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  • Writer's pictureJen

Overcoming Underrepresentation

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Something pretty life-changing recently happened to me, and I wanted to share because I hope that this message can reach at least one person and make them have hope, or to feel some level of inspiration.

I have just accepted a new position, with an agriculture technology company, as the North America Technical Director. I will be taking a seat on the executive leadership team for North America in a senior-level management position, to help run the North America branch of the company alongside the President and the National Sales Director. I will be heading the Technical Department, which oversees all execution of the technology onto farms and all post-sale support. Why is this so important?!?! Not only are women underrepresented in the field of agriculture, holding about only 30% of the industry's demographics, but women in leadership roles in technology companies is less than 20%! That first number is what hits me the hardest...30% of the agriculture industry is made up of women! To be a woman who gets to be a leader in a male-dominated industry is an honor to have, as I want to help pave a road for other young women to feel empowered to push through the roadblocks and jump over the hurdles you encounter in your careers. Trust me, there will be hardships, but don’t ever get discouraged. That brings me to my next point. To persevere at a young age will strengthen you to the core. I am only 28 years old. To be given this opportunity that some people spend their entire careers working to achieve is extremely humbling.

I first started my life in the Agriculture industry at a very young age, running around the family farm, building hay forts in the shed, and cuddling the cute barn kitties as my Father managed the family farm along with my Grandparents. As I was young, my Father NEVER imagined one of his daughters wanting to take over the family business, and as it got continuously harder for the family farm to stay afloat, the cows and equipment were auctioned off, and the farm property was sold to my Aunt and Uncle.

My Father always tells me that knowing what he knows now, he would have held on to the farm and passed it along for me to run, but such is life. I spent the rest of my childhood growing up across the street from the family farm, but not actively engaged with agriculture, other than my pet rabbits, goats, and various small vegetable gardens I tended to while in grade school and into high school. It wasn't until my later years of high school that I realized a huge part of me was missing, I needed to get back to my agriculture roots, so I pursued my college degrees of Animal Science with a Dairy emphasis and Biochemistry with a hope of returning to agriculture being my driving force.

As I have told the story before about my 6 FAILED attempts to get accepted into Vet School, looking back, I think it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I was down in the dumps and was DREADING having to be a college student who graduates with no career to step into. HOWEVER, that all changed about a month and a half before graduation, when I accepted an offer to be a Technology Implementation Specialist for a company that would ultimately launch my career into Ag Tech.

My daily tasks for the first two years of my career was traveling around the country to install technology systems into dairy farms and working with the Farmers to implement the technology and help them bring the technology into their day-to-day management practices.

This sounds pretty cool, right?!?! Well, it was, but it was a HUGE eye-opening experience, especially being a female in the dairy industry and a female in Ag Tech. For years, I was the ONLY female that sat on the field staff, and I learned a great deal about how to be confident in myself and how to make my presence known in a room full of men that ultimately dominate the industry.

One story in particular will be forever stamped in my mind, as it was the single, defining moment, when I knew that I had the skill set and confidence to "hold my own". I was in northern Minnesota, dead of winter, and had to install a system on a small Dairyman's farm. This install required carrying a heavy ladder through ice-covered pens, running electrical cable through the barn, and junction wires together in almost sub-zero temperatures. This was a job that even many men shied away from.

I remember pulling up to the farm, jumping out of the truck and approaching the Dairyman with an open hand to execute a proper handshake, as was my usual routine. The Dairyman did not extend his hand, instead looked confused and spoke the words that will forever be ingrained in the back of my mind.

"Where is your co-worker? I figured they would have sent a man to help you?"

I was almost rendered speechless by that comment, BUT to my surprise I didn't even hesitate when the next words left my lips, "well they wouldn't have sent me if they didn't think I could get the job done". Just like that, the Dairyman felt the verbal whiplash, chuckled, and said "alright, let's see what you can do".

I spent the next few hours installing the system, while the Dairyman clearly had nothing better to do that day then to follow me around and watch my every move. While I was finishing up, on the ladder, with the harsh winter wind whipping my face, and junctioning together a few wires, the Dairyman looked up to me and apologized for the comment he had made earlier.

He APOLOGIZED for questioning my ability and for demoralizing me the moment I had arrived. If you don't know much about farmers, or dairy farmers, specifically, they can be a bit of a tough crowd sometimes. It's not because they are sexist, mean-hearted, or think they are superior, but because their way of life has caused them to be stubborn, hard-working, and the tough guy, so sometimes, it is hard for them to understand that a woman can accomplish the same tasks that they can. This was that single, defining moment when I knew that I was good enough to take on any challenge.

And MANY challenges I did face in the coming years. Even more recently, about a month ago, I was touring some prospect customers around a dairy farm in Ohio, and one of the prospects happened to be a very influential Dairyman in the area that owned a few thousand cows. I was introduced to this man by the owner of the dairy we were hosting the tour at, and after the owner shared that I would be leading the tour and the discussion of how the technology will revolutionize the future of dairying, this man spoke out in front of the whole crowd and said, "Why is SHE talking to us about this, why can't you explain this to us?".

By this time, I have had years of experiencing this kind of behavior, and chuckled inside my mind, but stayed quiet for the dairy owner came back with "because she is the expert". The prospect remained skeptical of my 'expertise', that was, until I started talking about what I knew.

By the end of the tour and discussion, the prospect became highly engaged in a discussion with me, and asked me question after question. The entire dynamics of the conversation flipped a 180 from the time we met, until the time we finished the tour. Confidence is key. I am a woman. I am a young woman. I am a woman in agriculture. I am a young woman in agriculture. And now, I hope to be a great leader, mentor, and inspiration for other young women. I once read a quote that stuck with me and gave me so much inner strength. This quote does not forget all of the people that have supported me, helped me to grow and taught me things along the way, and have truly always been there for me. This quote symbolizes the confidence and respect that you can have for yourself. The confidence that you have in your career and in your ability to achieve great success. I’ll leave you with that quote. “A ʀɪᴠᴇʀ ᴄᴜᴛs ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ᴀ ʀᴏᴄᴋ ɴᴏᴛ ʙᴇᴄᴀᴜsᴇ ᴏғ ɪᴛs ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ, ʙᴜᴛ ɪᴛs ᴘᴇʀsɪsᴛᴀɴᴄᴇ.”


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