Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of articles featuring board members and staff members of Dairy Girl Network. The organization connects women in the dairy industry, encouraging ideas and camaraderie in an effort to achieve personal and professional development.
COBB, Wis. – Dairy farmer and founder of Dairy Girl Network, Laura Daniels isn’t surprised by the growing number of women interested in agricultural leadership. She’s optimistic about future opportunities for women in agriculture. But a few things must happen before women in upper-management roles and executive positions becomes the norm, said the Cobb-area farmer.
Daniels said she has observed an increase in the number of female undergraduates enrolled in the country’s colleges of agriculture in the past 10 to 15 years. She points to the growing number of women receiving agricultural scholarships. In the dairy industry, she’s also seen more women participating on dairy-judging and dairy-challenge teams.
“More women are attending Dairy Girl Network events, and we’re hearing their stories,” she said. “They’re in training and ready to take the helm.”
Yet there are few examples of women in upper-management roles and executive positions. Daniels said she’d like to see more women follow the lead of Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and the author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”
“Women need to say, ‘I want the job. Give me a chance,’” Daniels said. “They need to demonstrate they’re ready.”
Also the industry needs to take greater steps toward understanding the untapped potential of women in agriculture, Daniels said.
“If you want to build the best team, you should have diversity of thought,” she said.
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and a billionaire businessman, has addressed the subject.
"America has forged its success while using, in large part, only half of the country’s talent," he wrote in an essay for “Fortune” magazine.
“For most of our history, women – whatever their abilities – have been relegated to the sidelines,” he wrote. “The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50 percent of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100 percent can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”
Organization takes lead
Daniels said she's optimistic about the future for women in agriculture. But she also understands agriculture’s challenging and painful aspects. Those challenges must be addressed, she said. In recognition of Mental Health Month in May, Dairy Girl Network offered a month-long forum for farmers to discuss their mental-health challenges. The organization’s private Facebook group – Exchange by Dairy Girl Network – served as the forum.
“Farmers shared their stories,” she said. “The discussions helped to remove the stigma associated with depression. And we also shared resources to help.”
The May forum was part of Dairy Girl Network’s ongoing effort to address behavioral health issues, Daniels said. Behavioral health relates to how people handle certain situations or every day behavior.
“Behavior is a response, and we can work on responses,” she said.
As a dairy farmer Daniels is familiarized with the industry’s dramatic swings. And she's found a way to handle the associated stress.
“I acknowledge the good days and capture the beauty of those days,” she said. “But I’m aware that not every day will be great.”
Another way she manages stress is unique because it strikes at the heart of most people’s concerns – finances.
“I know the numbers on my farm,” she said. “It’s a reality check, not an emotional pep talk. Some months will be tight, but there’ll also be months when we can make up ground.”
Daniels credits Steve Bodart for teaching her how to manage her farm’s finances. Bodart is a principal business consultant at Compeer Financial.
Every dairy manager needs a good grasp on their income and expenses. That can be accomplished by understanding cash-basis accounting and accrual accounting, Bodart said.
“Accrual helps you know where you are today, where you’re heading, and whether you’re gaining or losing net worth,” he said.
Second-quarter financials can be intimidating. That’s the time when most farmers have been paying for inputs but haven’t yet harvested their crops. Even though the farmer may be “cash tight” at that time, he or she may be making progress when looking at the financial picture from an accrual-accounting standpoint, he said.
Not knowing or only guessing at one's financial status is scarier than knowing the situation for some. For Daniels knowing the situation and taking appropriate actions can help reduce her stress. In a sense it's leadership and "leaning in" on the farm.