Guest Blogger: Shannon Latham, Vice President of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds
Women are changing the ag landscape. They’re bringing new ideas to the workplace, whether their place of work is the home office or the board room. While women have varying needs and priorities depending on their stage of life, “flexibility” seems to be the one job perk that transcends the ages (as seen to the l from the left AgCareers.com “Gender Roles & Equality in Agribusiness” survey).
Flexibility was certainly key when I was a developing young professional. I was working full time at an advertising agency while pursuing my MBA in the evening. Honestly, I was overwhelmed. I was a newlywed, who had recently purchased her first home and started a new job. I felt additional stress when I was traveling for work or needed to help pitch new clients. I also was stressing about the amount of homework that needed to be done each week.
Thankfully, my boss was a great mentor. He had empathy and offered a solution by giving me permission to flex my work hours. That way I could finish my homework before coming into the office, so once I got to the office my attention wasn’t divided. I was able to focus 100% on my client work, and as a result, my billable hours actually went up! My productivity increased when I was working (writing) from home without any interruptions. I felt good about what I was accomplishing. When a person feels good about what she’s doing, she does a better job!
Soon after I earned my MBA, I became a mother. I honestly didn’t like leaving my babies all day, but flexible hours allowed me to minimize the number of hours my children were at daycare. I went into the office early, so I could leave at 3:30 PM. My husband took our kids to daycare later in the morning, and then I picked them up. When my kids were preschool age, I was able to work from home and adjust my office hours around their schedules. I enjoyed helping with classroom parties when my kids were in elementary, plus I would leave work early twice a month to lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop.
Now that my kids are middle schoolers, I feel fortunate to be able to adjust my work schedule around their activities and orthodontist appointments. Many of their games start at 4 PM, which doesn’t bode well for people working a straight 8 AM to 5 PM job. I can appreciate this because there was a time in my life when I worked for a government agency without any flexibility. I had to take vacation time, one hour at times for a dentist or doctor’s appointment.
Computers, high-speed Internet and smartphones allow me to take my work virtually anywhere I need to go. There are many instances when I’m returning emails or phone calls, even proofing documents and meeting print deadlines, as I’m waiting for my kids to get out of a practice. Modern technology, combined with workplace flexibility, are allowing more women today to hold key roles on farms and in agribusinesses.
Women and Flexibility: The Importance of Flexible Hours
“I would have loved flex hours when my kids were young,” says a woman who has worked at Latham Seeds for 30 years. She took an off-farm job in the 1980s to provide income stability and insurance. “Flexible hours were almost unheard when I started working. I took off early some days if I felt I could get away, but I really missed a lot of my kids’ activities. Sometimes I couldn’t leave because there wasn’t anyone to cover for me, and other times I would just feel guilty about leaving early again.”
One of our team members is a 30-something mother and a talented professional. She told me that she was afraid that she would have to choose between working full-time and being a mother – until she started working for us. Now she has the flexibility to accommodate family schedules. She works from home now, so she doesn’t have the stress of making it into her office exactly at 8 AM daily. It’s no problem if one of her kids is sick and has to stay home from school because now she can continue to work while she’s caring for one of them. She also can finish projects after she tucks her kids into bed at night, and sometimes crossing an item off the “to do” list helps her sleep better at night.
The freedom to set your own schedule and the flexibility of working from home are two perks for women pursuing seed sales, or any career, at any age. Flexibility has also allowed us to recruit talented millennials because we don’t require everyone to work daily from our headquarters in Alexander, Iowa, population 174. We’re proud to operate our business on the Latham family’s Century Farm, but the sparse population makes it necessary to recruit outside our community. Because some of our Sales & Marketing Team members live 45 or 60 miles away, we hold weekly team meetings via conference call.
Work/life balance is something everyone is trying to achieve. I truly believe everyone wants to feel good about her work performance, yet we wanted to be fulfilled by what we do outside of the office. I believe we all need to separate ourselves from our jobs, and as a small business owner, I find this especially challenging. However, I’ve learned that time spent away from the office can give me fresh perspective and a renewed passion for my job.
People need a mental and physical break from their daily routine, and that’s why I believe Paid Time Off is a necessary benefit. Sometimes we all just need to unplug and unwind! This helps our attitudes and our outlooks on everything from work to family. Vacations can provide some much-needed family time for young couples, working moms or empty-nesters.
The more seasoned I’ve become, the more important softer benefits are to me. For example, when I was a new college grad one of my coworkers took PTO to wash her windows and do spring cleaning. I remember thinking, “Good grief! I hope I never have to take a vacation day to clean my house.” Now that the temperatures have warmed up and the sun is brightly shining, I look out my home office window and am reminded how badly these windows need washing. It looks like I need to schedule PTO soon…
I’m certainly not going to downplay the importance of benefits like health care and retirement plans to women. However, I want to make the point that not all people are motivated in the same way. My husband and I work together, so I’m often reminded that we have a different set of priorities. That doesn’t mean one of us is wrong and one is right. It does mean, however, that your employees may have priorities that are different than yours. It’s no coincidence the book “Men Are from Mars. Women Are from Venus” spent 121 weeks on the best seller list!
Check out more statistics on women and flexibility in the workplace from the AgCareers.com special report “Gender Roles & Equality in Agribusiness.”