Gillian O’Sullivan: Simple ways to make farming better for women


Today is International Women’s Day is an opportunity to appreciate the role women play in agriculture and how that has changed over the years.

His day isn’t about slapping us on the back and saying good job girls, you’re doing great. For me, it’s about highlighting the journey and experience that women have gone through and acknowledging areas where there’s still work to be done.

I have rarely felt discriminated against in the dairy industry, more than a warm welcome from the people I have worked with.

After my brother died, Neil and I went back to our hometown to start farming, I don’t know much about dairy farm management.

I remember attending discussion group meetings in 2010 and the kind silver-haired farmers imparting their knowledge in quiet conversations as we walked the fields.

These farmers and our mentor Teagasc want us to succeed and support us along the way.

Helped by my father’s unwavering patience in teaching the basics, I quickly learned that education was the key to making progress and consuming large amounts of reading material, attending conferences, and making progress. recommendations and talk to researchers whenever possible.

My first step is to realize that I don’t know everything and that I can change that.

I learned the importance of taking chances and not being afraid to put myself outside of my comfort zone.

I started organizing discussion and advisory groups, and speaking at conferences, about what we do: this requires a detailed understanding of the technical aspects of our farm.

It’s a simple rule: if you can explain your farm system to someone who knows nothing about it, you’ll know yourself better.

By teaching others, you teach yourself.

What does this have to do with being a woman?

In my early years in farming, I often felt like others knew more than I did, and I hesitated to ask questions for fear of appearing ignorant.

Over time, I realized that I knew as much as most people in the room and that the mistake was in not asking a question rather than asking it. It is very important to build self-belief so that you can stand on your own two feet and speak your mind.

Another positive for me is developing a dairy discussion group with female members.

Again, this is not about a feminist agenda – it’s about creating a slightly different learning environment than normal dairy discussion groups.

The group operates like any other but has some topics that may not be covered by other groups, along with discussion of farms, financial performance and improving herd fertility.

What’s the best backpack to carry a one-year-old with when farming?

How do you access maternity benefits?

What safety aspects of the farm should children prioritize?

So what improvements can be made to women in the industry? A network of representation and support is extremely important.

For example, of the four largest dairy companies in the country, not a single company has elected female board members.

This probably affects the balance of family commitments, household chores and food service provision for potentially time-poor women.

I’m not in favor of gender quotas, but I certainly do support a way of providing more diversity and representation in boardrooms.

Given that one in four people working on farms are women, are those views depicted at the industry level?

Ultimately, the strength of our industry depends on creating a broad network to bring young, dynamic women and men to the core of the industry in the years to come.

My experience over the past decade has shown me that dairy farming is an incredible career, but you need to push yourself to keep learning and taking chances.

Challenges remain but we can overcome them if we support each other through education, fostering self-belief to make a place for greater representation.

Gillian O’Sullivan farm with husband Neil near Dungarvan, Co Waterford Gillian O’Sullivan: Simple ways to make farming better for women

Fry Electronics Team

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