Women don’t ask and society suffers


I am writing this post because my blog is now widely read and I am seriously hoping that this post will help stimulate conversations and most importantly actions.It will also serve as a reminder to me that I have set a personal goal and my role is to reach it

I am using my personal experiences as examples to share why I am so passionate in this space and highlight that society as a whole ( men and women) equally have a role to play in addressing the issues I raise .

I am a mentor to 25 young women in agriculture and I take that role very seriously. So seriously in fact that this year with the support of the Bob Hawke Medal prize pool I have hired a business coach and with his advice am undertaking a series of personal and professional development courses that will provide  me with the knowledge and tools to significantly value add to the support I am able to give these inspiring young women.

Firstly I believe that I have a pretty clear picture of my strengths and weakness. I have assessed the best description of my predominate leadership style is Pacesetter (see this great article by Daniel Coleman Leadership that Gets Results.) In summary this type of leader sets the bar, leads by example and  expects everyone to do the same. In the wider world  I admire people who set the bar higher than me and lead by example. I admire people who have Affiliative ( the capacity to bring people with you) and Coaching styles  even more highly

Pacesetter style of leadership only works if you are working with like minded people and it works very well with the Young Farming Champions because they are all high achievers.

If you are working with people who aren’t comfortable working in this climate then it can lead to a toxic working environment and as this chart from the article shows if you happen to be working with some-one with a coercive style it can be disaster. Sadly been there done that – the outcomes weren’t pretty and I so wish I had identified the problem and walked away from that working environment before it did irreparable damage.

leadership styles

My aim is to balance my Pacesetter style with Affiliative  and Coaching styles. I look forward to meeting that objective more than I can describe.

This week my search for enlightenment and self improvement took me to Melbourne for a three day course at the Melbourne Business School. The facilitator was brilliant and very generous with her time and she recommended to me that I read the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock. There is a great summary of what the book has to say here. I subsequently downloaded the book using my Kindle app and thanks to a speed reading course my parents sent me to when I was in high school I read it in 24 hours and I was mortified by how many traps I had let myself fall into in my lifetime

As the scientific evidence in the book shows there are a number of reasons why women don’t ask and undervaluing their contribution is a serious problem for society and should be addressed urgently

This is just one of them

Undervaluing themselves and being undervalued by society can be bad for women’s health. The close link between a positive “self-perception” and psychological good health is well-known. More recent research now indicates that the opposite is also true. A negative self-evaluation combined with stress can lead to depression, and two-thirds of all depressed adults are women. Depression is not only a problem in itself but can lead to other health problems. As reported in the January 20, 2003, issue of Time magazine, “Each year in the U. S., an estimated 30, 000 people commit suicide, with the vast majority of cases attributable to depression.” Time also points out that depression makes “other serious diseases dramatically worse,” such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and osteoporosis. Unfortunate for each individual, depression often represents a real cost to society as well

Then there’s the question of lost productivity due to depression, which Time estimates “costs the U. S. economy about $50 billion a year.”

So where do we lay the blame for the inequalities that have led to women undervaluing themselves.

Many studies have shown that as a society we expect women to be more oriented toward the needs of others and men to be more oriented toward their own needs and ambitions. And this is where problems arise, because the ideas we share about gender roles are also normative—they involve qualities and behaviors that we believe men and women should have. So a man who is not especially ambitious risks being  called a “wimp” or a “loser.” And an assertive, ambitious woman runs head-on into society’s requirement that she be selfless and communal. Wanting things for oneself and doing whatever may be necessary to get those things—such as asking for them—often clashes with the social expectation that a woman will devote her attention to the needs of others and pay less attention to her own.

Firstly we ( women) have to stop blaming men and glass ceilings and start playing our role

Two major social forces seem to be responsible for the stubborn persistence of gender-linked norms and beliefs. The first involves the socialization and development of children and the second involves the maintenance of gender roles by adults.

This tells girls that they are not the principal “actors” in life’s dramas and that it is boys or men who take center stage in the world and make things happen. This lesson is not likely to encourage girls to step forward and grab what they want for themselves; instead, it teaches them to watch and wait and accept whatever comes their way.

Girls learn from the toys they receive that it is important for them to take care of others—bathing and dressing their doll “babies,” serving “tea” to friends, preparing food and cleaning up after meals. Boys learn from their transportation toys that they can move freely through the world and from their construction toys that they can define the earth around them by constructing buildings, roads, and complicated machinery. The net effect of this “toy-coding” is to teach girls to subordinate their needs to the needs of others and to teach boys to take charge of their environment

Oh my goodness I am sitting shaking my head I have so followed this trend throughout my life This is one place where I have not set the bar and led by example and I am so determined to address that and it is now a life goal and will underpin everything I do going forward.

Let me share some of my experiences and I want to make it very clear I don’t see myself as a victim and I not laying blame. My life experiences follow the pattern that the majority of women  find themselves in

I am one of three children who could be 6th generation farmers. It was very clear that my parents loved us equally even though my sister and I were told from an early age my brother would inherit the farm. Both my mother and my father believed it was his birth right and he believes it is too ( why wouldn’t he). Whilst the three of us worked equally on the farm growing up my sister and I weren’t rewarded financially yet my brother was always given a cow and got to bank the proceeds when it was sold. My brother is very clever and  built a Lotus from scratch when he left school. Whilst I was flabbergasted that my sister and I were expected by our parents (pretty sure it wasn’t my brother’s idea) to help him purchase the kit to build it with a substantial financial contribution ( which he did pay back) I was furious but I did it anyway . My parents aren’t to blame they are just the product of 5 generations of ‘institutions, child-rearing practices, and unspoken assumptions that have perpetuated these inequalities for centuries’

I remember so clearly when Michael accepted his first share farming role and the owners ( who just happened to be women) of the business where mortified I went out to work and worked 14 hour shifts and wasn’t home to feed and look after Michael when he got up for breakfast and came in from the dairy at night. I must admit they soon came to realise without me working there was no way that Michael could financially stay farming on the income he was receiving and they became highly supportive

But working off farm and being paid for it is where I stopped valuing myself and my time. In my spare time I was very hands on in the farm business but did I ever take a wage ridiculously no. I am absolutely positive that if I had asked Michael who has a very democratic leadership style he would have thought that me taking a wage from the business was most appropriate but I just had this bizarre idea in my head that one day I would be rewarded for all my selfless efforts.

It didn’t stop with the farm. For the last 15 years I have worked pro bono for the dairy industry ( nobody asked me too)  and now for many other industries as well ( again nobody asked me too). I have had lots of wonderful mentors along the way who constantly reminded me that if I didn’t value myself no-one else would.

What have I achieved emotionally from all this selfless activity. Well I am bitter and angry and its affected some of my relationships personally and professionally and I am really sad that my self imposed baggage has found me in this position

But I am determined to change and lead by example. It is my time to shine, to do what’s best for me, have an exciting career that doesn’t involve supporting anyone else but me and negotiate a financial package that my skills deserve. I am not saying everybody should do this but it is the best thing for me at this point in my life journey. I admit I do question my capacity everyday but I am determined (please cheer for me in the background I am going to need all the supporters I can gather)

(BTW as an aside you might remember at the beginning of the year I set a Goal with a Deadline and I am thrilled and very proud of myself that I can announce to the world that I have lost almost 20% of my pre goal weight and reached my ideal weight and I am so loving it.)

Every day I get up and tell myself I can do this. Wonderfully I have the Bob Hawke Medal prize money to thank for playing a huge role and kick-starting the process. All my work for agriculture has been valued through this award not just with a trophy and accolades but also a significant  financial project dependent package that has allowed me to create 3 projects.  One that could help benefit farmers locally. One that could help farmers across the country and the one that I am now most proud of that is also benefiting me personally

I have called this project ‘Feeling the Love’. The background behind the project came from my journey to be a change catalyst in agriculture. I found that agriculture has many farmer champions (men and women) who take time out from their businesses to volunteer for the greater good of industry. These farmer champions often find the workload overwhelming. It is clear that advocacy models relying on volunteer labour are in the main unsustainable. Consequently the champions become worn out and disillusioned. Farmer champions need support – financial, emotional and physical to take on these roles.

The aim of the project is to create an ongoing legacy that reflects the strength of my commitment to capability building in the agricultural sector.

This will be achieved by developing a portfolio of first class, tried and proven professional and self-development courses and building a directory of lifestyle and business coaching professionals who can help people maintain perspective, stamina and mental health.

For me its starts with valuing myself and not being afraid to ask

As Linda Babcock tells

Its time for society to teach all of us how to recognize the ways in which our institutions, child-rearing practices, and unspoken assumptions perpetuate inequalities–inequalities that are not only fundamentally unfair but also inefficient and economically unsound.



Alison Germon recently shared this article with me. The story content is very worrying and make sure you check out the video ‘Cute alpacas learn about gender inequality’

Footnote I have many people who have inspired me and to thank for their wonderful support over the years. Today I would like to thank one of them and that is my business coach Professor Shaun Coffey

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

2 thoughts on “Women don’t ask and society suffers”

  1. Great article Lyn , Well Done . I was privileged to have a father who was an economist ( born 1921) .
    He had two daughters , we were given dolls , taught ballet , music and English literature. In 1989 when I enrolled in Agriculture at first he was bemused , later after we debated upbringing and gender roles he encouraged me to travel to NZ to work on a dairy . I became the son he never had . His grandson ( who has been given all toys & lives with his dysfunctional sole parent dairy farmer & worker mother ) carries his grandfathers name .

    Change starts with ourselves . In 2014 we should not perpetuate gender bias .

    Best thoughts,

Comments are closed.