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Defining the culture for a successful female in agriculture

How women overcome challenges they've faced in business

In my first Trailblazer column last spring, I reported on my interviews with trailblazing women across Canada. I focused on creating a culture in agriculture that is inclusive of women, and I looked at the life of the girl and how gender has an impact on the road to starting a new business.

In this column I look at the challenges these trailblazing women faced in business, and how they navigated through them.

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“Keep your day job!”

Their education varied but most of the women I interviewed had some sort of secondary education and had worked in a related field before coming back to the farm or building a new business.

Most had also encountered skeptics who told them, “Keep your day job.” Interpreted, this means the women were being told they wouldn’t make it on their own. They’d need a backstop.

That didn’t deter these entrepreneurs; it just made them more determined in executing their business plans. And while some did keep their day job, because they loved their job and were really good at it, this did not blind them to the necessary steps in building the farm or agri-business.

Show me the numbers!

In many farms and farm businesses, the new girl on the block was the first to insist on the importance of financials as part of the succession process. Although the financial capabilities of the families varied, this was a unifying theme. These women took the time to set goals so that the whole unit and all the partners could envision a step-by-step process. This also added a layer of transparency which kept harmony in the team. In families and teams where there was full transparency and an ongoing focus on the financials, the steps were focused on the growth potential both inside and outside of agriculture, including tackling the role and fair treatment of non-farming children.

It was always a step-by-step process, particularly when one was the daughter-in-law. Financial tracking and a strong business focus moved the team from being “in” business to working “on” business. Being in business means we’re busy, so it can feel like we’re making progress, but working on the business means we’re really digging deep into the possible.

This time of focus was critically important.

Give me time — and money — and help

Our trailblazing women asked for time for themselves and their business partners. This included time to work on the business, time to evaluate the goals, time for education and growth, for social engagement, to recalibrate and to put together the processes, time to parent, creative time and time to rest.

These women looked at business from a holistic perspective, knowing that business is so much a part of life. They sought to be around individuals who appreciated their business goals and applauded both their creativity and how they were juggling their unique selves in a traditional business world.

The traditional culture in agriculture was taxing for many of our women. They were told no one needs a business plan to farm, and they were cut out of social events because of gender.

There was also the idea that working hard was how the family had resolved its financial woes in the past and how it always would. Yet these women saw how often this only delayed the inevitable and wore out the farming family.

Access to capital remains an issue, plus the insulting question of “What is your daddy going to back you with.” We know this is starting to shift, but this took time and persistence and an exceptional business plan with measurable goals.

Legacy farms had another layer of complication, and parents struggled with letting go. It was a tough balance for those entering the business to be sensitive to the history as they incorporated what needed to be done.

Finding individuals who were authentically supportive was one path these women travelled. This was especially important to combat geographical isolation. However, when it came to finding staff, especially managerial staff who understood their vision and were willing to work toward measurable goals, the pool of talent was lacking.

Filling this gap was tough, exhausting and continuous.

Where do I fit in?

The big challenge for these women was knowing where they fit in, especially if the family was uncertain of what the plan was. Knowing their role within the business was described several times as investment insurance.

For the daughter-in-law, it was important to know how she fit in as a business partner. For the creative entrepreneur, it included where she fit within the industry and the community. For the young mom, it was how she fit in as both a full business partner and a parent.

All these questions were even more difficult if all the siblings wanted back on the farm and there was simply not enough to go around, or if the family had little experience working interdependently.

In the end, though, these women remained enthusiastic and optimistic. They were happy to share their authentic stories. They loved their career in agriculture.

How did they hold their own space and stay inspired? Find out next issue.

Brenda Schoepp is completing her MA Global Leadership and is an international mentor, author and speaker. She may be contacted through her website brendaschoepp.com.

About the author

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Brenda Schoepp is completing her MA in global leadership and is an international mentor, author and speaker. She may be contacted through her website www.brendaschoepp.com.

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