Farm Progress

More women needed in ag leadership positions

Growing up with female siblings establishes an appreciation for women in leadership.

Paul Penner

June 5, 2018

3 Min Read
WOMEN NEEDED: Historic accomplishment of women at the head of the New York Stock Exchange Group is a reminder than more women in leadership positions are needed across business and agribusiness.retrorocket/Getty Images

"After 226 years, the New York Stock Exchange has named its first female president." — Judith Ohikuare, Work and Money, May 22, 2018

The "glass ceiling" may have finally been broken on the national level as Stacey Cunningham began her new job as the 67th president of the New York Stock Exchange Group. It has been long overdue.

Perhaps it may no longer be said; a woman need not resort to "sleeping" with a man of power — or marrying one — as the means to achieving influence and prominence.

Yes, it does seem vulgar and repulsive to put those words into print, but let's face it, this is perceived, if not actual, reality. It need not be either, however.

Rather, the image of the "fearless girl" statue facing the charging bull on Wall Street — commissioned by an investment firm whose gender-diverse companies have a relatively high percentage of women among senior leadership — will inspire others to a better reality.

I grew up in a family where men and boys were in the minority. My siblings — all sisters — pretty much dominated life in our home. As the only brother, I became the test subject of numerous baking experiments and games, like shoving raisins into the nose and ears, not to mention eating mud pies, or playing church and baptizing unwilling converts, aka our lost and confused flock of chickens.

My late mother set an example for achievement and overcoming difficult circumstances, even though her formal education was cut short. She had to leave school after the eighth grade to care for her parents and help out on the farm.

My mother was an intelligent woman; self-taught in music, she learned to play not only the piano, but also the accordion, mandolin and guitar. While my father was attending college, she audited a number of classes in the humanities and completed all requirements, even though she never received credit for them.

Encouraged by her example, my older siblings finished their education with graduate degrees and are successful in their own right.

As an industry, and in comparison with the NYSE, agriculture's legacy might be seen as more progressive due to the way farming has always been a shared experience as a family-based endeavor. Or is it?

Nationally, based on the 2012 USDA NASS census data, 14% of all principal operators were women, while 30% of all farm operators were women.

Within the National Association of Wheat Growers, as reflected within the states' respective board members and based on a quick assessment of 37 board members, roughly 10.8% of board members are women, and only 8.1% are on their respective executive team.

In my tenure as president at NAWG, I encouraged member states to actively seek young, gifted, intelligent women who are involved in agriculture to step into positions of leadership at the state and national level.

Currently, to my knowledge, there are at least four women who have stepped forward and are blazing a trail for others to follow. We need still more women to step up and take on the task of leadership.

My family has "skin" in the game, so to speak. All of the women in my immediate and extended family have found their voice while living in their respective communities. All have chosen to lead and encourage others to follow their example.

Looking on from the sidelines, my three granddaughters are taking their cues from all of us, encouraged by our family and the broader community as well. I am hopeful that they are empowered to explore, to learn and to expand the horizons of opportunity as they grow older.

Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is [email protected].

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