Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 23 April 2018

Opinion: The chances you don't take may be the ones you will regret the most

'There are areas where a woman can match a man pound for pound any day, such as milking cows'
'There are areas where a woman can match a man pound for pound any day, such as milking cows'
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

It was fascinating when I recently talked to a number of female mart managers.

One thing I didn't realise is the long hours involved. One spoke of working 70 hour weeks at certain times while, one recent Sunday morning another was lying in bed talking to a farmer on the phone about the price of lambs.

They also reaffirmed just how important marts are - not just to farmers - but the broader rural social landscape.

While handling livestock is central to the business, the handling of people is perhaps a bigger part. This is something that women tend to be good at.

Selling and, to a lesser extent, buying, stock is an anxious time so skilful handling of those concerned is often required.

Inevitably, the question of whether it is harder for a woman to work in such a male dominated world had to be asked. Along the road, they have all been tested. Once they were not found wanting, it seems they were "just let get on with it" and all used some version of this phrase.

In my twenties, there was a time when I couldn't get a job so was doing a bit of farming at home.

One of my tasks was to sell lambs in the mart. We had a single axle single horsebox, which is not easy to reverse. The first few times I went to back up the unloading bay, a bit of an audience gathered. But, once they saw I could do it, they just let me get on with it.

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That is often how things work in the world. Once the opportunity arises, women are well capable of doing the job. But that "once" is a big word. Reaching that point can be hard.

In reality, most women who succeed will have worked harder and are probably more capable than a man who attains the same success.

At the same time, it's often said that women knock or hold back other women faster than men do.

I agree this happens. But it's important to understand why it happens, which out of insecurity or fear, rather than nastiness.

In the past, a daughter who wanted to farm would often face more opposition from her mother than her father.

I've no doubt that this was done with the best of intentions, a fear that she would be ground down by the physical demands of the job or struggle to succeed.

I believe this is now slowly abating. Machinery has alleviated some of the physical demands as management and paperwork have become relatively more important.

Even on the physical front, there are areas where a woman can match a man pound for pound any day, such as milking cows. As for raising calves and animal welfare, we are often better.

There are times that I feel jealous of other women's success. It's not something I am proud of.

I will tell myself that it must somehow be easier for them. Maybe they are younger? Or older? They have had some other sort of opportunity that I don't.

Yet, at the same time, I recognise that I am the one who holds myself back, my fear of failure or of rejection. It is easier to sit back and knock those who do take chances.

When we are feeling good about ourselves and our careers, we want the whole world to be happy and successful. When we don't feel good about how things are going, we don't feel the same generosity of spirit.

Some people do, of course, face real discrimination. But, in many instances, the biggest barriers are within.

I have no doubt that this, in turn, is partly down to history, to the experience of all the generations of women that have gone before. However, we now have more opportunity than ever.

When my spirits are flagging, the one thing I tell myself is, "you regret most in life the chances you didn't take".

Indo Farming

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