Recently an Agriculture Commentator, Kevin Hursh, from right here in Saskatchewan, sparked a heated debate with a tweet commenting on what women need to do in agriculture.
The quote he tweeted about was from Jen Christie, a respected woman in Ontario Agriculture. She was speaking at an event by Chatelaine Magazine, and was explaining the dynamics of board leadership in agriculture.
This same tweet prompted a great discussion between myself and my husband. Aaron sits on many boards. He was asked to sit on every one of them them by experienced board members and executives. We listed off many of the (male) board members that we know. They were all asked to sit on boards. The local director for our Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association was first asked to run for that board. I have never been asked to sit on a board. The very long list of my confident, accomplished female friends have never been asked to sit on boards. This was a pretty simple light bulb moment for both of us. Board members need to be aware and look for great future board members of BOTH genders. It was a great discussion, one that Mr. Hursh did not seem to find in that quote.
After receiving many questions and objections on Twitter, he then continued expanding on this opinion in a piece for a mainstream newspaper. Read it here.
Over the course of the past week, I have written, then deleted, a snarky tweet response to Mr. Hursh at least a dozen times. I believed that a public spat over Twitter would do little good for myself, women in agriculture, or the industry as a whole. But upon reading his very public expansion, using terms such as victim mentality, I could no longer remain quiet.
Since Kevin is (very obviously) not a woman in agriculture, I though that perhaps he could benefit from some context of what being a woman in today’s Ag industry actually looks like. Allow me to share some stories.
A woman is told that the retail she is managing will quickly go to hell with a woman running the place – they would have been better with a toddler manager. The three other men in the office laugh and laugh, and comment that perhaps she best run the fertilizer blender in a skirt and heels. In the best interest of keeping the customers happy, of course.
A man quietly walks (sneaks?) into a woman’s office while her back is turned to the door. He grabs her shoulders and proceeds to move his hands towards her chest. He is surprised at her anger, and makes comments about her need to “keep her customers happy” and to “not make trouble.”.
A woman is demoted for taking the standard maternity leave that the law affords her. With no warning and no discussion she is moved from a sales rep to a junior associate.
A woman is at a commodity group meeting. She is told by three different men how odd it is that she is at the meeting instead of her husband. Would she not have been better off caring for the children so that he could be there?
Do you think that these are isolated occurrences? Are these old school instances that no longer happen? Well, let me fill you in on a little secret. They were all me. Every single one. I am a woman in agriculture, and, at under forty, a fairly young one at that. That last example? It was last week.
Now, perhaps you will think that by sharing these stories, I am falling into the “victim mentality” that Kevin referred to. I almost wish he had experienced a close up of his posterior posted on Ag Twitter to be examined and measured, as did a horrified young female summer student I spoke with last year. Perhaps he would understand that the hesitation to step up often has nothing to do with “victim mentality.”
The truth is that I have never spoken of these before. I have not complained or tattled, whined or whinged. I took each incidence for what it was, and made sure to make the best of each one. Sometimes you can laugh it off. Sometimes a fuss must be made.
I know that I am not alone in these experiences. Just as I know that they have not ceased to occur. These instances, and my response to them, are experiences that I can share with younger women. Women who may not have my confidence, or my network to fall back on.
Of Kevin’s opinion piece, I can point out some glaring mistakes. He did not get pulled into this discussion. He inserted himself into it, after reading a single tweet that he had no context behind. His generalization that “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics or one of the many crop commissions” is pretty far off base, in my slightly more expert opinion. The women that I talk to are very interested. They are struggling to see the path onto many of these boards, for a multitude of reasons.
I had the confidence to tell the grey hairs that I deserved to attend our regional meeting. I can only imagine their shock if I ran for a position. Fear of failure is not a reason to hold back, but it is a wall that needs to be climbed in order to move forward. Climbing such walls takes time, and an incredible amount of confidence. Kevin believes that these barriers are based on perception not reality, yet they still seem to leave a mark when we run ourselves into them.
Hursh, I would like to believe that your intention was to inspire women to step up, rather than to tear down events and organizations that many women see value in, but let me assure you, that message was lost in your condescension.
So here I am, as a confident, competent woman in agriculture, telling you, Kevin Hursh, that you do not get to tell me what it is that I need. There are many areas that I could learn from you and your valuable experience, but the struggles of being a woman is not one of them.
Women and their personal experiences are as diverse as this amazing industry is. There is no one right answer in creating more balanced leadership. What does not help is bashing options. I, myself, have not attended many women focussed Ag events, but I would never belittle them as an option for those who seek their value.
It is in the best interest of agriculture as a whole, for our boards and commissions to be diverse in both opinions and gender. It is a problem that they are currently not. Many issues require many solutions, but let’s all try to be part of the solution rather than the grey haired problem.