We spoke with the wonderful Máire Ahern McCarthy on her Nuffield research into women in Agriculture.
The name Nuffield is synonymous with great agricultural minds and new thinking in the area of farming. We spoke with 2015 Nuffield Scholar Máire Ahern McCarthy who spoke at this years conference on Women who influence in Agriculture. Her research and work have shone a light on the role and needs of women in agriculture.
First off, you mention in the introduction of your report summary for ‘Women who Influence in Agriculture’ that you were initially reluctant to call yourself a feminist: do you think that attitude is shared by many others in the farming sector? If so, is it a damaging outlook to have? Can we improve the level of female support in agriculture through increasing understanding of that core principle?
First of all when I said reluctant soldier I was thinking in terms of my own circumstances I had no reason to be concerned "feminism" was only necessary where I felt I was being disadvantaged as a woman (which I personally was not) But now having researched I believe that equal rights for both genders in agriculture (particularly on dairy co-ops) is an issue and on that basis I am a feminist looking for better gender balance and diversity! As regards attitude - I don't think there is an awareness of how unbalanced dairy co-op boards are. I discovered this as I presented the findings of my report in relation to lack of diversity and issue with pay inequality in industry generally. Creating awareness which is what I am about will bring about change in itself.
We women are our own worst critics - our perception let's us down. Men wouldn't analyze or take seriously a lot of this softer stuff! Women would say (based on my survey) that they have to work harder than men to progress/get promoted.
-On the issue of gender quotas, it’s noted in your research that gender equality isn’t always synonymous with representation being 50/50; could you elaborate on this a little bit?
Gender quotas are a very crude instrument- and should be used sparingly and with caution. I do believe however they assist in breaking glass ceilings or established pattern in a mans world e.g. Co/op boards. As the mother of both genders I would hope merit would ensure balanced representation and diversity would naturally happen but "the way we have always done things" can disturb this and that is where quota can break the pattern.
-Have you met any opposition to your findings, such as the disparity in pay? Have you come across any disbelief during your studies at the idea that women are still getting paid less for the same job for example?
With regard to equality of pay - yes I have come across disbelief and were my statistics not backed by solid OECD stats I would have struggled! I have had women question this but then on analysis they tend to accept that they under value themselves and men tend to have no discomfort around asking for increase or expecting it on merit.
Also the issue around childcare and the female being the number one care giver and person who sacrifices career was...[also a big point of debate and discussion.]
-You praised IFA President Joe Healy in your recent speech at the Nuffield conference; do you think any concrete efforts have been made yet by farming organisations to increase the presence of women on their committees, boards etc?
I quoted directly from a newspaper article that Joe Healy President of ifa contributed to. He is relatively new to his role. He is right that women have a lot to give and communication is the key to maintaining the farm family.Do I think IFA are doing enough?
No, but it's early days, I have asked to meet with executive committee and have spoke with senior IFA representatives and there is an aim to improve female representation- I would like to support this.
-How would you describe the immediate status of women in agriculture? Today, what kind of part are women playing in the sector?
As a farmers wife I feel my off farm income has supported my family through very volatile income issues in dairy and beef farming. As a board member of Bandon Co-op I feel women (partners of active farmers) are working in various sectors and through this exposure have valuable life experience to bring to co-op boards which are now more diverse business models much more than just buyers/processors of milk. In my role in auditing services I see huge challenge around mental health brought on by the perfect storm of;-
Isolation, financial issues, weather, increase in paperwork, compliance, technology, laws re slurry dates, poor yields, poor price etc!!
-Could you give us a little bit of background information on yourself, and how your work on this topic began? What did the report involve you doing, how long did it take to complete, and were there any major challenges involved etc.
I am eldest of 7 children my mother was school principal and my dad a dairy farmer. I have milked cows and loved farming from v young age. I actually had a scholarship to go to Gurteen Ag college in 1985 but after discussion with Agri advisers and my parents I was advised farming was no life for a girl! I went to Cathal Brugha street college and eventually joined AIB bank in 1988. I worked in AIB bank for 21 years until 2008. I worked in various roles moving through the ranks as asset finance co-ordinator (mostly to farming client base) assistant manager (commercial/farm lending), finally before I resigned I was personal financial manager dealing with high net worth clients.
In 2008 on resigning from AIB I joined CMOR financial services, the financial services wing of Crowley McCarthy accountants which has a large agri client base working in west Cork. This is where I remained until 2014 when i was appointed head of auditing in southwestern services (now Capita customer solutions).
I also acted as regional development officer for Irish grassland association a part time role in 2013/2014. I joined board Of Bandon co-op in 2009. I am currently on my second 5 year term.
So now I actively farm and support my husband on 300 cow dairy farm supplying milk to bandon co-op. I have responsibilities like wages, cross compliance records, animal remedies records etc etc. On a personal note I had a health scare in 2013 when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had full hysterectomy and thankfully required no further treatment.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Máire.
You can watch our facebook live video of Máire's speech at this years conference here: