I’ve been in the middle of an internal debate.

Perhaps you would like to join in.

Here’s the background:

Back in November, I attended the United Dairyman of Idaho convention. When I got the registration packet, there was the usual list of business meetings and seminars. And then there was “Ladies Craft Activity” and “Ladies Tour of the Statehouse.”

I have to admit, my first reaction when I see the “ladies activities” on the registration sheets every year is a slap on the forehead. Really? Does this mean I’m not welcome at the business meetings? Are we so stuck in the dark ages around here that we have segregated meetings for the men?

The reality is, I’ve attended the ladies sessions and had a good time. In fact, I met some very nice people.

This year, something was different.

Every year at the UDI conference, those ladies sessions are packed.

For a while I thought I would just attend those events and not go to the business meetings. Maybe I’d hit the spa at the hotel, do some shopping and get my hair done.

I could be a “lady who lunches.”

That sounded entirely boring to me.

So then, I decided I’d go and then interview the other attendees of the ladies sessions and find out why they’d rather be there instead of the business meetings.  It would be a great piece for one of my blogs, I thought.

Off I went to Boise, with my husband in tow, feeling like I had a mission.

When I got to the convention center and saw the sign pointing the way to the “Ladies Craft Session,” I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t do it.

I hadn’t even been at the convention 20 minutes, and my plan was thrown out the window.

I wanted to know what was going on in the industry that supports my family and me. I just couldn’t bring myself to merely attend the “Ladies Craft Session.”

A few hours later, when I walked past the room where the ladies were gathered, it was again packed. Packed with women I hadn’t seen at any other time during the day.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with that session. For me, I felt if I attended that session, I’d be setting the women’s movement back 40 years. But then, I started second guessing myself. Wasn’t the women’s movement about having choices? Weren’t the bras burned so that I could choose if I wanted to go to the business meetings or the craft session? Don’t we all have that right instead of the expectation now?

I voiced my complaint to some of the UDI staff members, all women. They took a breath and nodded. “We know, but they’re packed. What else should we do?”

Then I connected with Rebecca Lampman. She’s a Bruneau, Idaho-based dairy producer who is doing some research on women in the industry. Turns out, she was questioning a few things too.

The study she’s doing looks at the number of women in the state of Idaho on the various policy and promotions boards for our industry. More specifically; the lack thereof.

“This research has been very interesting to me because in addition to being a mother and full-time student, I am also a dairywoman. I have attended the annual UDI meeting for years and have noticed that there aren’t many women on the board, and I have always wondered why, Lampman said. “I am hoping that this research will empower interested dairy women to serve in UDI; that the results of this research will give both the organization and women tools to increase the numbers of women serving on the board.”

Lampman asked me to take part of a survey she was doing about women in the industry.

“I’m not involved in the day-to-day management of the dairy,” I told her.

“Don’t downplay the important role you play in the business,” she told me.

And she was right. While it’s true I don’t have a say in the operation, I am important here. Sometimes I forget that.

Not only do I help raise and educate what will hopefully be the next generation of producers here, I make sure my husband is ready to tackle the day.

I’m also often the public face of this dairy. I’m the one in the community on the Chamber of Commerce, active in 4-H and at the school. Sometimes, the only connection our community has to our dairy is, well, me.

So I do play an important role, even though I sometimes sell myself short.

I wonder if other women in the industry do the same? And that’s been my debate. Do I hold back because that is my choice or because somewhere inside, I believe I don’t deserve the voice? 

As women, we have a different perspective on the management of the dairy and the industry. We, collectively, need to make sure that voice is heard.

For my New Year’s Resolution 2014, I’m going to find ways to be more involved as a leader not only in the dairy industry, but in other issues and causes important to me.

I’ll challenge you to do the same, and whenever possible I will post resources and ideas of how to get that job done.

Let me know how it goes for you.














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Comment by Karma Metzler Fitzgerald on January 6, 2014 at 4:21pm

Let me make it clear that I didn't feel unwelcome at the business meetings, but there were probably less than 5 women in the room. Why aren't more women there? Furthermore, the staff at UDI is made up of women who do a hard job well. My question is really why aren't more women attending the business meetings?  The "ladies events" are packed and the staff continues to have them because they are well attended.  Are Idaho dairy women really selling themselves short? Do other women not feel comfortable? There should be room for both at this conference -- but I'm not sure why these meetings are segregated..... 

Comment by Mary Rocha on January 6, 2014 at 3:10pm

Karma, you are so right. As well as you know me (being a previous herdswoman at your dairy) I agree with you 100%. Aot of Dairies wouldnt be what they are know without some kind of help from a woman. My dad has had a dairy going on 40+ years and he started with the help of my mom as i am sure alot of dairies have. So why shouldnt the women be able to go to these meetings? Shame on these men.

Comment by Joanna Samuelson Lidback on January 2, 2014 at 8:26pm

Thanks for your post. Truth be told I never paid the "ladies" activities much attention in the past. I figured it was an option for people (and may not necessarily ladies?), while I am usually more interested in the business part of the meetings. And true, I see fewer and fewer of them. Regardless, I don't think they are meant to offend anyone, but rather quite the opposite - to include those who are used to them and enjoy going to them. As long as women are not dissuaded from attending the business meetings, I don't see the harm, but I do see their days numbered.

Comment by Christina Winch on December 30, 2013 at 2:56pm

Karma you did it again.  You wrote from the heart and hit on an issue a number of women in the dairy industry deal with.  I don't see to many "ladies activities" at events here is Wisconsin.  I see a fair number of women and men at the events together.  However at break out sessions you can see the gender gap.  Sessions on using social media for example are usually packed full of women.  On the other hand a session on reproduction or herd health will most likely have more men attending.  I like how you mention that you are the public face of the dairy, and I believe that is so true for many women, especially wives, on dairy farms.  And Betsy, I totally agree with your comments as well.  Thanks for getting this discussion moving forward ladies.

Comment by Betsy Fleury on December 27, 2013 at 9:17am

I just have to comment! It really makes my blood boil when I see "ladies activities" on registration sheets. To me, it means that the organizers don't feel that "ladies" are important enough to the farm to attend the business meetings. Or maybe that they aren't interested enough in the dairy industry to attend. To me, that is very insulting! I agree with you that all attendees should have a choice of whether or not to attend the business meetings, since it is true some spouses may look forward to a chance to get away from the farm and do something different. But notice the word I chose "spouse". Some of the farms may be run by women and their spouse works off the farm and is maybe less interested in the dairy industry. Why can't the organizers of the meetings use the term "optional activities" rather than "ladies activities"? Maybe some the male attendees might be interested in the optional tours, and hey, you never know, maybe some of them might even enjoy the shopping trips! By not specifying "ladies", the registration forms are a lot less discriminating and insulting! Maybe you could suggest it to the powers-that-be in your organization. That's my rant. Thanks for listening!


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