I don’t have to preach to the choir or tell personal stories of how hard it can be to be a woman in agriculture — we all know how it goes. Every woman in agriculture has heard, “Wow, you know how to fix that?” and, “That’s too heavy for you, honey,” more times than they can count. I know I have, and I’m only 22!
I’ll never forget the first time I had a bucket of milk stolen out of my hands because it was “too heavy for me” or all the times I wasn’t taken seriously or only referred to as “the girl in the braids.” But these moments have taught me a lot. They’ve taught me to speak louder and be more confident in my abilities.
It took me a long time to learn how to be confident in the face of adversity, and I am still learning. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to not walk into the room immediately expecting everyone to respect me, but rather to walk into the room and immediately show people why they should respect me. Now, being a young college student, that’s a tall task! But that’s advice that every young farmer and woman in agriculture needs to hear.
As I become more involved with my community at home, and I attend more industry meetings and events through school, I take note of how the people around me demand respect from the crowd. I also take every opportunity I have to learn from women in the industry.
I talk to veterinarians, farm consultants, nutritionists, crop managers, herd managers, and more about how they become respected female leaders in their companies. Usually they laugh a little when I ask them that, and they tell me every time that it doesn’t matter what people think of you in the beginning as long as you’ve changed everyone’s mind by the end.
If you’re a woman in agriculture, a young farmer, or someone who is struggling to have their voice heard, I suggest reaching out to the people in your industry who you look up to. More times than not, your role models have been through the same situation that you’re in right now. Something that is special about the agriculture industry is how willing people are to hand out advice. Farmers are transparent, and hard conversations are easy to have with people you look up to.
Additionally, I think that networking with people you look up to is the best thing any aspiring professional can do. Arguably the best way to achieve your goals is to talk to someone who is already achieving them. If you can make an impression on the person whose job you want to have, that’s a huge step in the right direction.
Being a woman in agriculture does not hold you back from anything. It makes the uphills a little steeper, but it makes you stronger at the end. Like Michelle Miller said in an article, women in agriculture are slowly becoming less of a minority. The connotation of the farmer is changing rapidly, and women are pushing their way up to the positions they deserve.
I hope that the conversation about women in agriculture becomes obsolete soon. I hope that someday there will be no such thing as a “farmer’s daughter” just like there is no “farmer’s son.” Hopefully someday soon, women will be expected to be farmers, herd managers, or millwrights just like men are.
Elizabeth Maslyn is a Cornell University student pursuing a career in the dairy industry. Her passion for agriculture has driven her desire to learn more, and let the voices of our farmers be heard.