Until relatively recently, dairy has been a man’s game. The core argument has been one of strength: that women are quite simply unsuited to the physical demands of the industry.
That argument was challenged as early as the 18th century, when the milking stool and milkmaid’s yoke came along to make the arduous work easier. From that point onwards, hundreds of women would rise early each day to milk cows and arrange the brimming buckets for delivery.
As illustrated by our feature on technology in dairy, that has been followed by plenty of innovations that have (quite literally) taken the heavy lifting out of dairy’s day-to-day operations.
But even in recent times, those old arguments have still come to the fore. Ruth Grice, farm liaison & sustainability manager at Long Clawson Dairy, grew up in the belief that women couldn’t run dairy farms – and nearly missed out on a career in the industry as a result. First Milk CEO Shelagh Hancock – the subject of our Big Interview – remembers being the only woman at an industry dinner in the 1990s.
That we are now easily able to put together a power list of inspiring women in the sector shows how far things have come in recent history. That’s partly down to changing attitudes, but also down to the sheer variety of careers that have emerged.
Holding roles from CEO to marketing director, the women on our power list have been praised for their dedication to strategy, creativity, teamwork, innovation and business growth.
Those qualities will be sorely needed if dairy is to address the key challenges facing the sector: from the long-term threat of climate change to more immediate ones such as the unpredictable farmgate prices, flagging milk sales, food waste and listeria outbreaks. Then there’s Brexit, which has complicated the export market.
If dairy is to address these issues, it will need the help of both its dairymen and its growing league of dairywomen.