[Source: INEDA, 11.2016 | Keywords: Women, Dealer, Recruiting]
Denise Nelsen has been with AgDirect since its inception in 1998 as part of her 25-year career in the Farm Credit system. The York, Nebraska-based territory manager said that while it was her dream job from day one, working in a male-dominated industry wasn’t always easy.
“I felt like I sometimes needed to know more than the guys did, just to prove myself and to prove that I knew what I was talking about,” said Nelsen, who has worked with machinery dealers in Nebraska throughout her career and is retiring at the end of 2016.
The farm machinery business has changed a lot in the time Nelsen has worked with Farm Credit Services of America and AgDirect. Women’s roles are evolving in this sector just as they are in others around agriculture. Today, that means in many cases, women who have grown into more management roles on farm operations around the country are the ones making financial decisions, oftentimes working with one of the growing number of financial officers and territory managers in the farm financial sector.
“Women play such a bigger role. They’re working in a male-dominated career and they’re very successful at it,” Nelsen said. “With my job in equipment financing, I’m dealing with more and more women. They know the finance side of the business very well.”
Challenges like the ones Nelson said she faced early in her career — those based on her gender — may be lessening as more women take on different roles traditionally held by their male counterparts. But stereotypes and double-standards still exist. That’s not to say they can’t be overcome, much like how Nelson said she had to do early on in her career.
“Some women farmers and ranchers have mentioned hurdles to performing certain tasks that were essential to their operation not because they were physically or emotionally incapable, but because others would not acknowledge the women’s authority over their own farms or ranches,” said Kristin Reynolds, Ph.D., a food systems scholar at The New School in New York City, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
One way to positively counteract these types of pressures women face and the stress they cause is peer networking. Such activity – connecting with other women facing similar challenges – can yield constructive ways to offset stereotypes and empower women taking the reins of farms or ranches.
“Women’s agricultural networks may consist of a small group of local women farmers or ranchers who get together informally to talk about farm or ranch management, or even more personal issues at their operations. Or, they can be more formal community or regional groups that hold regular meetings for focused discussion of technical or regulatory issues in agriculture,” Reynolds said. “Networks can facilitate information exchange and have been found to be helpful to women who balance the many pieces involved in a sustainable agricultural livelihood.”
The Future of Women in Agriculture
In the decades since she began working in the agricultural financing industry, Nelsen says she’s watched the number and diversity of women’s role in agriculture grow by leaps and bounds. These evolving roles women play in the day-to-day management on many U.S. farms and in other farm businesses are changing how others in the farm sector – like farm machinery dealers – conduct business.
“Many who sell and service farm machinery have learned that it is the woman who has the details of the farm finances, and she is keen on knowing return on investment,” said eastern Iowa farmer, speaker and advocate for women in agriculture, Jolene Brown. “She also understands if it fits into the cash flow. She is the one who will take out the emotion to be assured it is a good business decision.”
Along with that growing trend of women’s leadership on the business management side of agriculture — in farms and machinery dealerships alike — will come a change in mindsets that posed a challenge to Nelsen in her early days working with farmers on machinery financing.