Confident, courageous women #BreaktheBias
I have some OPINIONS about today, if you have interest- these are my opinions, keep that in mind!
International Women’s Day comes up every year and, like those other weird 24-hour holidays like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day whose concepts seem like they should stretch beyond a mere 24-hour day, it barely makes a mark on my world of produce. It hits the social media circuit and then runs off, much like the many promotions and recognition qualified women deserve yet don’t receive.
The day is said to honor women globally, “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Marking a call to action for accelerating gender parity.” (I highly recommend clicking HERE and reading the definition of parity.) It seems like a particularly awesome concept that one would think our industry would jump on more. Yet, my inbox with the token produce newsletters was void of anything women-centric, let alone a recognition of today, March 8th, International Women’s Day (with the exception of the Fresh Fruit Portal – kudos!).
The day’s goals are rather simple, aiming to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide while raising awareness about general equality and lack thereof in sectors all over the globe. The underlying intent is to help shape policy to achieve gender equality and put money in the hands of organizations that help promote equality.
It seemed like a good opportunity to raise the issue in my world, with the few followers I have on the mango and produce circuit. I have a voice, and we all know I use it.
Despite my (justifiable) cynicism on the state of gender equality in my industry and world, I’m always active in forging more gender equality and, like all my endeavors, it’s a full time life rather than than a mere 24 hour feeling.
To do this I must harness a conscious courage to move through the world doing my part, as I know it to be true toward all equality, raising my voice and doing the good work I do, consistently and effectively, learning to do better as I age and grow. I am a strong woman with a unique story and upbringing that, in many ways, helped lay an easier path for me in terms of workplace equality.
This is not to say that I haven’t faced serious inequality and the problems that arrive with that. It’s more that my courage and confidence, alongside the fact that I have encountered some very supportive and powerful men, helped me push through the thick walls of misogyny. It wasn’t and still is not easy but, 25 years later in the business and 48 years into this life, I am able to dance through it and take doing good seriously using the the respect and power that I have earned to help me do good.
As a confident and courageous woman, I also feel a great sense of obligation to the world to speak up, not get lazy in the movement toward equality, while also still letting myself off the hook when I am not perfect. I am very much aware that most women in the business still struggle to achieve respect, power, and money. If my presence, courage and voice can help them, I’m all in.
Last year the Fresh Fruit Portal asked for my perspective on the evolution of women’s roles in the industry and how I see the situation changing for the future. First, I want to recognize the Fresh Fruit Portal because they have been one of the few produce news sources that offer clarity on just how many (capable) women’s voices exist in produce, and they do a good job of giving those voices space in their publication year-round.
My thoughts in response to last year’s Fresh Fruit Portal question are still the same:
“I still see the produce industry as extremely difficult terrain for women, and I think it is still nearly impossible for young, bright, capable women to rise to positions of real power. My own career was built on my ability to challenge from the get-go, and I can credit my unique upbringing for that. Women’s strength and power are rarely as celebrated, never mind financially rewarded, the same as men in this industry. Their leadership often lacks significant power. Those that can carve out their own niche and challenge the status quo usually feel isolated and lonely in the business. I can personally attest to that.”
“I have spent a great deal of my career working in global agriculture, small organic farming operations all over the world and I often find the family business of farming to be more open to advancing women. I see this in the Crespo family with their powerful matriarchs and I see the brothers, who run the company alongside their sister and mother, very much supporting smart women with power and money. I think this is the key to more success – making room for women to have more power and money. I don’t think the industry is changing; I think women are. They are learning that they must pave their own way and find the resources they need for the success they desire. This means choosing to work for companies that support sharing power and money with women.”
When I revisit my words from last year, one sentence that stands out to me is this one – “I think this is the key to more success – making room for women to have more power and money.” Isn’t this the key to all equality in our capitalistic world? This is the blockage in the movement, in my opinion; this one place. We are still stuck in a place where men are the ones dishing out the money and the power. When that changes, we will see real change happen.
Each year for International Women’s Day there is a theme. The themes are always #hashtagged, which makes me kind of giddy with excitement on how advanced (or, rather, young) this movement is. I’ll admit I’m a bit confused about who runs this Women’s Day world. My instincts and humor want to credit Beyonce, but I imagine it’s more of an academic source. Either way, it seems to be pushed by a global coalition driven by smarts, wisdom and youth – all things I appreciate in a movement.
This year’s theme – #BreaktheBias – spotlights the individual and collective biases against women that fuel gender inequality. I think this year’s theme is incredibly relevant to the produce industry and my current life and is worth talking about.
The International Women’s Day website clarifies the theme in a way I can relate to, as can many of us in produce. “Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead.” The website furthers, “knowing that bias exists isn’t enough; action is needed to level the playing field.”
Maybe the bias is just a way for power and money to be gripped tighter? Maybe the bias is the chaos that blocks change from flowing as freely as it feels like it wants to?
I’ve worked very hard my entire career to exist on a level playing field. But, even 25 years later, I still run into the bias: the disrespect, the inconceivable notion that a woman in this business could possibly be as capable or trusted for results as a man. Courage and confidence can easily backfire for women in the workplace. But courage and confidence are a must.
Before I get too far into this, I want to mention that my intention for this post is twofold. On the one hand, I want to celebrate women as the day intends me to do; I want to make clear my year-round support for women’s equality. On the other hand, I also want to do my part in sharing my experiences with the youth of this world and doing what I can to make it easier for all the little girls and young women in my life that are just now starting to run into these biases.
I remember vividly being a little girl and seeing how differently the world treated the boys and, even though I cannot change all of that, I can show women and young girls what a woman’s courage and confidence looks like. Perhaps this way they stand a better chance at succeeding.
I received an email a few days ago, right around the time I thought about writing a piece for Women’s Day. It was an email from a special woman who has worked for/with me in many different capacities since she was a young thing. She is one of my favorite people and also my editor (she will edit this). She knows my mind perhaps better than anyone else and accepts me fully in all my power and weaknesses. Without her I would be less courageous in my writing.
She is recently married, having her first child and asking for Welcome Letters for her incoming bundle of joy, whose sex we do not yet know and who will be joining us in April (which is also my birthday month). So, I feel this Welcome Letter is a big deal and, as a believer of the connectivity of all things, I really have a sense that this Women’s Day thing is also a really great moment to share with my friend’s new baby (which I instinctively feel is a girl, but that doesn’t matter). The importance of gender equality, gender bias, courage and confidence and, a little bit about my experience as a woman in the thick of it, is important for all genders. My parallel careers in food and global agriculture have been dominated by men for my whole life, despite the many, often more qualified women who would have probably served as better leaders, teachers, and shapers of sustainable long-term systems but never got the chance to.
A bias is a prejudice – conscious or unconscious – against one thing, person or a group when compared to another. The notion that women are weak is still a powerful raging river of a perspective in the world but, in a way, professionally for sure, we have trapped most women on a little strip of land in that raging river. When a woman is quiet, shows lack of confidence and doesn’t particularly assert any power, she is often seen as meek and powerless and overlooked despite any and all intellect, capabilities, and deliverables. Courageous, confident women who speak and behave boldly and with conviction are often labeled ASSERTIVE and, instead of being judged for their work, their entire character is put into question and most often she is labeled a BITCH- (no such equivalent word exists for men)
In the academic world of gender equality, we are acutely aware that women learn these lessons at a young age, and I thought this piece in Forbes does a nice job of pointing out how Millennial women have approached these concepts:
“If a woman walks into her boss’s office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch. The more a woman succeeds, the worse the vitriol seems to get. It’s not just her competence that’s called into question; it’s her very character.”
It seems like many of today’s young women are afflicted with the same justifiable cynicism that I have and are not walking through this word pretending it’s different. I value that. I believe seeing the reality before us clearly and embracing it as truth, while pushing to change it is how we create change.
My advice to my friend’s baby – which is the same for my nieces and nephews, the women of produce, and all the men out there in positions of power – is, let’s raise, grow, support and prop up courageous, confident, and capable women. Let’s not throw them small tokens while gripping the major power and money. Let’s get out of their way while they succeed, learn from them, work next to them, and cooperate with them. There is plenty in this world for all of us; mathematically, we know this to be true. This is true in all sectors, not just my part but from the orchard communities in Chiapas to the office sectors in Minneapolis, sharing power is crucial.
Perhaps all we can do, myself included sometimes, is release our grip and trust that there is enough for all.
As far as my friend’s baby is concerned, I am assuming it will be an Aries (possibly a Taurus) which means this new human will have natural bravery and courage and the ability to take initiative like many other humans can’t. So, boy or girl, them or they, this baby will have some obligation in this world to use that courage and that zodiac-ordained natural ability to not let fear (their own and that of others) quell their warrior nature. The world needs more warriors for women, for equality and beyond the binary. Gender equality is still a long road ahead, and this baby will undoubtedly be an important part of that path.