9 Tips to Deal with Sexism and Combat Unconscious Bias in Agriculture

Listening to Courtney Denard’s recent interview on Wendall Schumm and Christine Eisler’s podcast “Come Over Here & Say That”, I found myself smiling when Courtney said, “I don’t think there’s any point sitting around and bitching for four hours and then no one does anything about it”.

She was talking about politicians, but I couldn’t help but think about our unconscious bias discussion. We continue to hear stories of women in agriculture who have faced sexism or bias from both genders. Fortunately, the stories are being shared in good humour and to be clear, we don’t feel like we are bitching.

These stories are being shared to create awareness. Even if you’ve personally experienced sexism, it can still be hard to recognize thanks to our own biases. When you do see it though, what do you do? How should you deal with it when it happens to you?

So, to wrap up our discussion of unconscious bias and sexism, we are sharing some tips we have gathered from our members and online sources to combat the engrained stereotypes.

In short, we want to do something about this.

9 Tips to Deal with Sexism & Unconscious Bias in Agriculture

Have you faced sexism or bias? How did you deal with it? What suggestions would you have for our readers? Please share in the comments!

  1. Recognize your own biases and admit to them. It might feel uncomfortable (embarrassing or shameful even), particularly because bias is often rooted in beliefs or options.
  2. Listen. When someone has experienced bias and they share it with you, listen. Don’t try to minimize the event or find reason. Half the battle is accepting bias exists. Talk about it and don’t shy away if the conversation becomes awkward. Awkward conversations can lead to the best understanding, because you are being vulnerable in those moments and open to learning.
  3. Start at home. How we raise our children is how the next generation will see the world. You don’t have to commit to a gender-neutral environment, but you can encourage your children to play with whatever toy they wish and try activities that interest them. We have a unique opportunity in agriculture because our kids also see our work, so strive to give them equal chores inside the house and barn and compensate them equally, if you do allowance.
  4. Call It Out. Trying to teach our children equality is difficult when reps and visitors might assume differently. We have to call these situations out, as difficult as they can be. There are a couple tactics to do this. Humour can help sometimes while restating the comment as a question is another. “If I heard you correctly, you believe only my husband is capable of this task, is that correct?” Most likely they will immediate realize the error of their words.
  5. Be proactive when meeting new people. Extend your hand first, introduce yourself, give an “I” sentence or two – before they start into their introduction.  It sets a tone that you are willing to be in charge of the situation and confident about yourself.  Removing the phrase “I’m just a ….” is also important.  Whatever role you play on the farm, or off the farm, you are important.
  6. Stand together. If you’ve tried to call sexism out and it continues, there are a couple of options. Everyone deserves respect. In a workplace, report it. On the farm, you might consider asking to speak to the individual’s manager. At a minimum, agree as a business team to not work with those who don’t respect everyone on the team. The support of our partner / father / brother(s) is critical. We’re in this together.
  7. Prove ‘em wrong. Time and time again, women have mentioned the best way to earn respect from those around you is to be good at what you do and work hard. Work ethic goes a long way in this industry regardless of gender. If you’re new, ask questions to learn and your enthusiasm will be recognized.
  8. Change your language. Words like “showperson” and “chairperson” instead of “showman” and “chairman” might seem small but they are significant. Probably not many industries ask “ladies bring lunch” and neither should we. If it’s potluck, then a statement around bringing lunch will do.
  9. Help a sister out! We know women aren’t as likely to speak up in meetings or lay claim to their good work or ideas. Support each other and speak up for others in meetings or group discussions. It worked for Obama’s staffers so surely it can work at your next farmers’ meeting.

img_9437Finally, if you work in agriculture (or any industry for that matter), you can save yourself a lot of trouble by not assuming. Address everyone at the table, ask how they are involved (and consider women are more likely to downplay their role) and seek out their opinions.

Truly, reducing unconscious bias starts with ourselves. Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “be the change you want to see in the world.” I recently learned his actual words were much deeper.

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. – Mahatma Gandhi

Indeed, we can only control ourselves and in doing so, we set an example for others to follow. Reduce our own bias and be more open, and those around us will start to be more open also.

For more tips on how to deal with sexism at work, check out Feminist Fight Club. We haven’t read it yet ourselves but we loved the no-bullshit interview with Jessica Bennet, the author.

-Jen C. & Joan C.

 

Is Unconscious Bias Holding Agriculture Back?

Last week, I addressed a group of producers at a Dupont Pioneer dealer’s customer appreciation event. The objective of my presentation was to raise awareness of unconscious bias in agriculture and its impact on talent retention and social license.

At times, the presentation was uncomfortable, for those listening and for me. As women in a male-dominated field we are encouraged (often by ourselves) to not show weakness. We don’t share the encounters that make us uncomfortable or cause us to doubt our abilities because we don’t want to be perceived as complaining or unable to “hack it”.

However, if we truly love agriculture and desire to see it prosper, then few would disagree ensuring everyone within it, regardless of gender (or race, religion or sexuality) have equal opportunities to thrive. We also have to acknowledge the issue.

Enter unconscious bias. Even as I shared stories from women working in agriculture who have been subject to sexism and discrimination (from men and women), I made the mistake of directing a comment about the seed dealership to the male host, assuming he was the owner. As it turns out, he is an associate dealer and Laura is the primary. Shame on me.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 3.51.58 PMWe are so conditioned to expect men and women to fill certain roles on our farms, in our industry and in society we judge people and their competencies without even realizing it.

Often it’s harmless, like when the church ladies guffaw at choosing to be in the barn rather than the house or when a sales rep comes to the door asking for the boss.

Other times it’s downright discriminatory, like when hiring managers rule out women because they fear they will become pregnant and leave. And sadly, it can also be harassment as several women have shared stories of lewd remarks and inappropriate advances.

Luckily, it appears many of the horror stories from other industries aren’t present in agriculture. And a 2015 study by AgCareers.com found the percentage of people who felt gender inequality existed in agriculture was lower than that of business in general. Like many other studies on the topic though, there is a pronounced difference between the perception of its existence between  men and women.

Gender-inequality-in-agriculture
Although the cost of gender bias in agriculture hasn’t been explicitly quantified, one could easily argue it’s negatively impacted social license, talent retention and potentially even business results overall.

While moms and millennials have been identified as significant influencers of food trends (The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity), only 12% of major agricultural associations in Canada have female leadership (CAHRC). If “unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us,” (Trang Chu) then there is reason to think the gender gap in agriculture leadership may be partially to blame for the current gap in understanding about modern farming practices.

Additionally, bias impacts people at a subconscious level, impacting their self-confidence and aspirations. Over time, negative bias will demotivate employees and even discourage them from striving for leadership opportunities. (See Companies Drain Women’s Ambition After 2 Years).

“When I was a feed rep, I got told by a farmer that my job was in the kitchen. Most things I took a grain of salt but made me realize I didn’t want to be part of the feed industry in that specific area and “changed” careers.”  Quote from a woman in ag.

With the current labour gap in agriculture (it’s estimated 59,000 positions are currently unfilled, costing the industry $1.5 billion in lost farm receipts), stories of women subjected to sexism deciding to leave the industry should be a hard pill to swallow. Add to this all the industry boards seeking volunteers to replace retiring directors and agriculture needs to attract new talent, not turn it away.

Finally, celebrating diversity and tapping into its innovative potential is what will make Canadian agriculture a global leader in the future. One only needs to look to the proven success of companies with women in leadership to see the opportunity which awaits the businesses and organizations in agriculture who make gender diversity and women’s leadership advancement a priority.

The challenge then is “how”? This is a topic we will explore in our next post, but it seems unanimous the first step is starting with awareness. Have you experienced bias in your workplace, sector or farm? Do you feel the agriculture industry is better or worse off than other industries when it comes to the existence of sexism and how its handled? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

-Jen C.

Unconscious bias is a thing. Full stop. 

What Are Little Boys Made of?

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails,
And puppy-dogs’ tails;
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And all that’s nice;
That’s what little girls are made of.
~19th Century Nursery Rhyme~

You may think that someone being sexist or biased is when misogynistic language and behaviors are being used, but there are many more subtle ways to be anti-women.  Sitting down to compile this post, I was trying to find a study I had read a year or so ago about male and female business students selecting a successful ‘male’ entrepreneur in a case study over a ‘female‘ entrepreneur when they both had the same credential and qualifications. At the conclusion of this study, it was revealed that they were in fact the same person, and that person was indeed a female.  That unconscious bias really stuck with me,  even though finding that study seems to elude me, as it seems to be lost in the many other studies examining unconscious bias that are readily available on the internet. I managed to pull  a few examples to demonstrate not only the bias but the extent to which it impacts the everyday life of women:

  1. S.K. Johnson and D.R. Hekman from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business did a study which had 307 working adults to review a hiring decision made by a fictitious manager.  Participants read a description of the hiring decision, saw a photo of the manager (showing their race and gender) then completed a survey where they rated the manager on competence and performance of that hiring decision.  What they found was that all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who had the same gender or ethnicity as them, unless they were a white male.  These findings are alarming as it suggests that if a ‘low-status’ group member hires another ‘low-status’ group member they are perceived as incompetent and poor performers.  Not exactly encouraging news when hoping to increase diversity in the workplace, as our unconscious biases are at play judging those around us.
  2.  Moss-Racusin et al, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gave scientists applications from a student applying for a lab manager position who intended to go onto graduate school and was looking for mentoring. Half the scientists were given an application with a male name, the other half a female name. The results found that the ‘female’ applicant was rated lower than the ‘male’ in competence, hire-ability and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.  More shocking still, is that the scientists also offered the female applicant a significantly lower starting salary than the males.

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Infuriating, yes. And both sexes are to blame.  Women and men were both participants of the studies and held the same biases.  As the authors of the C. Moss-Racusin et al study said “If faculty express gender biases, we are not suggesting that these biases are intentional or stem from a conscious desire to impede the progress of women in science.  Past studies indicate that people’s behaviour is shaped by implicit or unintended biases, stemming from repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent…

Being aware of your own biases are the first step towards limiting bias. ‘Project Implicit‘ was created in 1998 as an ‘international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.  The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.”  Run through Harvard University, multiple research teams at the Universities of Washington, Virginia, Harvard and Yale study the results of multiple tests that people can take to rate their biases.  There are tests on Gender-Career, Sexuality, Weight, Religion, and your results and pooled results of everyone who has taken the test are shown to you at the end.

I encourage everyone to explore this website and this project:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

It starts with you, and how you treat those around you, and especially how you treat children.  It all starts at a young age, they watch how those around them treat others. We need to be more aware of our biases.

  • by Mary Ann Doré