By Cheryl Stubbendieck
Vice President of Public Relations.
Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.
A woman for U.S. secretary of agriculture?
What do you think of that, I am asked. By a man, of course. Why do you even ask, I ask. Translate that as "What's it to ya, fella?"
Yes, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture-designate Ann Veneman is a woman. Yes, she is set to be the first woman to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And yes, this is a good thing.
Why so? Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an amazingly complex place. It has more agencies than a Christmas card list, more entries than a weekly grocery bill. It play more roles in American life than people realize: food stamps, food inspection and quality, nutrition policy, animal health, trade, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, rural development, research, Cooperative Extension, ag statistics, etc., etc. My point being that whomever heads the place needs to be a champion multi-tasker. In other words, a woman.
Men are good at doing one thing at a time. Watch them grill hamburgers for a picnic in the back yard. It is their entire focus. You try to engage them in conversation, and they have to put the spatula down to talk to you. Meanwhile, some woman is getting the other components of the meal together, baking this, microwaving that, stirring something in a pot on the stove. All the while organizing a bunch of kids to assist in food preparation and transport.
At the same time, she may be talking on the phone, have laundry going in the washer and dryer, be programming the VCR, have furniture being delivered and possibly be running a garage sale in the driveway. And everything is coordinated, the food all turns out fine and it is all ready at the same time.
This is the sort of thing most women do every day. Run a household, run a major federal agency. Equivalent situations. The key in both is having good help, willing, well-trained and able. And coordinating everything, seeing the connections that might not be apparent, so kids or agency heads aren't working at cross purposes. Women are good at delegation, too, and they are wise to that kid and male gender strategy that figures if you screw up a task once, you won't be asked to do it again.
A unique thing about the U.S. Department of Agriculture is that its head also is expected to be an advocate for farmers and ranchers. Women and mothers, especially, excel at this. They know their children aren't perfect, the story told by the teacher and child will be different and they find the common ground and the win-win solution. They know when to forge ahead, when to back off and when to plan to fight another day.
When you think about it seriously, and consider all she bring to the USDA, Veneman probably is overqualified to be secretary of agriculture.