I spent ten years helping manage a cotton gin—a “factory of spinning knives” as my husband lovingly (and sometimes worriedly) called it. I wasn’t just in the office but also working with the equipment and trucks. I came home dirty on many days.
When interviewed for a magazine about “what’s it like to be a woman in production agriculture?”, I pointed out I was doing nothing different than my mother and grandmother—I was just getting credit for it! My grandmother hand-harvested a cotton crop at young age after her father died. My mother was equally responsible for the success of my family’s business; she just didn’t receive public accolades for it until recently.
A few reflections:
• Understand there will be situations that offend you, but there are silver linings to them. Have a thick skin. I remember one specific business negotiation where I created a compelling analysis to
strengthen our case. A gentleman dismissed my work and unfortunately used the word “sweetie” while doing so. I was annoyed but also honored when another male in the room defended my work and corrected the situation. I had to prove myself competent, but almost all men know when they meet a competent woman. And chivalry and politeness often opened the door for a conversation to
demonstrate that competence.
• Be intentional about potentially tricky male-female dynamics. I was aware that I was regularly alon
with male customers and employees, and I was careful not to behave in a way that could be
misperceived as flirting or start inaccurate rumors. I can think of only twice I found myself
uncomfortable with the situation, and I see now how I could have handled those better.
• Parents and mentors, make sure the young women in your life hear and see demonstrated that they can do anything—in the field, barn, lab, or office. There are no ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ jobs. I was fortunate to have parents that never pigeon-holed me. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, but make it so for your charges.
I’m blessed to work with fantastic people of both genders—and I believe our industry has a bright future ahead as we continue to cultivate leadership in both.