This winter, I am spending time speaking at women-in-agriculture and agribusiness events. These are programs and conferences created specifically for women in an industry where mainstream society may not know or portray females as ag leaders.
I was recently asked by a trusted friend who regularly attends ag events about "ladies day," "spouse programs" or ladies auxiliary gatherings scheduled in conjunction with the meetings. He asked me, "Do these special events and auxiliaries have a place in agriculture today? The auxiliaries may have a long tradition of which members are justly proud, but are they compatible with the evolution of agriculture? Are they something that will fade out over time?"
I couldn't give him a concise answer, and I've been pondering his questions the past few weeks. My simple answer is we need to educate and encourage a next generation of women in agriculture. I don't think meetings with a special program tacked on for the women will do that.
We need a variety of programs and events to reach all kinds of women in agriculture, including those who aren't involved in the industry now but are willing to join us.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent numbers, more than 30 percent of U.S. farmers are women. We certainly need women-in-agriculture events, targeted specifically at equipping female farmers and ranchers as well as agriculture teachers, lenders and professionals across all of agribusiness.
I wish all events could be for men and women, but that hasn't always worked in the past. For example, this past year when attending a financial seminar hosted by a local bank, the nationally known speaker on hedging said he would speak "extra slow for the women in the room." He had no regard for the three women in attendance who are capable professionals with decades of experience in various facets of agriculture.
I'm a woman who has been involved in and around agriculture my entire life. I was raised by generations of men and women in agriculture and had no idea the rest of the world hadn't experienced the same. I learned as an adult that less than 2 percent of Americans are involved in production agriculture.
When I started doing business development for an agriculture advertising agency as a young 20-something, no one told me I couldn't be a leader in my industry. As a matter of fact, my male boss forged a path for me.
I developed my passions and my voice as a woman in agriculture, which has expanded into a speaking business. Ten years ago, a few of my clients asked me to speak at various events and eventually I started a "side hustle," as I refer to it. It's a side job, a passion, and I hustle to be the best event speaker possible.
Women-in-agriculture events are almost always my favorite, because they are my people. We learn from one another's business models, employee struggles, personal and professional adversities and more. It doesn't mean I should only speak at women-in-agriculture events. I've stepped out of my comfort zone and grown to speak at small business, health care and other nonagriculture conferences. But I attribute the ability to share my voice, stories and experiences to women and men in agriculture, who have graciously allowed me numerous opportunities to hone my skills and voice.
If you know of any women-in-agriculture events I might not know about, please drop me a note. If you see me out and about at an event, don't hesitate to introduce yourself. We need more passionate women - and men - in agriculture who are willing to work and learn together in order to lead the industry in years to come.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.