By Joan Runnheim Olson
I recently had the pleasure to speak at the Florida FFA State Convention & Leadership Conference. It was exciting to see so many young students walking around proudly in their blue jackets. My presentations were delivered to agriculture teachers/FFA advisors, with whom I shared strategies on increasing recruitment and retention of females in classes that prepare them for careers in agriculture, which are predominantly male-dominated. Before my presentation I asked one participant, who I'll call Ted, how often he's attended this convention. Ted proceeded to pull out a newspaper clipping dating back to 1969. The article included a photo of him with a fellow classmate at the FFA State Convention that year. That had been the last (and first) time he had attended the convention. Ted then went on to tell me that was the same year that the FFA started to accept females into the program. He did admit he was initially against the idea. When asked why, he responded that he didn't think girls were cut out for careers in agriculture. Ted has since shifted his mindset, recognizing that females have proven they can "do the work" in ag classes and successfully fulfilling leadership roles within FFA. Although he dabbled in ag throughout his life by raising beef cattle, his full-time career was in law enforcement as a police officer, another male-dominated career. When he started out as a police officer, Ted didn't feel women belonged. He saw a man's role as that of a protector. Once he witnessed women "proving" they could do the job, he changed that belief too. Hearing Ted's story and stories from other women working in male-dominated careers, a common thread seems to be that once women "prove" themselves, they are often accepted. The thread between what is considered "women's work" and "men's work" is continuing to slowly unravel.