I just finished a podcast about women in agriculture. It wasn’t your usual, more women need to farm, instead it focused on the lack of women in leadership and decision-making positions at the many national farm and food organizations. As someone involved in both policy and advocacy, this issue caught my attention. But it also caught my ongoing frustration with the conversations surrounding women in leadership roles (more about that later).
The podcast featured three women ag reporter and their first example of male dominance was at an American Farm Bureau Federation’s national meeting and the claim was that there was only one women in the room voting on policy issues. I can neither verify or dismiss that claim but I can say that men do normally outnumber women in the organization – at the national level. But as a women involved in Farm Bureau that doesn’t bother me. Why? Well Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization that derives all policy positions from the local and state level. So if we look not at the national voting delegates, they are merely taking marching orders from their states. So if you look the people sitting in board rooms on a Tuesday night in a rural Kansas community, you’re likely to find as many if not more women than men. That reassures me that women are and will continue to play an important role in shaping and implementing ag policy. Listen to the complete podcast at: https://simplecast.com/s/42337269
The same holds true for several other agriculture organizations that allow their membership base to determine policy positions and direction for involvement and action. The focus of male/female ratios should not be solely on the top of the organization but on the local level where decisions are made and input given for those at the state, regional and federal levels.
But on the larger issue of women in leadership. Sheryl Sandberg sparked a movement with her book, Lean In, that promoted 100 percent, no-excuses involvement at the workplace. Women should always be working toward the next promotion and leadership position. That’s all good and fine for the women who can or chose to be 100 percent career focused. But for the other 90 percent of us, there is more to life than professional success. There are children, spouses, friends, communities and all of the joy that comes in the small moment and downtime in our lives. Success at work is wonderful – I strive for it daily – but to declare that women must reach parity with men in all industries and walks of life, I have to raise my hand and ask the question if there are that many women who really want to give it all up to sit at the top of the company organizational chart. Sure, success sounds great and the money that comes with those positions would make many aspects of life simpler. But it would, no doubt, diminish time with kids, connections to the local community and the flexibility and freedom that comes with fewer work responsibilities. I, for one, am not prepared to give that all up just to even the playing field with men. I know how and where I can play a role in policy development and advocacy and have found that I can make a different from my farm and my kitchen table.
I trust and know that if and when women want to rule the world, they can and will. And for those women who have a singular focus on career and professional success, that time will come much quicker. But for others of us who want to be present for our childrens’ school plays and Saturday football games, that success may come later in life. Or it may never be fully realized at all because somewhere along the way we figured out there was more to life than a big paycheck and the corner office.