Agriculture Glass Ceiling – Why Is it Still There?

With the latest elections, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario now have a grand total of zero women on their Board of Directors. That’s right – 0. As a young woman growing up in the industry and passionate about its future, this is not just disheartening but disappointing. Women are very involved at the local level in committees and breed associations, but few have sat around the provincial board table and even fewer at the national level.Sadly, DFO is not unique in the demographics of their boardroom. After a quick, unscientific search, the results were dismal:

A recent Ivey Business Journel article cites a study which found at a minimum 3 women are required on a board for their participation to be effective. The article provides solid arguments why a minimum standard would not change the current, low levels of participation. In my opinion, all mandated minimum appointments achieve are representation. It will probably not entice more women to become involved nor will it ensure the best candidates, which this industry and all agriculture desperately need to direct the future.

If not mandated then, how can we get more women involved and close the gender gap around our board tables?

First, we need to start asking WHY they aren’t there. This has been a recent topic of Twitter and Facebook conversation and my friend Sandi wrote about it just last week here. The common theme is often around time. There is only so much of it and only one parent can often be involved at an industry level. Hmmm sounds familiar.

But women are very involved in the local level, and another friend once said “all politics are local”. Can the same not be said for our provincial and national associations? Perhaps not. Even IF a local committee has monthly meetings (fewer meetings is more common), there is less travel involved and it may require one weeknight with some weekend volunteering. Contrast this to the commitment of a DFO Director – at least 12 two-day meetings, plus various committees, the AGM and travel. It’s daunting for anyone – young, old, man or woman.

In an age where Goto meeting and Webex are nearly free and individuals are doing business around the world through digital technology and never setting foot in the same room, is this archaic governing necessary or is it a hangover of the ‘good ol days’ where the real business was done in the hospitality suite? Don’t get me wrong, I am no stranger to the hospitality suite and I place very high value on face-to-face meetings. I also place very high value on my time though, and in 2014, there seems like there may be more effective ways.

I consistently hear agricultural associations are looking for younger people to get involved in their board. Instead of trying to convince them why it’s worth their time, maybe it’s time to start looking at how your board could start leveraging the tools available to reduce the time required. Most youth know why board involvement is important and want to be involved.

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