Saturday, February 7, 2015

Forget Gender Equality, Time to Change Old Boys Culture in Agriculture

To the Editor, Ontario Farmer

It was with great interest I read Marin MacNamara’s January 20 op-ed, “Gender equality and agriculture.” MacNamara points out a reality that exists in many industries, yet doesn’t have a simple solution.

There is no question many organizations in agriculture still have an “old boys” kind of culture that in most other industries is now frowned upon and has gone by the wayside. While there are female leaders in our industry who have proven we can successfully navigate this culture, many organizations have also realized this culture is unhealthy for all employees, not just women. This culture doesn’t focus on employees achieving their individual potential and bettering the organization. Rather, it fosters politics and conformity.

I see this culture limiting our industry in terms of both innovation and competitiveness, but also internally through Human Resource policies. Maternity and paternity benefits, for example, are gender-sensitive hot potatoes that management often doesn’t want to deal with. And while discouraging to both genders, inherent to our biology, women face the overwhelming brunt of this problem. 

At the end of the day, agriculture is still “survival of the fittest.” As business leaders we need to advance our organizations, but we also need to attract top talent to agriculture, male and female. The current culture isn’t going to cut it, and frankly many women just haven’t been willing to put up with it. And I suspect there will be increasingly more men who feel the same, unless culture starts to change. The first step is accepting there is a problem, and if talking about gender equality does anything, it will also heighten the awareness to this issue. Making the industry stronger overall.

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