CEMA collects testimonies to take stock of the progress made and what can still be improved  


Women presence in the agri-food world is still much lower than in many other sectors, and ag machinery is no exception. Several EU funded projects have investigated the topic over time: SmartAgriHubs and IOF2020 have recently decided to dedicate a full issue of their newsletter to it.

In the past few months CEMA has cooperated with the projects to collect testimonies from women in the ag machinery world, touching base with them on their own experience and how they see the issue evolving.

The interviewees have different backgrounds and hold varied positions: from engineer to lawyer, from responsible for Human Resources to communicator, passing through more horizontal managerial roles. There is no set path that leads to the ag machinery world. Some of them were born in the sector, as agricultural machinery was the family business. Others arrived here with less straightforward routes but were nonetheless attracted by the practicality of the product, its societal role, its technological profile.  

Is it really a man’s world?

When asked why the agri-food sector is a male-dominated one, Claire Nusselt (General Counsel of John Deere GmbH & Co. KG for Region 2) said that “Agriculture and engineering and machine production have been male-dominated historically” with root-causes varying from the hard manual labor that used to be involved in agriculture to the fact that engineering studies were also more of a male rather than female field of study. However, noted Dr. Nusselt, “mentalities changed these last ten years and are still evolving. With the digitalization of our sector, we see more and more jobs being equally accessible for both men and women, be it the use of the highly digitized machines themselves on the farmland, but also fleet management, data analysis and other office activities”.

Is the approach to machinery designing different?

On how a woman’s approach to machinery design is different to a man’s, Tine Dezeure (Managing Director, Dezeure NV) told us that while “the specific approach in designing machinery is not gender-based”, women choosing to work in a machine design are not looking for the most obvious career path. This means they tend to be more persistent in succeeding in their choice because “they are really intrinsically interested in what they do and in all cases that I know, that is proven by their work output.”

Linn Warzelhan-Kato (Vice-President of Human resources, EME, AGCO International GmbH) underlined yet another aspect: there seems to be a different approach in working between women and men. “Female colleagues think more in interdependencies, try to understand a topic more holistically and more globally versus diving into technical details and ask different questions. This has helped to widen perspective, bring things on the table which were not considered before or were regarded as “taboo”.” 

“Women,” noticed Dr Nusselt, “have a special skill to put strong individuals together and create harmonious teams. An observation which has also been shared by some of my male colleagues, who enjoy working in engineering units led by women”

What are the barriers and how can they be overcome?

When it comes to the barriers encountered by women in the agricultural machinery sector, Kalina Hadzhieva (Agricultural Equipment Chief Homologation Engineer at CNH Industrial) believes that prejudice on both sides is the biggest obstacle, and that there needs to be specific intervention to provide education and good role models to “train and teach children from a young age that there are no female or male jobs/professions”. With this type of work “it will be inevitable that stronger female role models will appear, who will inspire the next generation of young ladies to pursue their dreams in any profession. To be a good role model does not mean that one has to become a CEO of a company. All it takes is to fight for oneself and what one wants to do”.

Companies have an important role to play in this process: they must “dare to hire more women and invest in their development and career just like they invest in men”, making sure to select them to do planned job rotations so that they can be trained for higher management positions and have career development opportunities, added Hadzhieva.

A push for an equality of development opportunities is also called for by Dezeure, who told us that “to improve female engagement, organizations just have to be open to recruit female experts to empower their team and make sure they get the same guidance and chances to develop themselves as their male colleagues. Besides that, the organization must ensure that this attitude is supported throughout the entire company. If this is guaranteed, I’m sure women will be as engaged as their male colleagues”.

Talent attraction: Branding is key

Given the contribution a woman’s perspective can bring to the sector in general and companies specifically, many of our respondents noted that in women talent attraction branding and image building are crucial. “We have to make our business ‘sexy’”, told us Tine Coopman (Marketing & Communication Manager at AVR) “show people how satisfying it is to challenge your mind by working in the machinery sector”. She added that “we have to show that working in a high-tech company is really fun and challenging, and jobs in the agricultural machinery sector are more than just technical jobs. There is whole variety of functions, and the extra element of working for a company that produces high level machinery to help the farmer work smarter and to use his resources (like land, seeds, fuel etc.) in a much more efficient way, makes it only more interesting”. Women tend to be less exposed to this sector, therefore having less affection to it. At the end of the day “What you don’t know, you cannot love”.

How to do that? Coopman says that “As a company we can give the sector a more ‘female’ face in our employer branding strategy, internally as externally. We have to look for the intrinsic motivators of women: what are they looking for in a company, in a job? How can we adapt to that as a company? And how do we communicate this?”.

Diversity in imaging is really a unanimous call from our respondents. Warzelhan-Kato thinks that there needs to be a reach out to women to connect them to positions in the industry: “it starts from using images not just about machinery but our diverse workforce and specifically women driving our equipment for employer branding, having female colleagues joining recruitment fairs and giving speeches at e.g. universities, mentoring programs for female students and specific days for female students or schoolchildren to provide an insight into our industry”

It’s all about representation, thinks Hadzhieva: “Women that are taken seriously and got the opportunities, they are going to make the best advertisement ever for the company and the sector. Sometimes by doing something that appears small, you can achieve a big deal”.

A final aspect that would attract women talent to the industry according to Dr Nusselt is flexibility. Depending on the position, she adds “I would say that women need about 50% up to 70% of working time flexibility, so that they could telework, adapt their schedule to their family needs and unplanned circumstances. In the past, this was rather a difficult issue to tackle as there was no easy and cheap communication tools. With emailing, teleconferencing and all the IOT devices developed these last ten years, it appeared that more flexibility was possible.”

Put agricultural machinery on the radar

The call that seems to emerge with more strength from our interviews is to try and make women aware that the industry has changed a lot in the last 10 to 20 years. “The industry overall is not on the radar of many women. This is simply because they do not have enough information or a misperception about the industry and are not aware that it could be a good fit for them” said Warzelhan-Kato, adding that “topics like sustainability & the engagement for a bigger cause of “feeding the world” and increasing digitalization of the industry are topics which very much attract women as well”.

Recruitment should, so to say, start young: “It would make a lot of sense to actively visit schools and universities and explain the new realities of the agricultural machinery industry and its evolution towards digital technology. This would attract many female employees. Women in various positions in our industry could play a positive role here showing to the younger female generation that our industry could be as attractive as other industries could have been in the past” closed Dr Nusselt.


To read the newsletter produced by SmartAgriHubs and IOF2020 click here.