’s problem-ridden climate. However, there is a new term that is being used when this happens to a woman. It is called the Glass Cliff.
The metaphor of the glass cliff evokes the idea of women who have risen higher are now in a precarious position. They are teetering on the edge, and their fall might be imminent. It has been suggested that women are being set up to fail. They earn leadership positions at the time when conditions are at there worst. Are they victorious, or will they be victims? When they fail is the too often voiced opinion for the outcome, “Women can’t lead.”
FREEING FARM WOMEN – AND MEN – FROM GENDER STEREOTYPES
We are always more comfortable when we feel we are in the right place at the right time and doing the right job. Such serenity is hard to come by in this age of instant pictures, news and studies that have the purpose of moving us to an uncomfortable place where we will buy, sell or change something and, in so doing, benefit the company that has raised our needy awareness.
In the case of gender stereotyping, we are quick to recognize when it applies to our own gender. In my case, wife, mother, grandmother, being around men much of the time, I can’t help but question if they recognize their own stereotyping issues as well.
- The Dad at Home
- The Dad at the Playground
- The Dad in the Kitchen.
I’m sure you can add more to this list if you think of those groups that have an unconscious bias against men. It shouldn’t be about gender, should it?
At the end of the day, it boils down to what we receive credit for. We seek to please. Sometimes I wonder why men get an “Atta Boy” for babysitting on the weekends. Old boy’s clubs are renowned for glad-handing and back-slapping when a project is successful. Why is that an exclusive club? It shouldn’t be about gender equality. It should be about ability.
ARE WE READY TO GET THE WHERE-DO-WE-GO-FROM-HERE MINDSET?
We can’t say we have looked at gender stereotyping from all angles until we consider today’s technology. A UN report has said that virtual assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant reinforce gender stereotypes by portraying women as “subservient”, by relying on female voices. As in anything, you can criticize until the cows come home, but what can you actually do about it?
Here are some practical strategies to talk about in your dairy workplace.
- Vary between ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ skills sets or attributes as needed on the Board.
- Focus on the positive elements of the Board goals instead of dwelling on the negative.
- Speak up about discriminatory selection or promotion practices
- Call for Board recruiting practices that actively encourage women to apply
- Support fellow women in leadership in the workplace.
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
We seem to be in a bit of a time warp. It is encouraging to see the steps that have put a million little cracks in Ag Leadership glass ceilings in the last 20 years. I’m grateful for women who run their own dairies, cooperatives, supply businesses and veterinary and health services. My hope is that as the next generation of women can continue their dairy passions and have careers that will see them soar to unlimited possibilities. The doors are open. To everyone.