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6 tips to working with women (and men) in ag

Lately it's been hard to read or watch the news without learning of some new, sordid, repulsive tale of sexual harassment or worse, committed by powerful men against women who, for a variety of reasons, were not in positions where they could fight back.

I've been lucky throughout my career that the men I've worked with and for have been decent, respectable sorts who, I honestly believe, did not see me or my female coworkers as any different than our male counterparts.

That's not to say I've never heard a derogatory comment or had someone behave inappropriately toward me. I've just been lucky that the perpetrators were not people I needed for my career or life's sake, and I was able to walk away without worry, sometimes even with the opportunity to put the person in his place.

Now that I'm covering agriculture, I believe the quality of people with whom I interact has gone up substantially. In the past 10 months since I joined Agweek, I've felt safe and respected in every conversation.

There has, however, been something that has happened again and again throughout my career that I feel the need to address.

"Well, I don't always get the opportunity to talk to such a pretty little girl."

"You're a lot nicer to look at than a lot of the people I talk to."

"How did a girl like you get interested in something like this?"

I'm not the only woman who has heard comments like this. Most of us have stories. I understand the comments usually are meant as compliments, and the person saying them typically doesn't understand how condescending they are. Most men don't do this, and most conversations stay out of this territory. But it definitely takes the wind out of one's sails to be referred to as a "pretty little girl" rather than being thought of as an intelligent, capable human.

I've got the elephant-like skin of someone who spent close to a decade writing about crime, so if you recognize yourself in these comments, I can reassure you all I got out of the encounter was jaw pain from all the teeth gritting I had to do. And the interviews that followed were productive talks that yielded needed information.

The thing is, women are more and more present in agriculture. We're on the farm or ranch. We're at the counter of the feed store. We're in the laboratory. We're selling seeds. We're advocating for a better future. And yes, we're holding a notebook or a camera or a microphone.

We deserve the same consideration and respect you'd give a man in our positions. With that in mind, I thought I'd offer a few tips that might make interacting with us a little more comfortable:

• Don't comment on someone's looks, even if it's complimentary. If you wouldn't say it to a man in the same situation, don't say it to us.

• Shake hands. Otherwise, don't touch. Would you hug a man in that scenario?

• Don't assume we're ignorant or under qualified. Have you ever over-explained something to a man just to hear yourself talk?

• Avoid the word "girl" unless you're talking to an actual little girl. If you wouldn't refer to a 33-year-old man as a "little boy," don't call me a "little girl."

• Don't say "smile more." Does it bother you when men don't grin at you?

• When in doubt, just pretend you're interacting with a man.

Women have always played big roles in agriculture. Maybe we're a little more visible today than at some points in the past, but that's only because the women who came before us were competent and capable and paved those roads.

I wish we didn't have to talk about these issues in this day and age, but we do. If I do nothing else in my career, I hope to make it that much better for everyone who comes after me.

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