A strong, reliable and even crucial part of the workforce falls into one of the smallest categories of employment – women in agriculture. Though the number of women in the workforce grows more and more each day, agriculture and science still have lower numbers of women choosing these professions. Why is this important to agriculture? The industry is in a huge retirement phase, which means great leaders are in high demand.
Women in the Workplace
Gender inequality in the workforce is a highly talked about subject. However, it typically is not followed by statistics or hard data. This leaves a lack of understanding as to why the gap exists. A recent study went against the norm and used data to explain this issue.
The study collected data in a novel process by using sensors on badges. The sensors determined behaviors of men and women during work hours. They tracked in-person behavior, recorded communication patterns and measured movement and proximity to other badges. Additionally, it monitored speech by collecting data on who talks with whom, where people communicate and who dominated the conversation.
Though the sensors aren’t a new technology, the collection of data is new.
The results of this study found almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of women and men. Women had the same number of contacts, spent as much time with senior leadership, and allocated time similarly to men in the same role. Basically, men and women had indistinguishable work patterns and received statistically similar performance evaluations/scores; yet women weren’t advancing and men were.
Although the study did not answer the “why”, it did give good information for future studies.
Women in Ag
The next question remains, how do these results relate to women in agriculture? Dr. Christine Alvarado, Texas A&M University poultry science professor, set out to answer this question.
“I started working with some colleagues in social sciences to conduct a targeted survey of women leaders in agriculture to determine the importance of achieving leadership roles and potential barriers that exist,” Alvarado said.
The studied found several issues women rated as important. Those issues were availability of leadership development, mentoring opportunities, and responsibilities they felt in raising their children. The barriers were family responsibilities, advancement opportunities, time, home responsibilities and mentoring.
These results are aimed at finding how women may feel about leadership roles and identifying potential barriers. Though not all encompassing, it begins to provide reasoning as to why less women are in the workforce. Once we understand the why, we can begin to move forward toward solutions.
A Bright Future
We may not be seeing an influx of women in agricultural occupations, but we are seeing them in a different area.
The academic world is seeing more female degree-seeking students in agriculture and females have become the majority in some animal and poultry science degrees.
Because of this, we owe it to those young women to create a better future.
Studies found women felt “stressed”, “anxiety” and “uncertainty” when contemplating a more demanding leadership role. When identifying barriers, “family responsibilities”, “advanced opportunities”, “time” and “home responsibilities” surfaced to the top of the list.
So how do we change this? How do we make agriculture a more welcoming place for women to work, grow and lead?[ArticleAdBlock3}
“We all need to talk about this topic much more in the workplace,” Alvarado said. “Women often don’t speak up regarding their needs in order to climb the corporate ladder and men aren’t always at the table when this topic is discussed in the workplace.”
If people aren’t aware of the problem, no one will be able to fix it. This means speaking up and discussing these issues. As professionals, it is important not to tiptoe around a topic as important as this. Speaking up and addressing these concerns is the first step in moving forward.
Despite more and more women flowing into the workforce, agriculture is still on the shallow end in number of women choosing this area. Now more than ever, great leaders are in high demand. With more and more young women choosing agriculture majors, the solution seems quite obvious – more women need to be involved in agriculture. However, the path to get there may not be quite as evident. It is crucial to continue understanding why women are not more common in the workforce. When we develop those understandings, we can work to address the issues that deter them and create a better work environment for both women and men.
Image courtesy of Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center