TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The number of women in agriculture is growing, and there’s reason to believe more women will be taking the reins as CEOs of farming operations and agribusiness companies, according to executive coach and trainer Sarah Beth Aubrey.
The top reason for more women CEOs is the shifting gender factor in agricultural education, she said during Rabobank’s Women in Agriculture luncheon last week.
In the last five years, more women than men have graduated from college with degrees in agriculture. Women have outpaced men with degrees in agricultural economics and agricultural sciences and have only missed the majority in agricultural engineering, she said.
With all those graduates entering the workforce, the professional pool of candidates in agriculture is going to look “a lot more feminine,” and it will also lead to more women running the company, she said.
There is also an age factor. Just like the aging and retiring population on the farm, agribusiness leadership is also transitioning. The top positions have largely been dominated by men, but middle management not so much. The pipeline of who will fill those lead positions is shifting, she said.
Education and the internet also bring opportunity for leadership roles and allow women to balance quality of life and their profession, choosing where they want to live. They can work in their field from home, where they might have small children, or stay on the farm and use their degree to add value to the operation, she said.
In farming operations, women also have fewer traditional blind spots. For example, they might have grown up on the farm but didn’t do the planting. Men tend to be more emotional about pulling the trigger on sales of their “bushel babies,” she said.
But if a woman hasn’t actually done the field work, “your blind spots aren’t there,” she said.
Women are also better at advocacy and relationships. When both genders are involved in those areas, things happen, things shift, the conversation changes, she said.
Men are primarily executers, and women are influencers. There will need to be more of that advocacy, conversation and dialogue in agriculture going forward, and there will be more women doing that going forward, she said.
Women also think differently. A study by Psychology Today found that only 10% of thoughts the study monitored in men and women overlapped, she said.
“We need good and unique thoughts to get us through these challenging times,” she said.
Women’s unique thinking is needed to balance out boards and working teams, she said.
Women also make sound fiscal decisions and measured choices. One analysis by the organization Board Advisors found a lot less likelihood of farm bankruptcy when women are involved in the decision making. It also found less likelihood of bad decisions and financial strain, she said.
Women also bring value to management teams because they are consumers. Women make most of the buying decisions in the U.S., and women in agriculture know what women want, she said.