Female farmers might never be the majority, but they will be formative players in the future of agriculture. The number of female farmers grew by 30% during the past decade and now comprise more than 14% of the whole. Their place on the farm goes beyond the office and part-time hours while the kids are in school. They handle the milking, feeding, harvesting and equipment. More than seasonal help, women are increasingly the farmers in charge. They’re quickly becoming recognized as the CEOs who competently handle the bulk of the decision-making, sign the contracts and manage the employees.
In a typical nonfarm household, 90% of the financial decisions are made by a woman. As farming professionals, women tend to:
- Invest their time in education and research; they want to know why, how and when.
- Focus on the bottom line and understand the value of a dollar.
- Trust their gut and rely on their keen sense of intuition.
- Be devoted peers when treated with dignity and respect.
- Not tolerate patronization or pigeonholing.
- Appreciate being recognized as equals and treated as contemporaries.
- Be competitive and hesitant to back down from a challenge.
Up to the task. So, how about on your farm? Do you consider your own daughter, niece or granddaughter a viable management candidate? Like her colleagues in other professions, she’s prepared for the challenge and, more importantly, can add a dimension that doesn’t exist in most farming operations. Without being sexist, consider the positive attributes a woman’s perspective might add to your operation. She’s capable, and she sees the world through a different set of lenses.
What she might lack in brute strength, she’ll make up for in other ways. She’ll use brains over brawn to overcome many of the physical challenges in the occupation. As a colleague, she’ll defy any test, especially one that allows her to improve her skills and increase her value to the operation. She’s willing to learn and open to new ideas. She’ll work with the team and share informed ideas openly.
If you haven’t considered women as viable candidates for your operation before but you’re willing to now, you’ve just doubled the number of next-generation prospects. Like male counterparts, they’re looking for opportunities and are willing to demonstrate their ability. But it all starts with you. Have you created an environment that is welcoming to all potential candidates, regardless of gender?
To send a signal that women are welcome and to recruit the brightest successor candidates, start with your job descriptions. Are they written to invite viable candidates to expand professionally and help the organization succeed? Do they address physical labor and other tasks, or do they inspire members to apply for positions that allow them to grow and learn from experience?
Although there’s no need to change your standards, you might have to do things differently to generate a different result. If you want women to apply for positions in the company, you must vary the message. Most women won’t respond to the same outreach as a man. If you want women to feel comfortable on your farm, you must be welcoming and attentive. If you want to attract tomorrow’s top farming professionals, you must be proactive and speak in a manner that is approachable by all.
To download a template to help you establish job descriptions for your farm operation, visit
Kevin Spafford writes from Chico, Calif. Contact Kevin:
- January 2014