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Where are the ladies?

Rebecca Lampman Published on 11 March 2014

Ideas to improve dairywomen’s participation in U.S. dairy organizations

Women perform a variety of important roles on dairy farms today, be it farm work, administrative duties, working off the farm or raising the next generation. However, some dairy organizations in charge of promoting dairy products, drafting public policy, creating the image of dairy and communicating to the public have few female members.

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In fact, out of the top 10 dairy-producing states, only Michigan has fewer women in their dairy organization than my home state of Idaho. To fully connect with women, who make 93 percent of the food purchases in this country, there is a need for women producers, who are in the unique position of both understanding the industry and the female consumer, to step up and assume more equitable leadership roles.

Gender makeup on boards of dairy checkoff organizations for the top 10 dairy producing states

We have entered an era in which the consumer is demanding to be more informed about their food: where it came from, who is making it and how. We can no longer afford to underutilize the resources, perspectives and insight that dairywomen can bring to their dairy organizations.

Dairywomen are often the “go-to” people when it comes to community concerns or questions about dairy farming. New challenges in our industry demand creative and diverse solutions that can only be found with a creative and diverse leadership that includes more women.

A recent survey of Idaho dairywomen showed that of those that responded, six women said they were “very interested” and 10 were “somewhat interested” in dairy leadership opportunities. These women are highly educated, have prior leadership experience and come from all over the state.

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In order to better understand how to foster leadership in the future, it is important to identify the factors that seem to be inhibiting female participation now and in the past.

Four major factors were identified, and they include: gender-specific naming of the organization, the way in which membership lists for the organization are compiled as well as the nomination and election procedures that may unintentionally keep women out of board positions, the “mom” factor and a cultural tradition of gender division on both farms and within the dairy organization itself.

Gender-specific naming of the organization
In researching the top 10 milk-producing states’ dairy organizations, it was worth noting only one organization had a gender-specific name, i.e., United Dairymen of Idaho.

Substantial research has been done that demonstrates that the use of gender-specific naming can inadvertently exclude women and reinforce gender stereotypes.

In a journal article titled “Subtly Sexist Language,” Pat Chew and Lauren Kelley-Chew studied the effects of male generic language use. According to Chew, “Many social scientists have concluded that when we read, hear or use male-gendered generics, we are much more likely to think of maleness.”

When an occupation’s title is male-gendered, people associate that occupation more with men than women, for example, congressman, postman, fireman, businessman. When the term “Girl Scouts” is mentioned, images of girls selling cookies comes to mind.

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When “dairyman” is spoken, one thinks of all the hardworking fathers, husbands and sons on today’s dairy farms; however, excluded in that term are the mothers, wives and daughters of these same operations.

This study and others support the idea that changing a dairy organization’s name to a gender-neutral alternative would serve to better include both genders. For example, changing Idaho’s organizational name to United Dairy Families of Idaho would make the organization appear more approachable to the female consumer.

The name of our national youth farming organization, Future Farmers of America, is gender-neutral so as to include both young men and women as future farmers and leaders within that organization. These young people should know that the organizations they become a part of as adult farmers are just as accessible and inclusive of both men and women as the one that helped to foster their budding interest and leadership skills in agriculture.

Membership lists and board nominations
In reviewing a number of academic articles on the subject of women and agricultural leadership, it was discovered that a possible prohibiting factor for women in Midwestern co-ops was the fact that often women aren’t listed as members. A similar situation was found in my home state.

Our membership lists are compiled from our state’s Department of Agriculture list of dairy permits, and a phone call to the department confirmed that men are often the registered dairy permit holders – and therefore also the official listed members of our dairy organization. An important step toward visibility for women in dairy organizations is to actually be listed as a member of the organization.

Oftentimes, it is prohibitive to be nominated for a board position if one isn’t listed as a member. Women concerned about this can check with their state’s Department of Agriculture to see if their name is also listed on their dairy’s Grade A Raw Milk Permit and can ask to have it changed.

Additionally, nominations often take place through word of mouth, and it is important that women who are interested in leadership step up and make an effort to be visible. It would also be good for dairy organizations to review their nomination and election procedures to ensure they are inclusive of women interested in leadership roles.

The ‘mom’ factor
Interviews with female dairy organization officials suggest that the “mom” factor is one more reason for a lack of participation by women. Family, farm, work and school commitments pose a challenge for women who would otherwise be interested in supporting the dairy industry in this manner.

Only the woman can know when she is capable of taking on the added task of a board position, but if she and her family decide that she would like to take on the task, the organization should support that goal and enable her participation.

Gender division on farms and in dairy organizations
On farms there is often a gendered division of labor that is accepted. Although many women participate in farm work, they often assume a greater role in household chores, child care and financial farm management, which can be undervalued by the women themselves and others as valid contributions to the farm business.

In the article “Australian Farm Women: Shut out or fenced in? The Lack of Women in Agricultural Leadership,” Margaret Alston and Jane Wilkinson argue that an accepted gender division of labor can contribute to a lack of women serving in leadership roles in agriculture.

This accepted division of labor can spill over into organizational participation. This can be observed at annual dairy organization meetings, where craft sessions and tours are planned for women during the same time when business meetings and industry presentations are scheduled. The popularity of these activities suggests there may be no need to change it.

However, women interested in industry issues should be encouraged to attend and participate in the business portions of their organization’s meeting.

Conclusion
There are likely a number of other reasons why more women aren’t on dairy boards or serving in dairy organizations. However, there are a number of dairywomen who want to serve. Current dairywomen leaders suggest some great ideas for what women and their organizations could do in the future to encourage participation.

For example, if your dairy organization lacks female participation, officials suggest the possibility of forming a women’s caucus within the existing organization or encouraging interested women to attend one of many state and regional leadership training opportunities that help prepare leaders in agriculture through education and experience. PD

Rebecca Lampman works and lives with her husband, Bruce, and three children on Lampman Dairy in Bruneau, Idaho. She has returned to college, and this paper and research project took place as a part of her studies.

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