In the last two columns, I have reported on my research into the lives of successful women professionals in farming and agricultural business. Their honest and engaging stories are varied, and they outline how we can create a culture of inclusion.
An inclusive culture starts with parenting that offers boys and girls the same opportunities, lets them make mistakes, invests with or in them, and sticks to a business plan that includes insurance, wills, business and financial planning, personal directives and transparent day-to-day discussions.
For this last column, I asked women specifically how they held their own space and what kept them inspired. Here’s what they told me.
Grace and forgiveness
This is the ability to pause, observe, think and find a harmonious solution. These women demonstrate grace. They forgive. They do not carry old hurts, but set boundaries so they can make decisions that are transparent and inclusive while protecting their time and place.
Regardless of the situation, the door remains open for new ideas, and in particular for the children who wish to come back to the farm or business.
Bringing more than a plate to the table
Observation was a big part of navigating those uncomfortable moments when these women were vulnerable to feeling small. The ability to recognize differences, styles, cultures, and the conditions of the dialogue, and to understand the relationships within the room was considered important to these women and to their holding their space in these conversations.
They also knew that as women in agriculture they brought more than a plate to the table. They knew their worth and described bringing creative, unique, and well-researched value to the farm along with a keen understanding of harmony and ingenious business ideas.
One woman summed it up saying: “By knowing my own value, I hold my own space.”
Creative, fluid and whip smart, these women were confident in their skills and loved to inspire to those around them.
Inspiring and empowering others
Always on the move, the ladies who contributed to this column loved to create events or businesses that were exclusive to them or their community. This way they were holding space or letting others know what they were capable of while inspiring others to fully appreciate their individuality and value. These “events” varied from fantastic family meetings to community learning and even international involvement, and all were based on the premise of empowering others to grow at their own pace.
Brilliant strategists regardless of the challenges they faced, the women I spoke with were thriving on solving the unsolvable and taking on challenging tasks. They were up to taking risks and adding new skills. There was a constant set of new goals and their idea of fun was to keep learning and growing.
They reported that what inspires them directly are great conversations, super challenges, keeping fit, making and keeping connections, and travel. They all love to speak publicly and are always looking at new business opportunities or ways of enhancing their existing farm or business.
Worthy of special recognition here is the way they use their time and talents to open the conversation and to develop space for others. This is leadership exemplified. They use their ability to inspire others to grow the business and the community in which they live and as fuel in their own tank.
Creating a culture of inclusiveness
The stages of succession differ across the nation. Not all the women were raised in farming families while others were third and fourth generation. Those with small children were starting to plan and looking for creative ways of being fair. Other families were stuck keeping busy without advancing, or the family was in limbo because the farm could not support all the siblings.
A few were generations into very successful and inclusive transitions while others were generations into unhappy and combative exclusion. The daughters-in-law had to navigate a set of special circumstances and were able to do so when the in-laws engaged in being fully transparent and inclusive. In several enterprises, it was the daughter-in-law who championed the shift into knowledge-based decision-making. All the participants leaned on knowledge to move the business along and to defer boredom.
Knowledge-based decision making means embracing travel and conversation that takes on a broader perspective, creative marketing options, the incorporation of science and technology, the populating and analytics of data, a full appreciation of taxation and formal structure, the impact of society and social schemes, climate control, risk mitigation, home and farm safety, and time management.
All that is possible
Only 20 per cent of the trailblazers I spoke to for this series reported having been part of an inclusive culture that was fully supportive. Regardless, 100 per cent of the group are wildly successful, confident, and educated, and they shared that they know their worth, love their business and find great satisfaction in inspiring and empowering others. They understand that when they see themselves as valuable, it creates space for them to thrive.
Yes, there are challenges for these women and certainly we must continue to address lack of access to capital, wage parity, fairness and equality in farm succession, lack of tools and information for farm families specific to planning purposes, the overall shortage of financial, business and estate plans, geographical and gender isolation, the shortage of human resources, social stigmas, and assumed gender roles along with a host of day-to-day issues that are part of societal evolution. No worries — it will be done.
Let me say it again. These authentic, curious and creative lifelong learners bring more than a plate to the table; they exemplify all that is possible, all that is possible in you and in me, in our communities, homes, businesses and farms.