Women in Agriculture: Tapping into Our Full Potential
Over my career at Bayer, I have had the opportunity to work with many outstanding women in our industry and have seen first-hand the significant impact they are making in agriculture. As the company shines a spotlight on women in agriculture this month, I reached out to several leaders I’ve known to get their thoughts on what it means to be a woman in agriculture today. I was delighted to see that they quickly responded to each of my questions with thoughtful comments and keen observations.
Although I couldn’t include all the comments, I hope I’ve done a fair job at summarizing their perspectives. So please read on!
What changes have you seen in our industry over your career, in terms of diversity?
In years past, it would be unusual to find a significant number of women outside of junior positions in research labs (or other areas). This gender gap was especially obvious at major industry events. Twenty years ago, you could look around a conference room and see only a few other women. Today, there are many more women participating in activities outside the traditional female-friendly roles and they are showing up in significant numbers at industry conferences, field tours and customer events. While this increased visibility and participation is positive, we have a long way to go. Even today, there are relatively few women who are invited to give talks in conferences and there are far too few women occupying senior positions in most companies or on company boards. Less than 10 percent of women occupy leadership positions in agriculture and that has got to change.
Ag Technology Ambassador
What perspective do you think women bring to the ag industry?
Being part of agriculture and the natural world, we understand that diversity is a driver of evolution and progress. We also know that increasing the diversity of perspectives has been shown to improve decision-making. Many sociological studies show that women approach problems in different ways from men. Women bring a different style that tends to be more collaborative and consultative, while also being open to a wide range of options to build a stronger sense of community. It’s also important to note that many women balance two careers in parallel – one at home and one at work – which requires two skills that are essential in life and in business: flexibility and resiliency. Let’s not forget that in some parts of the world, a majority of farmers are women – so that women in agricultural roles are uniquely positioned to better understand their needs and represent their interests.
What does the industry need to do to attract more women into the field?
The best advocates for women are other women – mentors who act as role models for those starting a career in our industry. This will be even more effective if it comes from women who have broken through barriers to reach senior levels in the company. Coaching women in the earliest stages of their career will encourage risk-taking, as too many women today feel they can only work in an area for which they already have experience. We also must find creative ways, such as flexible work schedules, to help women thrive both as mothers and leaders in a way that doesn’t force them to choose one over the other or penalize their opportunity for advancement. Finally, promoting STEM education can only help to encourage future female leaders.
In your opinion, why is diversity in agriculture so critical to its future?
The issues facing agriculture have substantial impact on people and the planet, so we need to cultivate the ideas and talents of everyone to properly address them. Observations over the course of a career have shown that cultural diversity (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age, lifestyle, backgrounds) can bring new insights and lead to more productivity when compared to less diverse environments. Looking for leaders with the same life experiences is all-too-common in corporate career succession pathways, which can lead to stagnation and a lack of creativity. Encouraging fresh ideas and new perspectives that question the norm is how age-old problems can be suddenly solved. Since women account for half the population, the ultimate question is why would we choose not to tap into 50 percent of humankind’s full potential, and why would any business think that is a strategy for success?
I think anyone agrees that agriculture has seen incredible changes over the past few decades. When we think about these changes, we tend to focus on the technological advances that began in the Green Revolution and which led to greater farm productivity and efficiencies. Perhaps less obvious is the quiet revolution that is having an equally transformative effect – the increasing role of women. The comments from those above clearly show the benefits that diversity can bring to our industry and society. Slowly but surely, women are having an even more profound influence on shaping the future of farming.
It’s happening. And it’s about time.
Many thanks to these women leaders who provided comments for this article: