Closing the gender gap in a rapidly changing industry
Agribusiness is rapidly changing, and women in agtech are a significant part of that change. Agriculture has always had one foot firmly planted in tradition and one foot marching toward innovation. Agtech and precision agriculture can only reach their full potential when women have an equitable seat at the table. As farming becomes increasingly less dependent on physical strength and more dependent on creative problem solving, efficient management and responsible stewardship, women in agtech play a critical role in shaping the future of American agriculture.
What the data on women in agtech can tell us
The data on women in agriculture paints a good news / bad news picture. The good news: women farmers are the fastest growing segment in ag. In 2016, women earned 52% of new doctoral degrees in the biological and agricultural sciences in the United States. That starts to look a lot like gender parity, especially considering women earned only 30% of the doctorates in all other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields combined that same year.
The bad news: there is still a long way to go. Women make up only 14% of principal U.S. farm operators, and women farmers are disproportionately located in less agricultural areas of the country. Women farmers own significantly smaller farms from the standpoint of both acreage and revenue. Due in part to this disparity, the gender pay gap is worse for women in ag than the general public. Women in agtech earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, far worse than the 80.5 cents we earn nationwide.
In 1966, women held 1% of Ag Science doctoral degrees. In 2006, 48% of new Ag Science degrees were earned by women. By 2016, the number reached 52%.
While the gender disparity in farming is rooted in traditional family structures and job-specific stereotypes, the B2B agtech industry serving farmers has its own unique set of challenges. Agtech segments that depend heavily on a STEM-educated workforce have a disproportionately male pond from which to fish. The challenge of the underrepresentation of women in agtech is complex — and it starts in grade school.
Girls and young women opt out of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects at a higher rate than males if they lack confidence or get teased for being a nerd, despite outperforming boys in those subjects worldwide. The disparity that starts in grade school continues into higher education, the workforce and the boardroom.
Girls opt out of STEM subjects at a higher rate than boys, despite outperforming them in those subjects.
Institutional changes are afoot, but progress is slow. Parents, teachers, civic groups, nonprofits and businesses all have a role to play. STEM-focused curriculum, project-based learning and internships all work to plant the seed of a lifelong love of tech. It’s then up to the agribusiness industry to help the seed to grow. The result is a stronger workforce with not just a diversity of people, but a diversity of thought.
Like begets like. Seeing someone who looks like you in a profession you want to pursue helps you know it’s possible. The opposite is true as well. If you don’t see anyone who looks like you, it’s harder to see yourself succeeding. Small changes and incremental shifts in mindset go a long way. When girls and young women have access to positive female role models in agribusiness, we cultivate a sense of infinite career possibilities, unencumbered by the roles women and men have historically played in the industry.
If you don’t see people who look like you in a profession you want to pursue, it’s harder to see yourself succeeding.
Mentorship takes it to the next level. More than mere role models, mentors actively help women advance professionally. Men also play an important part in closing the gender gap. Two-thirds of farmers are men. So if the current generation of farmers stays in their gender lanes when mentoring the next generation, women in agtech will have half the opportunities of men and the gender disparity cycle won’t change. When male leaders advocate for and sponsor young professional women, we start to break the cycle, dispel stereotypes and change the status quo. That’s innovation.
Explicit and implicit bias
Overall, there is far less explicit bias in the agribusiness workplace than there used to be. However, implicit bias is rampant, and we all have it. We need to exert a concerted and ongoing effort to interrupt implicit bias, which can manifest as unconsciously treating someone who does not look like you differently. For example, implicit bias can result in women being interrupted more often in meetings. More broadly, it can influence the recruitment, interviewing and hiring process in unexpected ways.
Implicit biases are so dangerous because they’re not rooted in a willful intent to discriminate. Rather, they stem from deeply-rooted presets in our brains. Implicit bias is harder to identify and eradicate than explicit bias, but the effects can be just as damaging. It’s one of the more complex factors contributing to the agribusiness gender gap. Identifying, discussing and interrupting our biases is an important first step. The folks at the Moxie Exchange are doing great work in this area.
The Moxie Exchange breaks down the costs of unconscious bias
The no-manel pledge
Let’s set the scene: You’re at an ag conference awaiting a panel discussion. As the experts take the stage, something’s not right. Recently, we received an invitation to an innovation summit (included below). See if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture …
Two of those guys are not wearing ties! What’s become of this world? Also, there are no women. Sadly, we wrote that joke for another article about a month before this arrived in our inboxes. It’s not so funny now.
The manel, a panel consisting of nothing but men, is what happens when you only fish from your own pond. Like implicit bias, the manel is not usually the result of intentional discrimination. It’s a result of the fact that old white dudes know mostly old white dudes. That’s how the status quo stays the status quo.
Frustrated with attending manels, Agrilyst CEO Allison Kopf did something about it. Knowing there is no shortage of female expertise and leadership in agribusiness, she created an open list of inspirational women in agtech as a reference for those looking to book conference speakers. Seeded with 75 names, the list is up to 429 now and is growing steadily. Many innovative agtech companies and individual leaders have taken the panel pledge, committing to not serve on or not to attend a panel discussion that consists only of men. The movement has gained momentum worldwide.
Innovate like the world depends on it
Agtech companies are innovating like the world depends on it, because it does. As the world’s population continues to grow, farmers will need to feed more mouths with less land and fewer resources. As the ag market continues to get more diverse, innovative agribusiness companies will need to build brands that make meaningful emotional connections, develop positioning that is easily socially-shareable and clearly conveys how they’re making the world a better place.
The future depends on how well we use innovative technology to improve the way we feed the world. At Toolbox, we’re driven to use the power of branding to help innovative agribusiness companies create the future we deserve.
About Dawn Putney:
Dawn is Toolbox’s founding president and lead strategist. Dedicated to building a future where women in agtech can more easily climb to the top of the business ladder, Dawn knows the future looks brighter and kinder when built by women. Dawn grew up on the Minnesota family farm her ancestors homesteaded after emigrating from Ireland in the nineteenth century. A 4H and FFA veteran, Dawn’s Midwestern work ethic carries over into everything she does.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping the 3D Printing, Ag Tech and Clean Tech industries change the world. We distill complex technologies into powerful identity systems, websites and marketing tactics that align sales and marketing efforts, create lasting impact and build brand love.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
Nature: International Journal of Science | women in agtech stats
The Moxie Exchange
Insight Education Systems
women in agtech