Why are women so underrepresented at ag industry events?

markie hageman


In an industry that is stereotypically male-dominated, not only are there many women who own and work on farms, they also hold careers in many segments of ag — some even support their farms with other careers. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, 30 percent of women are farm operators, but that number doesn’t account for the women who represent agriculture through other sectors of the industry. Clearly, we have a strong influence in agriculture.

So, with all this involvement, why aren’t we equally represented at conventions or on panels?

Recently, as part of our National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Marketing Ambassador Twitter chat, I had the pleasure of moderating our discussion about women in agriculture and their opportunities during the cattle industry convention and NCBA trade show. A few notable names participated, including Brandi Buzzard of Red Angus Association Of America. While there were many opportunities for women during the convention, she stated that she wanted to see more representation of women on panels rather than create more events specifically aimed at women. For example, representation of the female demographic during Cattle Con 2017 was only 38 percent, compared with the 62 percent of men represented.

I fixated on Buzzard’s comment long after our chat had ended. I️ identified with this thought after recently competing in my Farmers Federation Young Farmers Discussion Meet, where only two women were on the panel in the group of roughly 20. Also, as a Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program member, only six of us are women out of 25 total. I know so many talented women who could do far more impressively than I, yet they didn’t participate.

I’m, by no means, bitter of men, but I️ can’t ignore the lack of women I️ see involved in agriculture off the farm. Why aren’t we out there with these men, and how can we change that?

A big factor during our Twitter chat was in regards to childcare. Women are commonly known to play the caretaker role in the family and opt out of conventions and meetings when babysitting services are scarce or farms need tending to while husbands travel to events. This is a huge factor in the decision to attend Cattle Con 18, according to some of the women who participated in the Twitter chat.

What about those of us who don’t have a family or kids to worry about? Leaving out the obvious financial obstacle, seeing as most things we participate in can be funded through our associations and scholarships, why are all ages of women so under-represented?

Maybe, I’m asking a question too difficult for any one of us to answer. Some of us might feel less eligible than men; others have issues finding childcare; some of us have other obligations; and then there are those who might not even know the opportunities out there. So, instead of asking, “Why aren’t we there?” I should ask, “Why should we be there?,” in hopes to create more awareness for the issue of female representation in agriculture.

Women are a growing demographic in agriculture — we have a lot to offer to the industry. We tend to excel, over men, in the social aspects of the industry. Advocating on social media is, arguably, one of the most important roles to have in agriculture in today’s world, and women represent our industry well in that area. Not only are we excellent advocates, we also succeed as producers.

Over the summer, I visited a poultry farm in Alabama. While there, the farmer mentioned that the best producers in the area were, and had been for a while, women. He figured their attention to detail and compassion toward their animals gave them an advantage over the men, who made up many of the other leading producers. While that is all his speculation, there’s something to be said about how well women manage their farms. Our strengths as caretakers show through our animals and crops.

Perhaps, instead of creating more events specifically for women, social or not, we should have more women sitting right next to those men on those panels and more women attending important discussions and events where men typically dominate. While the social aspect is exciting to most women, it can seem divisive and leave us feeling excluded from a discussion we can hold our own in and add to positively. I believe the solution to gaining more women representation in agricultural panels and events will be found in the answer to the question, “Why should we be there?,” rather than continuously asking why we aren’t there.

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