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International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to evaluate the state of gender equality in the farming sector—something that, judging by the demographics of the Agriculture students at my University of Saskatchewan lectures, appears to be shifting.
For most of my classes, the room is almost 50% female. Compared to my own experience as an Ag student some 30 years ago, where the mix might have been only 10% female at best, this is a definite improvement. It indicates that the world of farming is moving forward—but is it moving fast enough?
A new world
Attitudes are definitely changing. The Millennial generation of daughters—and, I’m assuming, Generation Z—now see a future in farming. They’re not hindered by the same social and cultural barriers as their mothers and that’s a good thing. They’re also in good company. Today, there are more women entering predominately-male industries like construction, engineering and the military.
It also makes sense. Although farming remains a physical job, the need to be a world-class weightlifter has significantly diminished—not that this was ever a real barrier. Over the years, many of the myths surrounding physicality and farming have largely been de-bunked. Nevertheless, the introduction of new technology, equipment and automated systems have vastly reduced the physical requirements of the job and made it easier for women to bust through the barn door.
Old fashioned beliefs
But despite how much things are changing, there are still very glaring signs that they’re not moving fast enough. Too often, in my lectures, I find myself having to apologize to the female contingent in the room because my lecture on intergenerational transition will have a male bias. It’s biased not because I unintentionally created it that way, but because it’s written to reflect real life—and the sad thing is, the industry remains firmly entrenched in traditions that favour male heirs.
When I meet with farm families face-to-face, I’m still amazed by how many of them completely discount their daughters when it comes to the intergenerational transition. Even those daughters who are already playing a prominent role in the running of the farm are expected to play second fiddle to their brothers—leading me to believe that this is still largely the domain of fathers and their sons. The male child or children are still the focus and good ol’ dad rarely even considers the alternatives.
And this is the underlying issue that the industry needs to address. Most farm families are challenged by the “fair versus equal” question when reviewing their estate plans. Many choose to default to the traditional way of doing things—that is, making sure farming assets only go to farming children.
This is fine—but perhaps it’s time to consider daughters “farming children” too. Maybe it’s time to shift our thinking and offer fair process and equal opportunity to all children. Maybe it’s time to allow meritocracies to decide who is best suited to take over the management of the business.
In today’s rapidly-shifting farming environment, your family business can’t afford to fall into the wrong hands. By broadening the playing field—and giving your daughters an equal opportunity to play the game—you’re not only increasing your chances of finding a successful successor, but you’re showing your daughters that they are, in fact, equals. And there’s no lesson more valuable than that
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