Working Moms I Hear You: Agriculture Needs Bigger Minds

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It is not beyond me to realize that the largest part of any audience I have for this column or any speaking engagement is male.  Yes, I love you guys, but women make up more than half the population.  Someday, maybe, if I work hard enough, I’ll appeal to them more.

Last year when I gave a Ted Talk in Chatham Ontario, I could feel such a difference from the $75 dollar a seat audience.  It was different, kind of like the audience wanted me to succeed, laughter came easy it was a great night.  The difference was that over half the audience was female.  Thank you ladies.

So it is what it is, there are great differences between men and women.  Unfortunately not is all well with my soul when it comes to how the sexes get along within agriculture.  I’ve always known there’s sexism everywhere, but what brought home to me this past week was when I read a Fortune magazine article entitled “Female Company President: “I’m Sorry To All The Mothers I Worked With” was sent to me from a female colleague I have great respect for.  It was written by Katherine Zaleski, who is the President of PowerToFly, a woman’s job placement startup company.

In the piece, Zaleski talked about the systemic problem where younger women don’t recognize the value of working mothers, because they are valuing hours within the office and not their output. 80% of women coming into the workforce will be mothers.  So there are huge challenges ahead.

Zaleski detailed how she had once rolled her eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to a last minute meeting.  She had to go to pick up the kids, even though she had arrived 2 hours earlier than her for work.  She hadn’t disagreed with another female editor who had said we should fire another women before she got pregnant.  She also agreed with a male boss who was denigrating a female staffer for (in his mind) not being able to commit to the job and the kids at the same time.  Five years later Zaleski gave birth to a daughter of her own and the world changed.

She was consumed by two choices.  She could either go back to work or never see her baby or pull back her hours and give up a career. The male culture thing seems so dominate. It’s a great read, Google it for yourselves.

Of course when I read the piece I was trying to draw parallels to barriers and discrimination of women within agriculture.  For instance are our agricultural organizations or companies guilty of furthering this mindset toward moms in the workplace?  There is enough sexism in our society as it is but in agriculture do we do a better job?  Or is sexism just as rampant in agricultural industries and on farms?  Or am I talking about something that I’m disqualified from just because I’m male?

Of course discrimination comes in many ways.  I grew up with descendants of slaves near Dresden Ontario, where many black farmers still till the soil.  One of my black friends mother would get fired every time she got pregnant.  After death he shared with me a letter that she’d written about the discrimination she faced as a black woman aside from the obvious point of being pregnant from time to time.  Yes, this is 2015, times do change but there is a long history.

Of course, all of my farming life I’ve been surrounded by women working on farms.   I had grandmothers that worked on the farm and had the drudgery of labor without electricity.  On Sunday, as tradition had it nobody worked on the farm.  However, that did not apply to the women as they worked like slaves cooking, cleaning and doing whatever as the men sat in the other room.  It was just another day.  When they ventured out, there were social codes to keep.  As the years moved on, much changed, but there were battles fought.  The female perspective often got lost in a male dominated world.  Everyone has a story of sexism; this world hasn’t always been fair.  In 2015 we should hope for much better.

What’s that mean?  Simply put, our agricultural industry needs bigger minds.  We need bigger minds that understand women’s issues in agriculture and social responsibility.  Younger women and gentlemen, lean in, I hope you are hearing me.