News & Blogs

What is women’s work?
September 23, 2023

by Angela Lovell

Women span the career spectrum in agriculture from hands-on farm owners and managers to the unpaid extra of pair of hands that runs to get parts or takes a turn checking the cows at calving time. They have off-farm jobs, skilled, unskilled and professional careers in areas from retail and consulting to pure science and research. They occupy various levels of the corporate ladder, through infrequently the highest levels, and they almost without fail, juggle those careers with the responsibilities of home and family. They are raising kids, managing the household, and caring for elderly parents in addition to bringing in a pay cheque that is sometimes vital to help the farm and the family stay afloat.

“Women are doing the invisible tasks in addition to the work that they ‘should be doing’ or are being paid for,” says Dr. Sonia K. Kang, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour and HR Management at the Department of Management, University of Toronto. “There is so much unpaid labour [by women] that goes completely ignored.”

Of course, men also juggle multiple roles, but rarely do they feel the same pressure of expectation that women do especially when it comes to assuming responsibilities related to the household and childcare.

Stereotypes and expectations can become amplified on the family farm, where the home is also a business, and where there are also inter-generational and family dynamics at play. That can lead women to feel overwhelmed, inadequate and unable to keep up, creating a vicious cycle of obligation, guilt, resentment, stress and anxiety that affects the whole family, and in many cases the farm itself.

“It’s very easy for people to fall into stereotypical domestic roles, which already happens in workplaces. For example, women will be the ones who clean the communal kitchen or make sure the coffee is refilled. Those kind of maintenance tasks tend to fall to women,” says Kang. “So, in a scenario where the workplace is your home and your colleagues are family members, it can exacerbate the thinking that women, especially, are expected to do that even more.”

Most people, though, assume roles and expectations because of things like habit or tradition, perpetuating stereotypes they have likely grown up with without consciously realizing that they are doing so, but ultimately it causes tension and stress for men as well as women.

So how do women (and men) begin to challenge gendered role stereotypes? Is it something that is already happening in society? Find out in our next blog by Angela Lovell – Challenging Gendered Role Stereotypes.

(Some content from this article was also published in Country Guide as The Equitable Farm by Angela Lovell)
Photo by renee-thompson-Vr8e5T6o3dA-unsplash.jpg

One of the things we love to do the most at MWAF is share the inspiring stories of Canadian women involved in all aspects of the agriculture and food industry. We celebrate common values, a shared passion for the industry and a commitment to supporting each other's goals. You can also learn what our stakeholders are doing to support the advancement of women in our industry. Be sure to come back often.