Diversity and Inclusion Week

By Maggie McCormick

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” J.K. Rowling

Diversity_&_Inclusion_Image.pngDiversity and inclusion. When I offered to organize a week on this topic, I knew that the words carried so much weight, so much responsibility, that the rest of the words to accompany them would not come easily.

Every time I thought about writing posts for this week, the first thing that came to mind was how unqualified I felt for the topic. In our society, I know I am privileged: a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant… you know the acronym. I’ve benefitted in a society organized by people with those same attributes. But, of course, this week isn’t about me. It’s about all the great voices who have stepped up to share their stories, their struggles, and their ideas. And of course, it’s about the voices we don’t hear in our industry.

The Ag Women’s Network is quite clearly hard at work trying to encourage inclusion of women in the barn and the boardroom. This week, let’s explore diversity both with and beyond gender. We’ll talk about diversity and inclusion in all kinds of capacities.

So let’s begin at the beginning. What does diversity mean?

Diversity: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements:  the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization”. (Merriam Webster)

This is a difference in religion, race, appearance, citizenship, sexual orientation and identity, age, gender, mental health, and residence, to name only a few.

Include: “to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.” (Merriam Webster)

I don’t think we need to dance around the fact that our industry is not very diverse. How we got here isn’t a tough question. We can look at colonization, immigration, law and other factors of world history to explain how Canadian agriculture ended up in its current composition. Technology has also played a role. At a certain point machinery and breeding advances meant farming was sending people out of the industry to work elsewhere and taking in only a few. Traditions also create barriers for those on the outside.

We’re at a new point in history: our industry is growing and the advances and opportunities mean we need more people in the industry. It’s a time when the industry needs to better understand our customers, so we must get to know them, what they value, and how they speak, socialize, perceive, and, most vitally, eat. We need to build positive relationships with all people in a time when the world is filled with division. It’s more than time to bring in new ideas. It’s time to heal where the exclusion has hurt, even when it was unintentional. It’s time to create an industry that everyone wants to join.

So what to do about it? I believe we are already making some progress but it’s important to examine a problem, and then take action. I’ve asked several people to give their insights this week, and maybe as the week comes to a close we’ll have a clearer picture of what we should do as a group and individually to be more inclusive. This a big, difficult topic, so I ask for your understanding and patience as we begin the conversation this week. Mutual respect and understanding are vital to the topic, but also to the conversation. We may not always get it right, but it’s a start.

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5 Tips & Tricks for Getting Ahead – The Old Boys Club

A curation of tips and strategies that will help you combat the old boys club, move forward in your career and help others to do so as well.

By Natalie Walt

  1. networkFind a mentor

We’ve talked a lot about mentorship at Ag Women’s Network (AWN) and the importance of finding someone that can support you in your growth both personally and professionally. A mentor is someone that can provide guidance for choosing your career path, learning news skills, improving your current skill-set, and help you join a board. Your mentor should be someone that has similar interests and has experience in the field that you are seeking advancement within.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice from someone you think would make an excellent mentor because they are more than likely willing to help out. In my experience, I was incredibly shy and self-conscious when sending the first email, but my efforts were always met with enthusiasm and positivity. People are always willing to help- you just have to ask!

It’s important for women to remember that they don’t always need to limit themselves by only asking for mentorship support from other women. Don’t be afraid to seek mentorship from a male colleague. 

2) Be a mentor

Most of us can agree that at some point along the way in our careers, we have sought  advice and support from someone else. Over the years, I have been blessed to know several people who have taken the time to offer their advice to me when I have been in the middle of making fairly daunting steps in my career path. Their wisdom and experienced advice were invaluable to me as rookie in the field.

That being said, it’s important to also consider ourselves as mentors for someone else. You have so much more to offer than you often realize. While we often think that we need to find a mentor for ourselves, we should also consider that there is a generation of fantastic individuals behind us that could also benefit from our mentoring.  Do not hesitate to lend a hand to someone that you think is doing a terrific job in their work or is starting out in the field.

3) Don’t look for just  single mentor, but rather, find a tribe

tips_pic_1In life, we do not consult just one single expert for everything. For example, you do not rely on your doctor for legal advice so why should you limit yourself to one expert to guide you in your career?

Consider this to be kind of like finding a board of directors for your career.  Connect with people that can lend their expertise to a variety of areas like finance, human resources, technical, etc.  I have one person that I always call on when I need personal finance advice because he is an accountant and knows that area inside out. I call on my friend Tony when I need technical advice because he is a digital genius. The list goes on. Depending on the situation, I know just who to call and seek guidance from. Within our careers and volunteer affiliations, it’s important to build a group of people that can lend experienced knowledge as no one single person is an expert on everything.

4) Be aggressive

Simply put, have the courage to put yourself out there and go after the career you so desire.  We miss %100 of the chances we don’t take.

-Send the email or message to that person you’ve been wanting to connect with. If they don’t have time to meet in person, ask to schedule a phone call with them.

-Do the follow up after meeting them. Oftentimes we make great connections at tradeshows or events, but then fail to follow through and send the email afterwards to actually continue the conversation. This next step is key and should be done within a day or two of the initial meeting.

-Don’t be afraid to seek advice from a group (like AWN) as to who to connect with. Be specific in your request and likely someone will be able to help point you in the right direction.

women_in_biz5) Find the ‘water cooler’

Determine where the best place to get your foot in the door is and show up. You have to be present and put yourself out there for connections and conversations to happen. Take a look around your industry and figure out where people are making the connections that you want to be a part of.  Every industry is different and agriculture is no exception, but there are a lot of events and organizations to get involved in outside of work that could be great places to start.

For example, trade shows like the Outdoor Farm Show are very well-attended and have a lot of representation from businesses and organizations all across the industry. In agribusiness, a lot of these interactions take place on the golf course.  I’m not much of an experienced golfer, but I have learned that many of the customer appreciation days or industry events involve golf so I have proactively forced myself to get better and even purchased my first ever set of clubs.

Making Waves in Agribusiness – Industry Spotlight: Jenny Van Rooy

By Natalie Walt

Jenny Van Rooy is a rural gal from Bruce County with strong family ties to farming and agriculture. Now, as a dynamic, young agricultural professional, she states that agriculture is not just a career choice, but rather a way of life. She currently resides in Kincardine, ON, where she stays busy co-managing her own business, The Westland Corporation. I had the opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty with her and talk about the Old Boys Club and the impact that it has had on her launching her own business in a historically male-dominated industry. You can follow Jenny on twitter at @jennyvanrooy or you can check out the Westland Corp. @thewestlandcorp

Being Bold and Taking the leap into Business Ownership

jenny_van_rooy_profile_postIf I could have summarized this interview in one word, it would most definitely be ‘optimistic’. Jenny Van Rooy is the real deal. As an ambitious entrepreneur in agribusiness, she has successfully built The Westland Corporation into a prosperous new business  that is continually evolving as they are currently in a stage of expansion.

The Westland Corporation is a grain brokerage firm that is agriculturally driven and focused. They bring together clients  ranging from grain producers, to licensed dealers to end users and international trading companies. As part-owner, Jenny can be found brokering deals throughout the day, while also taking care of all other aspects included in running a business.  She loves the variety of challenges continually presented to her and is extremely motivated by the discovery of unending opportunities in this industry.

When asked about her reasons for deciding to take the plunge and start her own business along with long-time friend and co-owner, Brock Lowry, she said that they both saw an opportunity that would enable them to combine their skills and ambitious work ethic to build something that was truly unique.  She states, “As a business owner, I forever need to be innovative, driven and focused”.  Now, almost two years since inception, The Westland Corporation has hit their stride and is growing their team and business offerings to provide even more value to their growing client base.

Dealing with Challenges and Staying Positive

With this weeks’ focus on the Old Boys Club(OBC) mentality, I asked Jenny what her thoughts were on this and whether it was still an obstacle for her as a female business owner. I found her answer very honest and refreshing.

jenny-combineI really don’t feel like the OBC attitude persists much anymore. Overtime I think this attitude has slowly faded. I talk to grain traders that have been in the Ontario grain trade for multiple decades, they tell me stories of how it “once was” – let me tell you that attitude and behaviour is not present anymore. Slowly over the decades there has been a shift. Any OBC attitude that’s left in the trade is very minor. -Jenny Van Rooy

That being said, she has run into her share of situations where she has felt that a client wasn’t taking her seriously. Instead of getting frustrated, Jenny says the key is to not take it personally and to work on slowly building their respect. The payoff takes a little longer, but in her experience, the feeling of earning their respect and gaining their business is the ultimate win-win.

Jenny further explains that she in no way suggests that there aren’t barriers for women in our industry.  However, she states that we have come a long way and that now is the time to focus on the future.  Instead of dwelling on how bad it can be, let’s focus on how great it’s going to get.  She highlights the need for organizations like the Ag Women’s Network to be a vehicle for change and provide tools that will enable us to become the best agricultural professionals we can be.

Looking Towards the Future

Reflecting on her experience in launching her own business, Jenny says that perspective, persistence and professionalism have been key skills that have allowed her to move forward from the OBC attitude and towards successful business relationships. She emphasizes the need stay focused, prove your worth and the results will come. The doors of opportunity are open for men AND women.

Last words: Jenny’s advice for young women in agriculture

You have set yourself up in a great position, the agriculture industry is full of unlimited opportunity for so many different skill sets. Find something you enjoy and excel at, set your goals and charge after them with undeniable drive and persistence! At this early stage in your career this is a good time to try various different streams and roles within agriculture – it’s a big industry, don’t limit yourself!