June 30 2022 08:00 AM

Being true to myself in my job is the most important step I’ve been able to take.

“What’s it like being one of the boys?” The world may never know how many times I have heard that question. The number of times I’ve heard, “It must be fun being one of the only girls working in a man’s world,” or “Way to break the stigma!” is unfathomable. I’m not “one of the boys,” and I’m not trying to “break the stigma.” I’m just me.

We all know that even though the number of women in the agricultural industry is increasing daily, production agriculture is still a “man’s world.” Anyone who tries to “break the stigma” usually gets ridiculed or compared to being a boy. I never liked the idea of “being one of the boys.” I wanted to blaze my own path and do things differently. I wanted to learn, assess, and look at things from different angles. I wanted to challenge tradition and also accept the old ways but learn to tweak them. So, I have.

I learned to work cattle, feed calves, milk cows, and run nearly any piece of equipment we had. I was timid at first and terrified of breaking something or doing something wrong, but as I got older, I took everything as a challenge and soon learned how to do it all. I want to be dependable and someone that folks could count on for not only the grunt work, but for reasonable thinking. I’ve done what I wanted to do, and I’ve shown folks that I’m not a push over nor am I going to just watch. This is my life, and I’m doing things my way.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone going into agriculture or for a young girl going into a “man’s occupation” is to watch, listen, and learn first, then take what you learn and blaze your own trail. Don’t “be like the boys;” be yourself. Do what you want and don’t let anyone stop you. Think clearly and reasonably and be someone folks can depend on. Be you. There is only one you. You are unique. Do things your way. Being like “one of the boys” is so limiting. Prove to everyone that you are just as important and better than they are. Live life wide open and never forget where you came from and love every moment.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.