Reflecting on Women’s History Month, I wanted to share some thoughts about women in the dairy industry.
Producing a nutrient-dense food to feed our families is an unbelievable way to support and sustain our communities. The giving spirit should draw more commonalities between all people working to produce the dairy products we love. But it is hard to escape the inherent challenges that women face across the various industries that encompass dairy. I believe they are not intentional, but instead patterns that we often don’t even realize.
From what I’ve learned from colleagues, we have come a long way from a time when dairy plants did not have female bathrooms. Today it is not unusual to see women carrying hardhats into dairy processing plants, but there was a day when that was not the case.
When I started working in dairy, I found myself feeling isolated at times. From being the only woman in many conversations to becoming an easy comparison to my male-counter parts spouses, I was acutely aware of my otherness. The biggest frustration was being told that I had the advantage of being a woman because people would take more notice of me. This kind of comment only brings women together in frustration instead of developing opportunities. I wish I had had a group like International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) Women in Dairy Network to help navigate some of those moments.
I began to realize I put myself in many of those situations and could change my reaction. I had to change the story.
I decided to focus on my strengths and growth areas. I developed better relationships and learned from industry professionals I admired. I work to maintain genuine curiosity and openness while holding my ground when necessary. This balance is a constant learning process.
I don’t want to say that men are the problem; it is the opposite. Men are my most significant supporters and advocates. I am fortunate that I have men in my life who push me and promote full collaboration.
My father challenged me to pursue a masters before I could even celebrate finishing my undergraduate degree, explaining that more women need a masters. My brother, who fondly described me as a tyrant growing up (which still horrifies me), reminds me that being driven and persistent are strengths. Jan, my husband, is my most prominent advocate. He continually reminds me of my end-goals when I begin to question myself. Even some of my male colleagues have brought up conversations around gender and the decisive and positive role they want to have.
Working in the nurturing dairy industry that provides so many opportunities, we need to build on commonalities. I am excited to see that the industry and groups like IDFA are actively addressing this and building a network to keep the conversations going. Working toward greater collaboration and inclusion are wins for everyone in dairy, one of the most nurturing and giving industries. Above all, I am proud to be a woman working in the dairy industry; an industry that I truly love.