The number of women CEO’s at Fortune 500 companies reached a historic high in June 2017. It quickly fell off.
The number was 32 and already it’s down to 27, according to the Wall Street Journal. Several recent CEO departures have led to what Jane Stevenson, leader of Korn/Kerry International, a major succession planning firm, is already alluding to as a trend. One reason is that a number of current female CEO’s are nearing retirement and Ms. Stevenson doesn’t seem to think the pipeline to replace them is strong. “We are going to lose ground rather than gain ground when it comes to female CEOs,” Ms. Stevenson said in a Wall Street Journal article on August 3, 2017.
In agriculture, I believe we’ll soon be reversing this trend at the farm level. Here’s why.
One: Level of Education: It’s commonly known that more young women are graduating from college than men. According a Washington Post article: “Women today get the majority of college degrees in America. It doesn’t matter what kind — associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral — women beat men in all the categories.” In agriculture, the trend is similar; the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that women receiving college degrees in agriculture has been at parity or above that of men since about 2009. Go to any college ag campus and you will probably believe it is much higher.
Second: Quality of Life and Professional Balance: I speak with a lot of young women that plan to return to the rural area where they grew up if not the farm. Reasons range from family to way of life, and even cost of living. Yet, most of these women still aim for a career. With essential advances in technology, such as high-speed internet access, rural areas will increasingly have the needed bandwidth to provide more options. Educated young women today seek a balance of career and family and don’t necessarily believe that an hour commute each day to work is worthwhile. Being groomed to lead the farming operation may give them the opportunity to balance family with professional skills and career aspirations.
Three: Fewer (Traditional) Blind Spots: Today everyone is still talking about the eclipse, so I’ll draw a parallel with a little story. A female expert in grain marketing is fond of saying she prefers to deal with women because they tend to be less close to the ‘bushel babies’ and actually less emotional about pulling the trigger on marketing decisions than the guys. Scientific – no – but what she means is that for many men who have traditionally handled the day to day planting/harvesting work, it can be challenging to loosen the tie between what the crop looks like and what the market says it will pay. The ability to see the operation from a different background will be helpful to farms of the (near) future.
Four: Advocacy and relationships: I use the Strengths Finder ™ assessment when working with coaching clients and organizations. One of the four quadrants of leadership we discuss is called ‘Influencing’, a category that in my experience is typically the one with the fewest strengths – for my male clients, that is. Again, just my own research but women in agriculture tend to possess more strengths in areas like advocacy than men. Today, that is already important; going forward its mission critical. The ability to negotiate and advocate on behalf of the operation in a way that non-ag landowners and consumers can relate to will be a matter of life or death for operations.
So, Dads, you may not have to wonder if your daughter should have a place on the farm someday. Actually, your chair looks like a great fit.