“What’s it like to be a woman in such a man’s world like agriculture?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked and thought about a lot. It’s hard not to when I spend my days as an Ag Law Specialist in rooms of 80-90% men most days. It’s also not lost on me that even a generation ago, a woman likely would not have had a role like mine.
Recently, Marlene Eick asked a podcast guest of hers a similar question, so I decided to share a few of my thoughts.
First, I think how I was raised plays into me fitting into this role well.
I grew up not really thinking there were things I couldn’t do because I was a girl.
I’m sure part of that was because of my Gran. A spitfire of a woman who pushed 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. When her husband died of a heart attack at age 46, leaving her with a farm to run, two boys to raise, and a job in town, most people told her to walk away from the farm. But my Gran didn’t listen to those people, and because of that my children are now the fourth generation on our family farm. It never struck me that a woman couldn’t do anything ag related because, well, my Gran did it. Add to that a working mom of my own who seemed to do it all and it really didn’t dawn on me women were somehow limited in opportunities.
My parents didn’t seem to treat my brother and I differently, especially when it came to helping on the farm. The only real exceptions to that I can remember are that when we would give certain medications to cows, I wasn’t allowed to touch the bottles or fill the syringes and when an animal was having trouble and a baby needed pulled, I was tapped in over the men because I always had the smallest hands. Beyond that, gender didn’t seem to matter much. I drove a swather, hauled hay, and worked cows just like the men.
Because of these childhood experiences, I have a lot of confidence that I am right where I am meant to be and I am doing what I am meant to do.
Second, I try and give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t look for opportunities to be offended.
For example, at least once a week (maybe more like once a day), I am referred to as “sweetheart,” “honey,” or my personal favorite, “that little lady lawyer that knows cows.” Now, would my male colleagues ever be called this? No. But do any of these men mean anything remotely negative by it? Also no. Most of these men are merely trying to be kind, so I try to think of them like I would my Dad or one of our neighbors who has known me my whole life.
Similarly, when an older former faculty member cornered me a couple of years ago to ask if there was a man who accompanied me on all my trips to drive me around and be sure I was safe, I chose not to be offended, but to appreciate his concern (and wish I had thought of asking for a driver when I interviewed…)
Now, that’s not to say offensive comments aren’t made where this doesn’t apply. Once, in my prior career, an opposing counsel rudely referred to me as “little girl.” I swiftly and sternly replied, because while you can try and give people the benefit of the doubt, you also can’t be walked all over.
Third, I try and really live by a quote I heard a while back that says, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
I don’t say this to sound egotistical, but to illustrate the idea that I work very hard to try and be the best at what I do. Knowing that most of my audience will be male, I feel like in some ways I do work harder to be sure my voice is heard.
My goal by the end of a program is that people don’t leave thinking about my gender, but thinking about the knowledge I shared. In my experience, when you know your stuff, the audience doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman.
All this to say, I feel like I’ve found my calling, and even though that might be in a “man’s world,” I feel fortunate to be here.
As I raise a daughter of my own, I am intentional in showing her that a woman can be anything she wants, and feel fortunate to have my own career as an illustration of that.