Strengthening Women’s Leadership in Agriculture
By Madeline Schultz
Students at Iowa State University have an opportunity to participate in a new course this semester called Women in Agriculture and the Food System (SOC350X).
Cheryl Tevis, President and founding member of the Iowa Women in Agriculture non-profit, and I, had the opportunity to present a guest lecture on strengthening women’s leadership in agriculture. We discussed why closing the women’s leadership gap in agriculture is important to global food security and the impacts of the education and networking created by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Women in Ag program and the Iowa Women in Agriculture organization.
Cheryl shared her story of beginning an agricultural journalist career at a time when it was not common for women to have this role. After working for Farm Wife News, she became the Farm Management Editor at Successful Farming Magazine. During her 36 years with Successful Farming Magazine, Cheryl contributed more pages than any other editor in the 116 year history of the magazine. While there are many women agricultural journalists now, Cheryl said doing your best work and having a positive attitude about working with all colleagues is still important.
I shared my farm family story of how important my mother was in keeping the dairy farm going while my father worked on the farm and off the farm. Yet, it was not common for my mother, or other women of her generation, to be a decision maker. As my daughter, an ISU graduate, works to build her dairy farm business, she is a respected decision-maker. While these norms are shifting, I still see women struggling to be accepted as full contributors to farm businesses and agribusinesses.
We discussed the leadership gap in agriculture. Across the nation, about two-thirds of both men and women farmers also have off-farm jobs (2012 USDA Census of Ag). The Gender Roles & Equality in Agribusiness survey showed there was a significantly higher percentage of men in President/CEO, Director and Management positions than women. This 2015 survey showed 79% of women felt there is gender inequality in agribusiness, while 47% of men felt the same. On a positive note, the survey showed 80% of both men and women felt the attitude toward women in agribusiness had changed for the better in the past decade. In the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, women are 53.7% of undergraduates enrolled for 2018/2019, up from 42% in the 1980s.
Cheryl shared how the volunteer board of directors for the Iowa Women in Agriculture non-profit tries to put their mission into practice. Their mission is to provide information, resources, and networking opportunities to serve the unique needs of women working in a dynamic agricultural industry. Throughout the organization’s 15-year history, the leaders hosted 12 conferences, held workshops, purchased and loaned out a computer lab, created networks and led other activities to support women working in farm businesses and agribusinesses.
I shared how the ISU Extension and Outreach farm management team began Annie’s Project farm management courses in 2004 and has since offered 177 Annie’s Project and other multi-session farm management courses, reaching more than 2,844 women. The farm management team wrote over 50 grants during this time to support development of curricula and offer courses with lower registration fees than would otherwise be possible. There are many other extension teams offering high quality educational programs for women as well. Survey results show extension programs have a significant impact on the economic viability of farms, soil and water conservation practices and support of the community of women in agriculture.
We discussed the collaborative work of Iowa Women in Agriculture and ISU Extension and Outreach Women in Ag. For the past three years, ISU hosted a pre-conference tour prior to the annual Iowa Women in Agriculture summer conference and served on the board of directors. Iowa Women in Agriculture has contributed to ISU grant projects and served on ISU committees. We shared program impacts. Women completing the tour and conference surveys told us they gained knowledge and the topics were important to them and their work. One survey participant wrote, “No matter what, ag is still important. Trade will come and go but is very necessary to what we do daily. We need to be more knowledgeable and involved.”
Cheryl and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit with the students and share a little bit about why we do the work we do. We are proud to be among several dedicated groups and individuals working to overcome women’s leadership gaps and support women in agriculture in Iowa.