Friday, July 1, 2022

Warning: Ignore women at your peril

A survey of nearly 300 rural women has found about two-thirds of respondents believe companies and service providers do a bad to extremely bad job of talking to them. The poll by the Napier-based rural communications company Tracta was inspired by a sense that women are the “next frontier” of opportunity for rural marketers.

Just over 26% of respondents felt they had no specific on-farm role despite most indicating they were involved in some way with the decision-making for products and services and just over 50% saying they were responsible for all of the bill payments.

For all this influence, however, just 33% of the rural women felt they were understood and respected by marketers of rural products. The rest indicated “providers do an average to extremely bad job of talking to them”.

The inaugural exercise also found 61% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that women are fairly represented on boards and governing bodies.

Nearly 80% of the women surveyed had a post-secondary qualification and almost 20% held a post graduate qualification or higher.

Yet 80% again disagreed or strongly disagreed that women's pay is on a par on with males in comparable rural-based roles.

Tracta strategic planning director St John Craner concludes from this that rural women's roles are not being sufficiently valued, especially for non-paid duties.

Rural women had been “below the waterline” in agribusiness and marketers needed to work harder to understand rural women in business rather than pay lip service, Craner said.

The survey indicates rural women are jointly involved in more than 80% of all on-farm purchases while 47% rely on search engines to find out about new products or information, followed by email newsletters (44%) and magazines (31%).

The statistics also challenge an assumption that banks, accountants and farm consultants have the greatest hold on the ears of farmers.

Women cite rural publications as the most influential channel they refer to (71% of respondents) followed closely by sales representatives (67%) and then neighbours or peers (58%).

And when selecting a product or service the most desired traits are (in order): reliability, trustworthiness, quality of product/service and then service.

Craner’s conclusion from the retail feedback is women prefer to actively search out their information rather than work with direct sellers.

Tracta hopes to use its survey results to “plug a knowledge gap” informing its clients how to position themselves in a range of rural markets.

It was not just rural women who were misunderstood, though. Craner said there seemed to be a lack of understanding of the rural sector in general, be it corporate, Maori or traditional farming.

Advertising, for instance, tended to play on “dumbed down” stereotypes. “They don’t understand that these farmers are running complex biological operations and there are a number of factors they can control and a number of factors they can’t control.”

Overall, the Tracta survey finds the biggest issue rural women face is balancing career and family expectations. Eighty-four percent of participants agreed with this statement.

And Craner’s parting advice for doing business with women was “ignore them at your peril”.

Farming women are often so determined to sharpen their skills they forget to just back themselves and go for it, says the inaugural Dairy Woman of the Year, Barbara Kuriger.

Tracta’s survey resonates with the North Island farmer and agri-business director, particularly the extent to which farming women underestimate themselves.

She often reminds women they’re actually running a multi-million dollar business, perhaps functioning as an all-in-one director of science, productivity or finance.

Naturally, there may be partners and others involved but women sometimes forget to give themselves credit for specialised skills as they rush about being day-to-day “generalists”.

Kuriger agreed with Tracta’s assessment that while farming women “may not always be at the coalface” there’s a good chance that most will be involved in most decisions on a daily basis.

Reflecting this, the Dairy Women’s Network now has 4000 members and holds workshops on subjects like working with stock buyers.

Her sense was generally that women are getting a lot more engaged in this sort of decision-making – and assessing the value of purchases down the track.

She wasn’t convinced the key to women making progress in business is achieving society’s gold standards such as a position on a board of directors.

While she has served on boards herself, Kuriger argued women were often “too hard on themselves” when it came to personal and professional development.

Often a man would take on a role with the almost instinctive belief he is capable while a woman would convince herself she needs to do more preparation.

“Often the mindset of women around their own capability and their own confidence actually holds them back.”

That said, women needed to be treated as equals as part of a farm business.

She knows women herself who would a never buy another product from a company again because they had been treated like they didn’t exist.

She had always found it “prudent” for marketers not to assume who is in charge of a particular area of the farm because the worst that could happen was someone passing you on to the right person.

“If somebody comes to me about something mechanical I say to them ‘well, you need to go and ask Louis because I don’t know the first thing about mechanics’. So we soon pass it on but I think people shouldn’t make that assumption. I know a lot of women who are very good mechanics.”

One area where rural women definitely had proven skills and empathy was in farm extension.

Whereas once you may have had male farm consultants struggling to treat women even-handedly, now it was often women providing the advice.

“There’s heaps of women involved in the industry, in the workplace, and I think that’s bearing out in the farm situation,” Kuriger said.

More articles on this topic