I heard the title quoted on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this morning and thought it very appropriate for the agricultural industry. The president of the NFU is a woman, we have many excellent journalists and consultants, we have women who are celebrated for their contribution to farm diversification however where are the women successors to the family farm? They are there but are they visible enough to encourage young women to realise that a career as a farmer or farm worker is a serious option?
There are many women who are the main farmer in a farming business as well as in partnership with a spouse or sibling. There are a number of very good farm managers and and farm workers but they are rarely recognised. The Farmer’s Weekly Awards will be held soon, how many of the nominations will be female?
We have to recognise that as a culture we still do not value women enough. Yes awards such as the Farmer’s Weekly Awards should be judged on excellence and no woman would want to be given an award as the token female. However we have to realise that there may be a subconscious bias at work here.
The main orchestras in America gave the same reasoning when recruiting yet when they recruit behind a screen where they cannot see the person who is auditioning, the recruitment of women rises by at least 25%! They do not mean to be biased but there is obviously something subconscious going on here. Could it be the same in Agriculture?
We know there is a shortage of people willing to work on farms, yet do we do enough to encourage young women? Yes they can drive tractors and they are often superior in managing livestock. Are we missing out by not seriously considering half of the population?
We also have to be very careful when considering who is the most suitable successor on the family farm, it may be the daughter. In fact we have to be very careful how we treat farming daughters. A survey I heard about whilst I was in Australia said that they found that farm daughters who were overlooked as successors had mental health problems and were unnaturally driven to achieve. This was presumably to prove themselves worthy, but sadly they could never change that they were not seen as suitable farm successors. I have to admit that there is something that is sure to make me furious and it happens occasionally when I speak at farming meetings. A man will ask the question “What can I do about succession as I don’t have anyone, I only have 3 daughters”!!
Women can sometimes be the problem when they refuse to take the accolades for their achievements. Maybe it’s through modesty but come on girls, we need to think of those young women who need to be inspired. They need role models. So remember the title of this piece, “Young women can’t be what they can’t see.”