I shared a shuttle ride to a luncheon this month with Jeanna Mastrodicasa, Sherry Larkin, Kati Migliaccio, and Diane Rowland.
I reflected on how unlikely it would have been decades ago to be surrounded by an associate vice president, associate dean for research, chair of agricultural and biological engineering, and chair of agronomy, who were all women.
At the luncheon we heard Florida’s first female agriculture commissioner speak. We gathered to celebrate a scientist for 30 years of breakthroughs for agriculture. Yes, a woman, Ann Blount, a UF/IFAS professor.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Woman of the Year event reminded me how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. It is still important to specifically recognize the contributions that women make.
Historically, institutional and societal barriers (like the overt bias lampooned in the cartoon above) have made it difficult for women to find opportunities to make those contributions. That we still need “woman of the year” events testifies that we haven’t fully overcome the legacies of these inequalities.
The next night at the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame dinner, the four new inductees were men. As were last year’s. As were the year before last year’s. As were…. You get the picture.
There hasn’t been a female inductee since 2011. And you have to go back to Lillie “Belle” Jeffords in 2006 to find a woman not inducted alongside her husband.
Don’t get me wrong, the male winners are all legends and worthy of the honor. But has not one woman earned induction in her own right in the past 13 years?
I’ve written several nomination letters in recent years, including one for Mike Stuart, who was inducted this year. But I can’t remember having written one for a woman. Do I find that female leaders don’t come to mind as easily?
I hired the first women ever to lead the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. I also hired Drs. Mastrodicasa, Migliaccio, and Rowland. Not because they are women, but because they were the best candidates for the positions.
Still, the woman-of-the-year event reminded me of the need to guard against implicit bias when thinking about hiring or nominating. I hope to be more of a decision maker than a decision taker in nominating future Hall of Fame candidates. I also hope to include a most important word in a future nomination: She.