Women can benefit farms, meeting told

IRISH farms could be more productive, competitive and profitable if women were considered as senior partners in the family enterprise.

Dr Maureen Gaffney told almost 600 women at the Women and Agriculture conference in Athlone that studies on Fortune 500 companies show that “those with the highest representation of women in senior top management teams had better financial performance than companies with lower representation”.

This is because they are better at decision making, innovation, produce better products and services and retain a competitive advantage. The psychologist suggested that this is true for all organisations and applies equally to farms and lobby groups.

She received a round of applause when she questioned if farm organisations like the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) have “a proper proportion of senior women at decision making level”.

“Unless you have it, you are absolutely not having the competitive advantage which you absolutely must have,” she said.

She was one of a number of speakers addressing the theme of Getting the Balance Right which looked at communication, taxation and women’s pensions, as well as cookery with chef Neven Maguire.

Australian succession expert Lyn Sykes suggested that the best way for men to protect their farming business interest is to look after their wives. If a farmer’s wife leaves him, he stands to lose half of his enterprise, she said.

Men should ask themselves whether they want to be sleeping with their prize sheep or their wives when the recession is over and focus their energies accordingly.

Ms Sykes later spoke of the Australian experience of an increase in divorce among farmers in the 18 months after a recession when women feel able to leave a relationship where they felt they were not the priority in difficult times.

Organiser Máiréad Lavery, editor of the Farmer’s Journal Country Living supplement, said she was delighted with the turnout at the event, which one woman described as a female version of the ploughing match.

Ms Lavery believes that there are many challenges facing farm women.

“There’s no short cut to it, money is desperate scarce on a lot of farms,” she said, adding that there is a “different dynamic on farms” now where one partner and perhaps an adult child has lost a job “and all the financial needs have to be met out of that farm”.

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