Young Women in Ag: What I Wish I Knew Before Starting College
After finishing up my summer internship on a high note, I was excited to read my performance review and reflect on how I faced the challenges of my work. It was my first "big girl job" at a big corporation, and I had tried all summer to leave a positive impression. Apparently, I had succeeded- I was offered to stay on during the school year with a pay bump to make up for my loss of full-time workability. So, upon scrolling through the "met or exceeded expectations" boxes down to the comments, I was shocked to have met a particularly impactful sentence that changed my view of myself.
"She is naturally soft-spoken, so I'm eager to see her ability to command situations increase as her confidence grows."
While not a negative commentary by any means, it made me realize that my own perception of myself was not the reality. While at school and in student organizations, I had never struggled to take the lead in situations and feel confident within my roles on campus. So, why was my work life any different?
After a little bit of self-reflection, I began to see where this conclusion may be drawn. I am a 5'2" blonde with a higher-pitched voice, who has been on work calls where I've been mistaken for someone's granddaughter. I've been told I sound like I am 12. And, to top it all off, I had been an avid user of "I would love to!" and exclamation points in my emails. I was beginning to think that my personality- and my height- was going to be detrimental to my professional career. That was until I met some very powerful women in agriculture.
Watching a woman command a room is a magical thing, where their presence is known immediately and their opinion is valued deeply. College is also a magical thing, as it allows you to meet these unicorn-like women on a regular basis. Some are my academic advisors, co-workers, bosses, and peers. The commonality between these women, however, isn't background or even the fact that they are all women. The common thread is their drive.
In meeting these women and always making a point to ask how they've gotten to where they are career-wise, it is interesting to me how variable their stories are. The passion is always there, as is the recognition that they are a member of a historically male-dominated industry. The best advice I received was something I wish I would've taken more heavily as I entered college and began meeting people. Networking is as important as your portfolio, especially as a woman in this industry.
So, if one young woman is able to take something away from this, I will have succeeded. And, if you take anything away from my experience, let it be this:
1) Find strong mentors. Having strong leaders in your life makes finding your voice and purpose so much simpler.
2) Embrace your goals. Your passion for the industry is not overshadowed by your gender. Woman are a strong and rising force within the industry- be excited to be part of this shift!
3) You don't have to change your personality to be taken seriously. You can be liked and respected at the same time. Maybe save the exclamation points and "I'd love to" for personal conversations, but stay authentic. Your personality will drive you forward.