Women Leaders in the Agri-Workplace

Too Tough or Too Soft, Never Just Right

by Dr. Lauren Ledbetter Griffeth, Extension Leadership Specialist, University of Georgia

Leaders in agriculture, or in any industry for that matter, have historically been male. As with any societal group, having mostly male leaders with masculine attributes in their communication style, conflict style, and personal interest lends itself to creating a common "culture of leadership" by those who employ those positions. I want to state that this is neither "good" nor "bad" but it is just simply the way it is…

Think of a farmer, a forester, or even a large animal veterinarian… what image pops into your mind? While certainly, there are exceptions to each of these stereotypes, people typically picture older men, staunch and strong with matter-o-fact verbiage and no nonsense actions. When imagining a person in these positions, the culture of the position itself, the role, the leader, is created by the people(s) that hold them.

When women enter into mostly male leadership ranks, such as in agricultural work, dissonance can occur. The dissonance could certainly be based not only on gender, but for the purposes of this article, let's examine the predicament that many women face when exhibiting a more feminine approach to leading.

The Catalyst 2007 study, The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Dammed if You Do, Doomed if You Don't, discusses this paradox. The study revealed that women leaders face:

Extreme Perceptions

Women are perceived as too soft or too tough but never just right by their followers.

A High Competence Threshold

Women leaders face higher standards and lower rewards than men leaders.

Being Viewed as Competent but Disliked

Women leaders are perceived as competent …or liked, but rarely both.

Being on the farm, women may have earned greater rapport or respect with those they interact with on a daily basis, but when entering into another setting like a professional business meeting for the first time, many relationships are brand new and starting from the ground up. Women may certainly face these dilemmas when working through how to develop their own leadership persona to effectively guide their team.

The best feminine leadership strategy that I can offer to overcome this is to set the stage, especially in the beginning, by flexing to fit the culture of leadership that is apparent in the group. Be a student of your environment and understand what kinds of behaviors, including dress, and communication are acceptable. Then, once you have generated trust among your colleagues, offer a twist on the existing approach to create your desired leadership style. Women in leadership roles need not to be afraid to do things such as smile, have long hair, or wear feminine colors like pink. At first, yes, you might want to play towards a more masculine approach, but once you earn the trust of your employees through your knowledge and hard work, you can allow a more natural feeling leadership style to emerge.

The grand challenge for agri-women in the 21st Century is to understand how to lead in such a way that we can generate evidence to the greater community to trust us, employ us, and commune with us at the leadership table. Most of all, women should support other women as we strive to figure out what works for our leadership.

Dr. Lauren Ledbetter Griffeth is an Extension Leadership Specialist at the University of Georgia. She is a former 4-Her who loved spending summers picking squash, blueberries and peas with her grandmother in their garden. Lauren specializes in women's agriculture leadership and she and her husband are partners in a local vegetable business. Connect with Lauren on Twitter: @laurengriffeth.

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