Can I talk to the man in charge?

True stories about women in agriculture and their experiences with sexism, discrimination and just plain rudeness.

Late in August, our fearless Chair was asked to present to Pioneer regarding the role of women in agriculture and wanted to get some examples of unconscious bias in agriculture. Her reason for starting AWN in 2012 was to create a forum where producers and industry professionals could come together to support each other as we strive for greater gender equality in agriculture. Since this was exactly what the group was created to discuss, she posed a simple questions to the group:

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I anticipate she hoped for a half a dozen stories, examples of basic unconscious bias that women experience everyday, to help highlight the female experience in argiculture. . What I can be certain she did not anticipate, is that this post would received over 120 comments over the next 24hrs and that stories and tales of sexism would continue to roll in over the next weeks from women who have experienced unconscious bias in agriculture (from both men and women).

As a result of this landslide of feedback from our members, AWN decided to deicate our attention to exploring unconscious bias – what it is, how pervasive it is, and how it holding agriculture back. Today, we thought we’d finally share the stories of our colleagues, just in case there are still people who are uncertain as to the extent of it.

TRIGGER WARNING – some of these stories are just plain rude, some may make you nauseous ,while other may shock you with the amount of disrespected directed towards women. And some stories may just make you down right mad.

Many of our primary producer members shared experiences of salesmen and reps coming on farm. It was often stories of  females stereotypes suggesting that men could only be the primary producer.

“I had a sales guy assume I had to be married to of moved on the farm and be farming with my dad….. I couldn’t just be a single women managing the dairy herd by herself” – Tarah

“After I was married and my husband and I were farming on our own, I had a sales rep from a livestock exporter come in for a transfer for an animal we had sold. My husband wasn’t home, but I said I could get the transfer for him and his response was “can you sign that?” My response was “I can sign the whole damn farm away!” – Maureen

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And not just from men. It’s important to remember that women can be bias against our own gender too, without even noticing it.

“When a local company’s new agronomist stopped in this spring to introduce herself SHE said “Hi I’m……and I came to discuss some cropping ideas, is your husband available?”………Can you guess how much business that company gained from our farm? Shockingly, another woman in agriculture made the mistake of assuming that my husband is the only decision maker.” – Christie

Others told stories of blatant sexism and rudeness.

“I was once told I was lucky to be ‘pretty and a girl’ because it helps the industry” – Hanna

“I was 18 when I applied for a job at the local feed store. I was told that they couldn’t hire me because their customers wouldn’t be comfortable dealing with a female at the loading dock. The only female at the company was the bookkeeper, squished into a corner of the office.” – Karen

“I had a guy flat out say he would never hire a woman, unless she was well past her child bearing years ‘because most of them just want to get hired and then sit back and get paid to pump babies out, then leave'” – Katherine

“Men are oftentimes surprised that I sell equipment, and some are just outright jackasses. Since I sit in the corner of the showroom, when they come around the partition and find me – they are shocked to see a woman. One of the ‘highlights’ was ‘If I buy this tractor, will you come wash in it your bikini?'” – Stephanie

While many of these stories are horrifying, many women were quick to highlight how important their involvement in this industry and their capabilities.

“While at work I was pulling blood on a cow and chatting with our veterinarian about next steps for her when I had a male feed rep enter the barn and ask me if I was “playing dress up for the day with Reg (our vet)”. When I replied “no, I work here full time”, he responded with “oh that’s cute! Do you get to play with the baby calves when you’re not cleaning?” Our vet responded that I was the herdsmen. I’ve never seen colour drain quite so quickly from someone’s face.” – Steph

“I work on my family farm and at an Ag retailer and I had a fellow farmer ask me why I was doing a mans job working out in the yard loading seed and chemicals and not in the office behind a desk he said this as I was carrying two boxes of chemicals to his truck while he was carrying one” – Emma

“At a trade show I was talking to an older farmer and he simply said “there’s no way you know anything about farming, you’re just a young female”. (Note I then showed up at his dairy farm in my work clothes to help him milk to prove him wrong. Boy did that knock him off his feet lol)” – Stephanie

It is important to discuss why these comments are wrong. As we all know, sexism and the gender stereotypes don’t just hurt women, they hurt men too. Education among our colleagues and peers and actually letting people know that what they’ve said is sexist.  If we  participate in educating them and encouraging them to see things differently, we can make a positive change for the next generation of farmers.

Read more real women’s stories below and feel free to share your own in the comments!

“You didn’t mention that you were married” – to which I responded “I’m sure I mentioned it” when I really meant ‘why does that matter/does it make a difference?'”- Becky

“A few years ago I was working for a seed company and we went to a seed conference in the US. Out of all 600 attendees, I was 1 of 50 women there. My boss of the time was extremely supportive of me being there, but one night at a banquet dinner where I was the only female I was told by a president of a US seed company that the only reason I was allowed to sit at his table was because he wanted the ‘eye piece'”- Kelsey

“When I went to go and buy my first car I actually had a sales guy, only a few years older than me, block me completely to talk to my boyfriend. He had me sit in the back seat for the test drive and my bf drive and even though my bf kept saying the car was for me and I was buying the car he was a complete jerk and ignored me. I refused to even consider his brand or his car and wrote a “strongly worded letter” to the dealership about the whole mess. I couldn’t even believe it!” – Sara

“I work in ag business while my husband is on the farm. My job requires me to be away from home a few times throughout the year and as part of the current AALP class, I am away a fair bit with that as well. The question that I get all the time (and it is usually innocent in intention) is “who has the kids while you gone?” People are usually taken aback when my answer is that they are at home with my husband. Yes people, my children have a farming father who is perfectly capable of looking after them in my absence. I think the question and reaction to my response bother me so much because a) it’s sexist to both me AND my husband; and b) people don’t even realize they are perpetuating the stereotypes” – Jenn

“When I managed a local small ag retail, our fert blender broke down in the middle of seeding and an older farmer looked me in the eye and in all seriousness said ‘I knew this place would go to shit with a woman running it.'” – Adrienne

“I had a neighbour ask me in front of my husband if I actually drove the tractors. Hubby spoke up and listed all the equipment I ran on the farm.” – Barb

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Can I talk to the man in charge?

  1. My ex’s father told me that «I would never touch his farm, because women only bring problems on farms. In fact, if there are problems in this world, it’s because of women!». Later, I asked my ex if he was thinking the same. He said «well, you know, when a woman shares her opinion, usually it breaks the balance in a family farm!»

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  2. Laughing here…. These stories have not even begun to scratch the surface of bias. There are many current & former Chairs, BOD Directors, CEO/GM/ED’s & Senior management, agri-business professionals and farmers that are successful leaders in agriculture. Some of their stories are as hilarious as they are sad, and would be the basis for an excellent workshop. Half a day exploring topics (starting w a panel), and the rest of the time working on real “across-gender and generation” solutions. I KNOW these women would be more than happy to share the highs and lows they have experienced. Call it “Un-Sustainable Bias”…

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  3. These are priceless!! I am constantly confronted with so many of these I could write a book! Even in 2016, it’s still a mans world. As a leader in the pig industry, I’d love to see more women in the field of swine. I guarantee we wouldn’t have 1/2 the issues we have today!!

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  4. I have so many stories but this one sticks with me. After graduating with a degree in Animal Science I was the first female record of Performance dairy inspector in western Canada. We always arrived at dairy barns unannounced. I was standing in the milk room in a barn in Manitoba, reading the bulk tank chart when I felt insistent poking in my back and heard “who the Hell are you?” I turned to find an elderly man making a very sceptical face. I told him I was the ROP inspector and he said:” the Hell you are.” It took a while to convince him but he finally stepped back, scratched his chin and said: “What happened? Did they run out of men?” 😃

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  5. I was at a farm show, looking at the panflips from a feed company. When a sales rep came up to me and addressed by boyfriend instead of myself. My boyfriend politely said that I was the one he should be talking to. The sales rep then looked me in the eyes turned around and stood facing the other way waiting to see if there were any other costumers he could talk to completely ignoring the fact that I was there.
    Let’s just say that company will never have my business. Ever.

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