Reposted with permission from CHRISTINE ALVARADO. First published on on August 23, 2019.


One of my previous blogs on April 5, 2019, “The Pecking order in a Straight Run Barn” mentioned some work my colleagues were conducting to survey women leaders in science and agriculture.

The focus of this survey was to determine the barriers that exist for women moving into leadership roles. I received several email and comments asking about the results.  The research was presented this summer at a scientific meeting and the results are ready to share.

Even though the numbers of women in leadership roles in business and industry have increased, agriculture and science still have lower numbers of women choosing these professions.

Why is this topic and type of research important to the poultry industry?

We are in a huge retirement phase from both the poultry and allied industries, especially with managers, directors and the executive level. So, we are looking for great leaders as we face specific, unique challenges with meat quality and food safety.

In addition, the academic world is seeing more female degree-seeking students in agriculture and females have become the majority in some animal and poultry science degrees. Therefore, we need to better pave a road for females to engage in these leadership roles for the industry to continue to grow and succeed.

Women often experience issues related to work-life balance when assuming leadership roles. “Why” was one of the questions we were looking to explore with this study. Understanding the barriers to women assuming leadership roles is an important step in increasing the number of women in these roles specifically in science and agriculture in the future.

Although social norms may be changing regarding the extent to which spouses share household and parenting activities, studies have shown that women are primarily responsible for childcare and household work. In addition, even though more organizations are considering more family friendly policies, is this enough to entice more women into the leadership role in agriculture?

The respondents of this survey were 44 years old (average), married (68.3%), with children (63.3%) and were highly educated (63.3% having an MS or a PhD), and traveled for their current jobs more than 2-3 times per month (most actually travel a lot more than that).

The largest discrepancies between what women rated as “important” versus where they rated in “satisfaction” were the availability of leadership development and mentoring opportunities, and responsibilities to home and raising children.  The respondents surprisingly (to me) found a similar level of importance and satisfaction related to support from colleagues, spouses and future home obligations.

However, women felt “stressed”, “anxiety” and uncertainty” when contemplating a more demanding leadership role.  When identifying barriers, the top of the list were “family responsibilities”, “advanced opportunities”, “time” and “home responsibilities.

What can we do as a poultry industry?

We all need to talk about this topic much more in the workplace. Women often don’t speak up regarding their needs in order to climb the corporate ladder and men aren’t always at the table when this topic is discussed in the workplace.

As a final thought, women are way too tough with each other; we are each other’s harshest critics. We (as women) don’t all have the same wants and needs and we all don’t want to climb the ladder and that’s OK!  Someone must intentionally devote time to family responsibilities such as raising kids, taking care of aging parents, and other family responsibilities.

So, let’s all get on the same page and thank the men and women out there doing the intentional work and support the men and women climbing that ladder.

Dr. Christine Alvarado is currently a professor in the Department of Poultry Science at Texas A&M University. In addition to academic teaching and research, she has worked in the poultry industry and served as a subject matter expert for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.