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What makes a good female leader in dairy?

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 24 November 2015

Women in dairy are a diverse group with one common passion: dairy. These women are leaders and, like every good leader, they have people they look up to who challenged and inspired them to be who they are today.

To better understand what makes a good female leader, Progressive Dairyman asked the following questions of female leaders in dairy.

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They are:

  • Annette Schalla, who is the herd manager for her family’s dairy, Bomaz Farms, in Hammond, Wisconsin.

  • Julie Barnett, who is the vice president of Kern County Cattlewomen, the 2015 Kern County Cattlewoman of the Year and webmistress for California Cattlewomen. Her husband is a dairy manager, and they live in Bakersfield, California.

  • LuAnn Troxel is the Indiana Dairy Producers organization business manager, a board member of the American Dairy Association of Indiana, a member of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture advisory board and a board member of Dairy Girl Network. She and her husband own Troxel Dairy in Hanna, Indiana.

  • Molly Bonow is an Elanco sales representative. She is a partner at Wiscoy Valley Farms LLC in Bliss, New York.

What are some of the best and worst words you’ve heard to describe female leaders in dairy? Why were they the best/worst?

Schalla: There are a few specific women I’ve been told to never be like. Some of the words I’d use to describe them are bossy or disrespectful. Kind of like, they think everyone else is out to get them, and they only care about themselves.

I think that’s one thing I’m a little conscious of. It is not often I hear female leaders being described, but often, I hear positive remarks of how well women can and do tell the story of dairy.

Barnett: A leader, determined, focused, passionate. I think that they’re all very positive words, and I think it shows the strength that is common among agriculture women.

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You’ve got to be tough to be involved in the business or be with someone who is in the business. You’ve got to be able to handle schedule changes; you have to be able to be independent and work on your own. It’s just part of our life.

Bossy, hardheaded, bulldozer – but if you think about it, they’re not the opposite; they’re the same word, just a different spin, a different point of view. A lot of women leaders are seen as bossy. A lot of women who are determined are seen as hardheaded. A lot of women who are focused are seen as bulldozers. I think it’s the person’s perspective.

Troxel: I have heard that women have a great perspective, an interesting perspective. I have heard that women can get things done, and frankly I think I agree with all of those statements.

I don’t focus on the negative – and especially not compartmentalizing it between men and women – because I think if we have things that we need to improve, they aren’t gender-specific. I know women who run dairy farms and their husbands work off-farm; it’s not the case with us, but women can do anything and I really believe that.

Bonow:

Best

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1. Passionate. Passion is both admirable and rare. Each of us is wired to be passionate about different things in life, and we can’t force ourselves to be passionate about something that we’re not.

When I see women who are passionate about the dairy industry and the work that they do, I admire them for that. They bring a whole different level of engagement, commitment and energy to their individual role and the greater good of the industry.

2. Forward-thinking or “big-picture” thinker. We live in a world that’s constantly changing, and our industry is no exception. It’s vital that as an industry we’re able to look beyond the here and now in order to predict and shape what lies ahead. I think it’s a huge compliment to anyone, woman or man, when they’re described as forward-thinking because not everyone has that ability.

Worst

1. For lack of a better description, “unprofessional.” There is nothing more disheartening to me than when I hear comments made about women being unprofessional or inappropriate. Whether you’re male or female, I believe that you should be true to yourself in all your interactions and treat others the same way that you would want to be treated.

To me, that means that I should act no differently around men than I do other women. The same goes for men. When that happens, I believe the level of mutual respect and integrity can be maintained, regardless of gender.

Can you tell me about a leader who inspired you? What qualities did you admire? How do you try to be like them?

Schalla: Ken Casebere, a co-worker of mine in Michigan, served as a mentor as much as a co-worker for my first job out of college. It was really encouraging for me to have someone who said, “You do what works for you because you’re going to be important to this industry, no matter what role you’re in, whether it’s working side by side with me, working with other large producers or doing something totally different and just talking about why agriculture is important to the general public.”

I’m the only woman in the room in a lot of the meetings I go to, and it’s never bothered me. I’ve always just thought of myself as doing my thing whether I was female or male. My parents have really encouraged me in this.

In college, I was on the National Agri-marketing Association team. Sarah Botham was our adviser. She also owns Botham Vineyards with her husband and a marketing firm. She encouraged me to not be afraid to stand out and be one among few. She was the girl who got her first job because she wore the red high heels instead of the black pumps like everyone else.

I show dedication to work but realize that family needs to come first. Most of the people that I admire let their passion shine through and don’t let other people get in the way of that no matter what.

Barnett: Currently, one of my biggest inspirations is Laura Daniels, who started the Dairy Girl Network. She had an idea, and she is making it happen. I have to hand it to her and the team that is leading Dairy Girl Network. It’s new, but it’s amazing how quickly they’ve gotten it off the ground. That says a lot about the women in dairy. I admire that.

When I was first getting into the (dairy) industry, I came out of ag lending and came to the farm and met Mrs. Billy Paula. Mrs. Paula grew up in agriculture and was also married to a dairyman. She taught me about being an industry advocate. She was always polite, but she always stood firm and unwavering in her belief in what we do, how we do it and believing the best in the people who get it done.

A lot of the women who have mentored me over the years have always stood by their family and their farm, always. Even when people are saying bad things or trying to give a bad stand, they’ve always stayed. They’ve always stuck it out because they believed in what they were doing and that’s important.

Troxel: I have been inspired by Laura Daniels, founder of Dairy Girl Network. Laura has an abundance of passion. I also recognize that in a lot of successful leaders, whether they’re male or female. I think we have to really care about something to be a successful leader, and that shows itself with passion. I’ve definitely experienced that in myself, and I have seen that in other leaders that I admire.

Bonow: I define leadership as influence, and influence is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or something.” As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” As I think about leaders who have the greatest influence on me, a few of their qualities that stand above the rest include passion, commitment, enthusiasm, vision, compassion and humility.

A leader is fiercely committed to and passionate about their cause. This, combined with enthusiasm, entices others to want to follow. A vision creates clarity and hope for the future, two elements essential to maintaining the momentum behind the following.

But when the rubber meets the road, we all want to feel valued and be treated with respect. Therefore, compassion and humility are two of the most essential building blocks to influence.

To perform at my best and exhibit qualities like the leaders I admire most, I seek out opportunities that allow me to utilize my God-given skills, abilities and interests. By finding those opportunities, I know that interests turn into passion, excitement turns into commitment and enthusiasm, and the future has a clear vision.

Most importantly, I strive to treat those around me the same way that I want to be treated – with respect, understanding and dignity.

What role model qualities do you hope to pass on to people who might view you as a leader?

Schalla: Perseverance. You can’t get where you want to be without hard work and dedication.

Honesty and integrity. Even though you could have deals that go one way, or you could squeeze every last penny out of somebody, or make somebody feel bad about a circumstance that may have been somewhat in their control, at the end of the day everyone makes mistakes. The person behind the business is more important than the money for the business.

Barnett: I hope to show people that we need to stay positive. We need to continue to adapt and change and evaluate new technology with a mind that’s understanding. Traditions are wonderful, but strategic change is what actually builds legacies. We also need to invest in our young people who want to be a part of agriculture but may not have grown up in it. They will be our friends in the future.

Troxel: What I would hope they would see in me and I would like to pass on would be qualities of integrity, consistency and being who I say I am. So, really, being the person I am portraying when I am talking to others. I want to be able to portray that we don’t just talk the talk; we walk the walk.

Bonow: I was once told, “Find something that you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I love this because it recognizes the reality that each of us has different interests, skills and talents. When you’re able to find that “sweet spot” where all of them align, you’re able to be your truest you.

I am constantly challenging myself to find those “sweet spots” in life, whether be it in my work, my family, my commitments, etc. It’s ever-changing though, so I’ve learned that it’s crucial to always be honest with myself and never settle for anything less than those opportunities that allow me to be me.

It’s in that moment that one truly thrives and is able to make their greatest contribution. My hope is that others might see this and strive to do the same. Always be true to you and don’t ever stop challenging yourself to learn and grow by exploring your different interests, skills and passions.

What was the best course or organization that taught you leadership skills? Why?

Schalla: Everything seems to build upon itself, and I can’t say it’s just one thing because it’s something I’ve been working on my whole life. It’s everything from my family business course that I took in college, my experiences with Vita Plus and getting to be president of 4-H and being involved with as many extracurricular activities as possible while I was in school.

The real-world experience is just as important because learning how to lead the employees under me is something no course could have totally prepared me for. It’s a constant learning experience. Reach out to other people and ask for advice. That doesn’t mean you do exactly what they would do – but listen to it, learn from it and make it your own.

Barnett: Twenty years ago, I was asked to become a member of the Kern County Cattlewomen, a local unit of the California Cattlewomen. The list of women who inspired and mentored me to really get things done exploded.

Those women are primarily about promoting beef and the ranching heritage, but they saw something in me, this young dairy wife, that I didn’t see in myself. They asked me to come be a part of something bigger than myself and my part at the farm. They helped me grow, and now I’m able to step into some of those roles that they mentored me for.

They want to learn more about the dairy side of the cattle industry just as I’ve stepped across and learned more about the beef side because the consumer so often does not understand the difference between a dairy cow and a beef animal, and they get asked dairy questions that they don’t necessarily know how to answer, and they want to know more so that they can be a better advocate for us. We’ve all been able to work together to find analogies to help people understand the difference.

Troxel: There’s no question about that. I was privileged to be a member of Indiana’s premier leadership organization, which is called the AgrIInstitute. It’s a two-year ag leadership course that definitely impacted my life. It opened a world of connections, and it also opened a scope far beyond agriculture so I was able to see how things work together.

I learned about the government on a local, state, federal and even global scale. I was also able to learn about things in leadership. That was a fascinating experience. There’s no question in my mind that that was an important part of my leadership education.

Bonow: Insights, which is a personality profiling tool that my employer utilizes for all of its employees.

It’s no surprise that every human being has a unique personality. Our individual personality influences our perspective and view on the world around us, which dictates how we approach and handle different situations in life.

I believe that in order to lead or influence others, self-awareness is crucial. Knowing how you’re wired and what motivates you will allow you to better leverage your strengths while being aware of weaknesses.

As a result, our ability to work with, lead and influence others will drastically increase because we have a better understanding of our own view of the world and how those around us might see it similarly or differently.  PD

Jenna Hurty
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