Women in agriculture, leading the way

We should be well beyond the point in South Africa where anyone needs to be convinced that women can compete equally with men on all levels in the agricultural sector.

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There are more than enough examples of successful women farmers and women in leadership roles in agribusiness to prove this many times over.

But even in this country, where women enjoy the same constitutional freedoms and opportunities as men, most women will still, at some point, be confronted with the message that remains stubbornly pervasive in every society in the world: girls and women shouldn’t aspire to the same goals as boys and men.

So far, I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have never really felt that my gender was a professional disadvantage.

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I believe this is mostly because my family has encouraged and supported me to perform well academically and professionally throughout my life. I have achieved enough that it shouldn’t bother me much when, in a professional setting, some man calls me ‘skattebol’, but it does.

Not so much for the lack of respect it shows, but because it is tiny slip-ups like these that expose the unconscious bias that no number of women’s empowerment programmes will change.

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) most recent Global Gender Gap Report, it will take another 118 years to close the economic gender gap, and before women will enjoy the same career prospects as men. Although overt sexism is becoming increasingly rare in many countries, a WEF survey showed that “unconscious bias” from managers was still seen as the biggest barrier to success for women in today’s workplace.

An article published by the WEF quotes from an essay on subconscious bias, written by anthropologist and behavioural economist Tinna Nielsen, to explain that “gender parity is failing not because of a lack of goodwill, or good policy, but because of the way hidden cultural factors silently play out”.

In agriculture, it might be especially true that it is not a lack of opportunity that women have to contend with, but rather a system that both consciously and unconsciously believes it is still only supposed to cater for men.

One of my favourite quotes is from well-known spiritual writer, Fr Richard Rohr, who says, ‘We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.’

That is why every woman who pursues a career in agriculture is slowly, but certainly, helping to change the unconscious (and, at times, still conscious) mindset that farming is a man’s world.

Digital editor for South Africa's oldest and most read farming magazine.