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Cattlemans corner Austin SneddenBy Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice 

In a historically patriarchal society, agriculture has several women in leadership at the ground level. Times change and, in recent decades, women have begun to move into administrative positions regularly. But in ranching, women have played huge roles in running businesses for a century. I think small businesses in general have historically been more progressive when it comes to tapping into the leadership of women. Where corporate advancement is often dependent on the perception of investors, corporate boards, other employees, and customer perception, in small businesses, advancement is often more performance or merit-based. Historically in agriculture, specifically cattle ranching, survival as a business and as a pioneer was often dependent on the entire family, creating a culture where folks became accustomed to viewing the other gender as a colleague and not just someone with a different chromosome.  

Reaching back to the pioneer days, the life expectancy of folks was rather short, and the life expectancy of males was significantly shorter than females. From getting kicked in the head by a mule, to encounters with nature’s predators, or even a simple cut that got infected before the advent of antibiotics, many women moved into leadership of their businesses due to the untimely death of their husbands.  

Set aside women moving into leadership due to the untimely demise of a spouse, many women became leaders in a more merit-based fashion. My great-great-great grandmother, Anna O-Keefe Snedden displayed her business acumen in the 1860s in the Kern River Valley area. Anna married my great-great-great grandfather Samuel, a miner who had wandered from Canada to Mexico in search of gold. Anna quickly realized the only ones making a decent living around the mines were the folks feeding the miners. Anna took $300 of her own money and bought cattle. Over 150 years ago, our family changed trajectory due to the business leadership of a woman. This is one story of many where women in agriculture emerged into leadership roles. 

This practice of family interdependence and family business has fostered a culture through generations in our industry that goes counter to traditional gender roles. I am not saying that women in agriculture weren’t challenged in a male-dominated society, but rather that in difficult times, moving into leadership based on merit rather than gender was often a necessity. 

I highlight women in business leadership not because it is more important than any role including traditional gender roles, but rather to show that our industry has a tradition of merit-based advancement. Today several women own, operate, and run cattle businesses. I say all this not to push an agenda, but rather focus on examples of climbing and achievement that wasn’t spawned by some politically correct mandate, but rather happened organically by dynamic women in an industry accustomed to working shoulder to shoulder regardless of gender.  

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