There’s a huge talent pool that agriculture needs to pay attention to,” quips BDO’s Jim Snyder as we visit on the plane. Jim leads the agriculture component of a Canada-wide accounting firm, and has experience with the chartered banks as well. He spent a lot of time on the road last year at seminars with Leona Dargis, an Albertan ag producer and Canada’s youngest Nuffield Scholar who is under 30 and running a large operation with her sisters and their spouses.
Waking up to women on your farm team is a reminder not to overlook the female gender and the skill sets they bring to your operation. Our CA, bookkeeper, lawyer, and non-farm income stream provider are all women. My husband is obviously OK with that, as he seeks the expertise and skill sets he needs for management success, regardless of gender. There are lots of talented women in the seed trade business who we also are happy to deal with.
In my coaching practice I am seeing a strong trend of female successors who are anxious to get the shareholder agreements written, because they are the herd managers, and their partners and spouses are also playing a key labour role on the farm. Founders are also keen to give their daughters operational duties while they are spending winters in the sunny south. Are you open to giving more authority and responsibility to the women on your farm?
Respect. “Elaine, Dad treats me like his little girl, not his future business partner.” We all have to be intentional in our family businesses to communicate expectations clearly, show respect and appreciation for diverse opinions and ideas, and remember what role we are in. Time has flown by, your daughter is smart, well educated, and ready to roll with a new business plan. Why are you resistant?
Validate my ideas and needs. Each generation may have a different way to do things and different enterprises they want to grow. “Different is not wrong, it is just different.” Sometimes the young female farmers need to ask clearly and directly for what they want and need. I recall a family meeting where the issue of naming the breeding stock brought tears. Deep love for the livestock, coupled with a need to be affirmed by “Dad,” was a telling story of the quest for validation.
Different family needs and values. “Just wish you would understand that when we have our children, we will have a different work style on this farm. We will take more time off for child-care needs and go to activities. Please don’t think I am just here for the ‘free babysitting by Grandma,’ we want to make this business different to meet our family’s needs.” The next generation will not regret that they did not make time to play, they are already making this choice to balance out farm work demands.
Risk tolerance and debt capacity. “Elaine, can I take you home with me?” says the young farmer whose girlfriend is from a paycheque family. He is listening to thoughts about understanding farm cash flow and debt servicing capacity. He knows how much debt he can sleep with, but is not sure how to get understanding from his female friend who may soon be his life partner. Women, like men, have different sets of financial smarts, so is your financial illiteracy holding your farm team back? Are you intimidated by the financial strengths your female partners hold? Who is doing the books? Who really knows the gaps in cash flow and credit? We are all lifelong learners, and it is OK to ask questions without “appearing stupid.” The only stupid questions are the ones that never get asked. Be curious. Find out what you don’t know, and learn from your team and your advisers. Encourage financial debate, with the facts on the table. Attack the issues, not the person.
Boundaries. The next generation is very clear about what is acceptable behaviour and what they will not tolerate. This sometimes makes the daughter-in-law, the “bad guy” when she refuses to get entangled in family gossip triangles, and wants to have the conflicts addressed at the boardroom level, not the barn or shop banter. Women tend to be the family mediators, and some are tired of carrying the emotional weight of the farm business conflict. Educated and confident women see conflict resolution as a business risk management strategy, so they are the first to sign the family up for conflict resolution coaching and courses (www.resolutionskills.ca).
Everyone has a heart. Tears make many nervous. Tears are good because they reveal you have a heart and are emotionally connected to your family and business. The degree of emotional intelligence on your farm team may vary, but everyone typically has a passion for the business to succeed, and may express that in different ways. Are you OK with showing emotion? Do you avoid females who may be more expressive than you are comfortable with? Are you stuffing the issues that need to be addressed because of your sensitivity and don’t want to cause offence? Encouraging the heart of your business involves being aware of your own emotional self-care and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. Sometimes the matriarch or dominating female shareholder or owner may need to be informed that their tears are no longer acceptable as emotional blackmail or control. I have experienced folks who are avoiding the tough conversations because they don’t know how to sit in the space of tears and deep emotion when key decisions need to be made.
I consider myself a strong woman. I cry. I am OK with that. So is my husband who asks first, “Is this about me?” If not, he carries on and lets me have a great therapeutic cry. I feel better, and he knows he is not causing me hurt. Sometimes I cry when I am deeply thankful, and the tears are gratitude.
Choose your attitude on how you wish to connect with women. This is actually a smart approach for either gender. Each morning when you wake up you get to choose what kind of team player you are going to be on your farm that day. The founders who are habitually negative, blaming and wallowing in self-pity, I have no time for. I send them to counsellors. I challenge them to listen to their business heirs, and the key message that their adult children are trying to build a strong business team, not trying to push away the skills of the older generation.
I cringe when I am one of the few agriculturally based women in a sea of men, and the podium language is disrespectful to my gender, has sexual connotations and no relevance to the desired outcomes of the gathering. Be professional. Be respectful. Be willing to share content that matters, or be quiet!
This could turn into a book, so I will stop now. Let me know the success stories of how you are embracing both genders on your amazing ag team. †