Celebrate Women In Horticulture

Celebrate Women In Horticulture

Laura DrotleffWomen have always played a crucial role in the horticulture industry, not only from a consumer point-of-view, where traditionally our biggest customers have been women, but also as prominent business leaders and owners, growers, breeders, marketers, researchers and matriarchs of industry family empires.

That tradition continues today, perhaps even more so, and as our industry evolves, we need to continue to fight for and promote ourselves to potential employees, partners and business leaders in new and advancing demographics. To remain a viable industry, with the leaders and the labor we need to continue to operate at our current capacity, and eventually grow demand for our products, we need to make horticulture as attractive as possible to recruit young people to the industry.

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That means, despite our deep roots in agriculture, known widely for its conservative and traditional values, horticulture is not exempt from today’s relevant workplace concerns. If we want to be considered a progressive industry and be attractive to young recruits (to borrow a well-read title from popular culture), we need to lean in. As the discussion continues in society about advancing women’s equality in business, science, technology, engineering and related fields, including equal pay for equal work, we need to carefully consider how we as an industry are addressing these issues.

In agriculture in general, the share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over the past three decades, according to a study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which analyzed gender roles in the Census of Agriculture from 1978 to 2007. In 2012, there were 969,672 women farmers in the U.S., representing 30 percent of producers. Of that number, 288,264 female farmers were principal operators, meaning that 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms were controlled by women.

In agricultural education, indicators tell us that interest in ag careers is up among students. The National FFA Organization reported a record-high membership at the end of 2014, with more than 610,000 FFA members, aged 12 to 21 in 7,665 chapters nationally. Females currently represent 47 percent of FFA members and hold half of all state leadership positions.

As the push toward STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts increase within general education in the U.S., teachers and administrators are targeting ways to encourage girls, specifically, to pursue math and science-related careers. Thanks to this emphasis, you can expect to see a sharp increase in female interest and participation in STEM pursuits. Women currently account for a quarter of the STEM workforce, but countless efforts like the University of Buffalo’s STEMpowering Women calls for working toward a future when women’s participation in STEM occupations increases to at least 50 percent of the workforce.

The advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in professions like ours is a very real issue. We need to ask ourselves how we are empowering women already involved in the industry, and positioning the industry to progressively attract the next generation of business leaders, from both genders.

In honor of International Women’s Day held on March 8, Greenhouse Grower presents a new online series featuring prominent women in horticulture. The series will feature profiles on the movers and shakers in the industry, from company owners to growers, researchers, breeders, marketers — even faces to watch for in the future. Hopefully, it will serve as inspiration for all of us, but especially for young women in our industry, and others who haven’t yet considered careers in horticulture. View the first profile at bit.ly/WomenInHortMarch2015.

To nominate someone to be profiled in this series, or if you would like to write about a woman in horticulture who has inspired you, please eMail me at [email protected]

Grower’s Homework:

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, reflect on the role women have played in your company’s history, how women leaders and employees contribute to your current business and how your company addresses gender equality year-round. Nominate someone to be profiled in our Women In Horticulture series by writing to me at [email protected] or tweet @Laura_GG_TGC.