30 October 1998

Rural women – so long to her indoors & into a new age of equality

AN NFU leaflet launched on World Rural Womens Day declares: "If farming wants to attract women to the industry in the future, it needs to offer more than the packhouse apron or the farm-house pinny."

The unions information leaflet – Contribution of rural women – acknowledges the part played by women, and highlights lack of self-confidence, training, transport and time as the issues that women felt should be addressed if they were to advance in business and public life. It also points out 16 organisations which offer help and training.

Fiona Reynolds, director of the womens unit in the Cabinet Office, launched the leaflet at the WRWD conference arranged by the NFU, the Country Landowners Association, the Womens Food and Farming Union and the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs. Ms Reynolds spoke of the need for women to be equally represented on public bodies and public forums and said that processes and systems were being devised.to increase the percentage of women, which in MAFF is currently only 12%.

NFU president Ben Gill called in at the conference before heading to Bonn where he was to speak up for British beef. He said farmers wives should be recognised as a crucial part of the industry and not just "tother half" and he called for a more balanced society.

Mr Gill also asked for support for the campaign about to be launched to persuade caterers to use British meat. "Ask if it is British," he said. "Dont be embarrassed to ask if its British because you know its the best quality, produced and raised to the best standards of welfare and environment.

"The waiter will tell you what he thinks you want to hear," warned Mr Gill. "Ask who is the butcher and who is the supplier."

Confidence is a skill that can be learnt like everything else, said Anne Owen, who with colleague Victoria Castle, are consultants in organisation development with Sheppard Moscow.

Anne conducted a workshop session aimed to boost confidence. This is what many farm women are said to lack, but it was hard to imagine that the women at the conference did since most were leaders of rural organisations, farmers or business women.

We all have confidence in some area of our life, Anne said, and she divided her audience into groups of three strangers to consider their individual skills and to look at what they really wanted to achieve

Thinking in a negative way invites rejection, she warned. If you go to see your bank manager for a loan thinking that you wont get it then you are not likely to get it, she said.

&#42 Confidence

Two of her colleagues summon their confidence to face a crowded room or a difficult situation in quite different ways, she had discovered. One thought of herself as a beautiful bunch of flowers – something received with pleasure. The other thought of herself as a 10t truck – flattening everything in its path. .

Its high heels that give conference chairman Jane James courage. Jane is the Wales Woman Farmer of the Year, a title she won in a competiton which looked at how well women knew their business, how they saw the role of women in rural life and what they put back into the rural community.

Jane farms with her husband in Pembrokeshire and they have diversified their operation by using 16ha (40 acres) of woodland for Wood Park Farm Tracks, an off-road driving opportunity for 4WD addicts.

"YFC got me where I am today," she said but she admitted that to present herself with confidence, she needs to be wearing high heels.

Mary Creigh, a lecturer at the Cranfield School of Managment, warned that a new business has a bigger failure risk than marriage. Most businesses fail in the first five years. Cash flow is the biggest threat, and often hits in the first 18 months. The Valley of Death was what she called that stage when sales are picking up, costs are increasing but income lags behind.

The choice of business name was important, she said. Choose one that works for you, and leaves people in no doubt about what service you provide or product you sell.

She spoke of the importance of knowing what the customer wants before they thought about it and of making the distinction between your customer and the consumer. For example, wives and mothers as customers who purchase items for husbands and children.

&#42 Public relations

When it comes to advertising and promotion, public relations cost nothing while brochures and similar material are expensive. Look at ways of getting your business on the front page of the local paper "The words that they like are new and sex," she says.

Your products or services should be priced according to what the market will pay which could be high or low; and when it comes to fixed costs you cannot do better than follow the well-known advice given by Ian Macmillan: "Never buy new what can be bought secondhand. Never buy what can be rented. Never borrow what can be begged. Never beg what can be salvaged."

And remember your objectives: Making money and having fun.

Ann Rogers

* The leaflet Contribution of rural women is available to NFU members from their regional offices.

Leading the conference were (l to r)

Mary James, NFU public affairs committee chairman, Jane James (also inset) Wales Woman Farmer of the Year,

Fiona Reynolds from the governments Womens Unit,WFFU chairman Meg Stroude, Lindy Margach, director of PR for CLA and Jenny Bashford, agricultural

manager, NFYFC.