In 2014, I published a detailed report on the development of mentorship programs for women in agriculture from a global perspective.
This report (which can be found at brendaschoepp.com) has since given flight to a number of global study topics with other Nuffield Scholars. Recently, a report in Alberta published by the Agriculture & Food Council (agfoodcouncil.com) entitled Success for Women in Agri-Food (S4WAg) looked at barriers and needs of women in agri-food and related businesses.
In my global research, I found that at all levels, access to financing and financial literacy were the key drivers in the success of women entrepreneurs.
The respondents in S4WAg also called out finance as the main barrier in business. Despite what we think is happening in the world of banking, ladies felt they were not taken seriously when seeking a loan. S4WAg states that respondents felt “their role within the business was not understood and accepted or respected from the lender.”
This reminds me of the day my mother went to buy a new pickup. She is meticulous in her research and knew exactly what she wanted. My brother went with her because she was going to buy a truck and drive it home. Regardless of articulating exactly what she wanted, the salesman kept talking to my brother. Finally in frustration my brother blurted out, “She’s buying the truck — not me. Talk to her!”
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I look back on my own challenges as I had always independently owned my own land and personal property. The children and I had a lovely little farm we were fixing up and making pretty good money from when the bank called. The new manager wanted to let me know she was calling the loan. I found this unusual since we were in good shape and I had never missed a payment. Her argument was that she noticed I did not have a university education, and was a woman and a single mom and therefore “there is no hope you will succeed.” This was demoralizing and stressful. (The bank next door thought I would do just fine — and I did.)
Later when I owned a larger ranch, I decided to get a small “just in case” operating loan. I had been able to meet all my operating obligations with cash but was thinking about improvements to improve efficiency. All the paperwork was done but the loan was refused. I asked why and the response was, “I talked to the boys down at the coffee shop and they said you were grazing alfalfa so all your cattle are going to die and that’s why I think you should not have a loan.”
That was almost laughable but really a very serious breach of trust, and it highlighted the lender’s lack of knowledge.
It is costly and challenging to be the innovator when lenders do not understand your business.
In the S4Wag report, women were honest in their approach to obtaining financing. They felt they did not have the financial acumen they needed and admitted to a lack of knowledge. This was perpetuated when they were out of the workforce raising children. In my global report, I found that universally, banks would most certainly agree.
Women in First World countries will receive financing 58 per cent of the time compared to males with the same proposal. This is based on gender — American banks say they discriminate on gender on a full 20 per cent of applications because they can with equivalent proposals.
Another factor is weaker business plans. It is vitally important that boys and girls receive education and become financially literate before going out in the workforce. Canada’s high credit card debt reflects our overall inability to manage debt. (Farm debt in Alberta now totals $20 billion). Early financial literacy would create a foundation for continuous learning and give women the skills and confidence for applying for a loan.
Ensuring there are experts or training in place is vital because of the current education gap. In S4WAg study, women reported feeling “inadequate,” but did not necessarily know where to get training or help.
I found banks also tended to shun proposals from women because they asked for too little — there would be less revenue from that loan. Lenders said they would like to see highly detailed and bolder proposals with a bigger ask. Women have a much better payback history than men so the risk for the bank is not actually in the gender, but in tying up too much time processing a small loan.
As soon as they can cash flow, I advise that girls and women own urban or rural real estate that can be used as revenue streams. Equity is important. Dream big, be bold, and take the time for much needed education in financial literacy. (There are a host of books available at libraries; free learning events with FCC and others, and online training.)
Most importantly: Take your daughter on the journey so she feels empowered and more than adequate when it is time to build her agri-business.