You could have heard a pin drop as Dr Nollaig Heffernan spoke at the Dairy Industry conference on Saturday.
And you probably heard the penny drop too as she mentioned that the key to effective communication was not just about the verbal content, but perhaps an even more critical aspect – timing. A revelation to many – myself included.
Ah, how many arguments could have been avoided with the newly gained clarity that moving cattle or dosing stock was not the time to bring up the broken gate hinges, the dirty calf buckets, or that the automatic scraper was catching – for the 40th time.
It’s hard to pick just one highlight from the conference. Each speaker offered concise and clear messages delivered in an approachable and supportive atmosphere.
Women with very different experiences – some who had found their place as head of a holding through accident or through design and others who were still trying to find it brought together under one common aim.
One woman gave a very powerful recollection of phone calls on her way home from work asking her if she could get the cows started and "where was she?" when she came home a little later. I’m not sure how public she typically is about this, so we’ll call her Mary for this one.
I think many of us involved in farming have either been a Mary - or certainly know of one.
These women are frankly the backbone of the farm – both in terms of brains and physical labour. Yet, they are Mrs Invisible – or ‘Mrs Nobody’ as Mary sadly described herself, despite being a successful businesswoman and farmer in her own right.
Their contribution is overlooked and unnoticed despite the fact that the world would come crashing down if they took off Shirley Valentine style for even just a week.
“Awk, John is the farmer. I just do the milking/the calves/the washing up/the paperwork/the feeding…” you’ll hear them say, yet you could go on and add almost any job on the farm to the list, and you’ll probably find that bar machinery work there is little this woman is not already doing. In reality, the only thing differentiating her from 'the farmer' is the fact she is a woman and that her name is not on the books.
I was relieved to hear Mary explain how she gained the confidence to raise issues about the farm with her husband and became more assertive - but still tactful - about finding her place on the farm. Now, they farm in partnership and she is no longer 'Mrs Nobody'.
However, even among the positivity, I still spied a few throwaway references to sons and daughters interested in farming - yet unfortunately, only ever mention of the son taking on the farm.
It's important to call this out as it is. We have got to be the change we want to see, not just for ourselves but for the next generation too.
The event will no doubt go some way towards helping farming women to find confidence in their place in the industry. However, they can only do so much in terms of communicating better and being more assertive.
Men also have a responsibility to value the contributions of their wives, daughters, spouses, and sisters and see them as more than unpaid skivvies. If it helps to focus the mind, just remember a bit of respect is always much cheaper than a divorce!