Girl Power and Girl Bosses

11.2.18 Phillips County Vet
Veterinarian and owner of Black Dog Veterinary Services, Alissa Kirchhoff, stands in the home she has turned into an office in rural Phillips County.

I participate in a lot of tours. Normally I’m planning a tour for my boss or I’m hosting a tour on my farm for city folks. But today I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed touring Phillips County, Kansas, with a group of smart, caring and awesome ladies who simply want to make their businesses and communities better.

During the tour we had an opportunity to see four different ladies in action – at their place of work, showing us what they do and why they love living in rural America. We discussed policy implications, opportunities and financial concerns, but the conversation kept coming back to “what more can we do?” “how can we be more intentional with our resources?” and “how do we keep rural America alive and well?”

This tour wasn’t about women’s rights or women empowerment, but what I took away from it was how great these women bosses were and how important their work was to the future of their families and their communities.

The “woman” conversation has been ongoing for a while, sparked by the 2016 presidential election and fueled by the #MeToo movement, supreme court nominees and a general push toward a more modern form of feminism that aims to have a woman in every boardroom and parity in every state and federal elected body. However, I feel the conversation has largely been absent in much of rural America. We’ve all been listening – it’s hard to miss – but I haven’t seen many of my fellow farm wives and small town moms adding to the conversation.

Today I realized why, too many rural women are too busy running businesses, caring for kids, serving on boards and finding ways to uplift one another. The group of ladies assembled in small town Phillipsburg, Kan., today included a veterinarian, two nurses, a school teacher, a nursing home administrator and a sixth-generation farm wife running a large-scale hog operation. These women get sh** done and they do with style and grace (literally good style because of the super cute boutique in Phillipsburg Kan.). They spend their days earning paychecks, caring for kids, playing taxi and now and then taking the time to come together to fundraise for a school project, plan a community event or lend their expertise to an on-going issue.

These women aren’t looking to government to mandate they have a seat at the table, they’re making their own networks, finding their own opportunities and discovering new paths to success. And they do it with busy husbands, limited resources and an optimism that is contagious.

I believe too many women in America are having the wrong conversation, it shouldn’t be how can we, as women, make ourselves equal to men but rather how can women use our unique talents to grow businesses, enhance our communities and bring people together? The women of Phillips County are doing it and it makes me proud to call them friends.

Women Lead Ag – Just Look Locally

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.

Race Wrap Up: Working Moms On The Run

Long before I was a farmer’s wife, took my first selfie or logged onto Facebook, I was running. I am not a “natural” runner. It’s not in my family and I don’t look the part.

In seventh grade I decided I wanted to run track. My parents were speechless and I was simply hoping to stay in shape for swim season. But the “trial run” quickly became a habit I still cling to.

I ran through middle school, high school and into college. I am no longer part of a team but most mornings you can find me on the treadmill or dirt road, listening to my Sirius XM radio and logging the miles. It takes an early bedtime and rising before the sun but it keeps me sane and at a healthy weight. 

Racing has always been a part of my running habit. I’m not a marathoner – never have been and probably never will be. But I will glady hop into any 5K or 10K. Having a full-time job, a 2-year-old and a super busy hubby limits my ability to both train and compete but I manage to squeeze in a race every now and then.

The recent rains kept my farmer hubby from planting corn Saturday so I made a very last minute decision, less than two hours prior to the start of the race,  to complete in a women-only 5K just down the road about 20 minutes. I’ve ran in this race at least six times – maybe more – and I love it.

This is was my first time competing in this race post-baby and racing as a working mom has given me a whole new perspective on the women running along side me. Never before had I really paid attention to the mob of dads with kids strapped to their fronts or skipping down the sidewalk and the running strollers occupying the back of the starting pack.

I realized that the tiny, sleeping baby in the dad’s arms means there is a mom running only months after giving birth. And the crowds of children – mine among them – symbolize these women’s ability to juggle family, work and/or volunteering and running.

Those of us participating represented a wide range of ages, shapes and sizes. Few of us are probably the shape and size we want – or at one time – use to be. But we’re out there, giving it our all, juggling multiple demands – even while on the course – and knowing that as soon as we cross the finish line we’re back to being mom, wife and partner. But for the time we’re racing, we’re super woman, running toward our goal and working our butts off to cross that finish line.

More and more women – and moms – are discovering running and for each lady who makes the decisions to squeeze one more thing into their day, I tip my sneaker. We’re may not be Olympians – or even all that fast – but we’re giving it our all and loving every minute of it!

Having It All . . .

Monday marked the end of a chapter of my life. I left my job in marketing and communications at King Enterprise Group in McPherson for a position as a field marketing manager for Rabo AgriFinance in Wichita. The new position allows me to marry my carer in marketing and public relations with my love of agriculture, provides me with new challenges and move me up another rung on the corporate ladder. It also adds a larger workload, an hour commute and a promise of out-of-state travel to my plate.

I wasn’t looking to take on such a large role only weeks before giving birth to my first child but the opportunity was too great to pass up. The interview process started in December 2012 and I was offered the job in February 2013. When I initially applied for the job, I didn’t expect to get an interview and when I scheduled my first, in-person interview, I honestly expected them to find some reason, any reason to not hire the pregnant girl. But they saw beyond my growing front-side and offered me the position, knowing I would throw some major kinks in the plan. This is my first week on the job and today marks the 30th week of my pregnancy – leaving me, at most, 10 weeks to get myself situated before my maternity leave.

I have always been an ambitious, career-minded woman aspiring to work hard, climb the ladder and make my mark on the world. My husband, by contrast, believed he would marry someone that would stay at home with the kids and prepare three meals a day. Now I have nothing but praise for stay-at-home moms, I have friends that have chosen that path and I commend them because that work is just as hard as an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, but I know that with my husband’s work schedule and my desire to continue my career, I was not fit to remove myself from the work force.

Now don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that my desire to climb the ladder sharply conflicts with my maternal instinct to provide a loving and nurturing environment and relationship for my son. This maybe the 21st century but it still remains difficult to find a good work-life balance and juggle everything – including community commitments and a social life. Knowing the challenges, I have already negotiated one day of work from home per week and have the flexibility to work remotely when needed for other reasons. But with my commute and an 8-hour work day, I’m still gone from my child 40 hours a week and that is all I care to be away.

I am blessed with a supportive husband who has promised to help out when needed and a set of parents and in-laws that likewise have promised their time and attention for my son. I am still looking for child care but trust that will all fall into place by the time our little one arrives. I know that they will all take great care of my child but I also know that I am his mother – his only mother – and I want to be there for all of small but notable childhood accomplishments.

I know my new venture will not be without a few tears, a few regrets and a few struggles but in the end, I am confident we (myself and my support circle) will make this all work and I will have a happy, healthy and outgoing son that knows who is mother is and is happy to see me walk through the door each night. I have received conflicting response from other women on my decision to take on a new career with a new baby. But I chose to believe my decisions are the right ones for me and that a happy mother creates a happy son and a happy home.

When I thought about the struggles of my future, I never envisioned this as one of them but predicting the future is a futile game and you never know what you can accomplish until you try.

So here’s to a career, motherhood and having it all! I hope to become one of the success stories but I’m not afraid to admit that I may be biting off more than I can chew.

A Woman’s Right To Do It All

*I write this post both as a women and as a farmwife that understands the desire to have it all and do it all. As a farmwife, marketing director, runner and advocate, it’s hard to find the time to fit it all in. But we, as women, have earned the right to do it all and have it all and that is something I believe should be applauded.

Women have worked for decades – even centuries – to earn equal pay in the corporate work, equal space in the boardroom and equal say in the household finances.  Women are approaching equilibrium and getting closer each day.

Over the years, women have earned a right to vote, right to equal pay and a right to lead Fortune 500 companies. But women have also earned the right to not return to work after the birth of children, to be happy with a part-time career to better balance work and life and to take a backseat to our husbands. It’s all part of our rights as women and it’s also integral to the future success of women in America. Women should be able to make decisions about their careers and their families and have the complete and unwavering support of their families, friends and society as a whole.

Case in point is Marissa Mayer, who earlier this week was  named the new CEO of Yahoo. Sadly the announcement of her achievement as a career woman has been overshadowed by the fact she’s expecting her first child and has announced her intentions of working through her pregnancy and maternity.

Marissa wants to do it all and I have a strange suspicion she will accomplish that goal. But the criticism from those who don’t want to see her meet that goal is sad. From the moment it was announced that she was expecting, criticism from both sides started flying. Many believed Marissa and others shouldn’t do it all; that women should have to decide between a career and a family. Others believed she was jeopardizing the happiness of her unborn child because she was opting to work instead of parent. All assumptions have, sadly, covered  up the true success story that got buried in the mess of time management and breast feeding talk.

The 37 year-old “power geek” should be seen as a role model for women. She worked her way up the ranks of Google and has been selected to lead a national search engine company. She’s managed to balance work and life and is now attempting to “test the glass ceiling” by throwing a baby into the mix. Women should be standing in the streets yelling “You go girl!” and holding up Marissa as a female who has earned the right to do it all and will be able to handle it all.

Women of all ages, races and income levels have worked tirelessly to earn the ability and freedom to make the decisions that suit their incomes, their lifestyle and their ambitions. Women shouldn’t knock down others because they chose a different path. Women should celebrate one another and see different choices as evidence of their progress and their freedom to stay at home with their children or run a Fortune 500 Company. Men don’t have to choose between a family and a career and neither should women. So let’s celebrate Marissa and others who want – and know they can – have it all and do it all.