Is Unconscious Bias Holding Agriculture Back?

Last week, I addressed a group of producers at a Dupont Pioneer dealer’s customer appreciation event. The objective of my presentation was to raise awareness of unconscious bias in agriculture and its impact on talent retention and social license.

At times, the presentation was uncomfortable, for those listening and for me. As women in a male-dominated field we are encouraged (often by ourselves) to not show weakness. We don’t share the encounters that make us uncomfortable or cause us to doubt our abilities because we don’t want to be perceived as complaining or unable to “hack it”.

However, if we truly love agriculture and desire to see it prosper, then few would disagree ensuring everyone within it, regardless of gender (or race, religion or sexuality) have equal opportunities to thrive. We also have to acknowledge the issue.

Enter unconscious bias. Even as I shared stories from women working in agriculture who have been subject to sexism and discrimination (from men and women), I made the mistake of directing a comment about the seed dealership to the male host, assuming he was the owner. As it turns out, he is an associate dealer and Laura is the primary. Shame on me.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 3.51.58 PMWe are so conditioned to expect men and women to fill certain roles on our farms, in our industry and in society we judge people and their competencies without even realizing it.

Often it’s harmless, like when the church ladies guffaw at choosing to be in the barn rather than the house or when a sales rep comes to the door asking for the boss.

Other times it’s downright discriminatory, like when hiring managers rule out women because they fear they will become pregnant and leave. And sadly, it can also be harassment as several women have shared stories of lewd remarks and inappropriate advances.

Luckily, it appears many of the horror stories from other industries aren’t present in agriculture. And a 2015 study by found the percentage of people who felt gender inequality existed in agriculture was lower than that of business in general. Like many other studies on the topic though, there is a pronounced difference between the perception of its existence between  men and women.

Although the cost of gender bias in agriculture hasn’t been explicitly quantified, one could easily argue it’s negatively impacted social license, talent retention and potentially even business results overall.

While moms and millennials have been identified as significant influencers of food trends (The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity), only 12% of major agricultural associations in Canada have female leadership (CAHRC). If “unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us,” (Trang Chu) then there is reason to think the gender gap in agriculture leadership may be partially to blame for the current gap in understanding about modern farming practices.

Additionally, bias impacts people at a subconscious level, impacting their self-confidence and aspirations. Over time, negative bias will demotivate employees and even discourage them from striving for leadership opportunities. (See Companies Drain Women’s Ambition After 2 Years).

“When I was a feed rep, I got told by a farmer that my job was in the kitchen. Most things I took a grain of salt but made me realize I didn’t want to be part of the feed industry in that specific area and “changed” careers.”  Quote from a woman in ag.

With the current labour gap in agriculture (it’s estimated 59,000 positions are currently unfilled, costing the industry $1.5 billion in lost farm receipts), stories of women subjected to sexism deciding to leave the industry should be a hard pill to swallow. Add to this all the industry boards seeking volunteers to replace retiring directors and agriculture needs to attract new talent, not turn it away.

Finally, celebrating diversity and tapping into its innovative potential is what will make Canadian agriculture a global leader in the future. One only needs to look to the proven success of companies with women in leadership to see the opportunity which awaits the businesses and organizations in agriculture who make gender diversity and women’s leadership advancement a priority.

The challenge then is “how”? This is a topic we will explore in our next post, but it seems unanimous the first step is starting with awareness. Have you experienced bias in your workplace, sector or farm? Do you feel the agriculture industry is better or worse off than other industries when it comes to the existence of sexism and how its handled? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

-Jen C.

Finding a place in a male dominated industry – Aubrie Mowat

Aubrie Mowat works for a commodity marketing and handling company, which seems like a good fit considering she grew up in a family that owns and operates a grain elevator. She’s just starting her career and it hasn’t always been easy to find her place in a male dominated industry, but she’s been building the career she wants through personal drive and goal setting.

If you’re interested in connecting with Aubrie, contact her via e-mail at

Aubrie Mowat 1Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a small cow/calf operation and was also involved with commodities as our family owns and operates a grain elevator. I graduated University of Guelph – Kemptville Campus in 2012 with an Associate Diploma in Agriculture. In 2014 I graduated Olds College with a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Agribusiness. I started with BroadGrain Commodities Inc. while finishing my applied degree and was hired as a Rotational Associate. In this role I moved around our offices throughout Ontario for a year to learn about each division. I then moved on to be a Location Marketing Advisor in Brinston, Ontario, which enables me to be back on the farm! I help my customers create marketing plans for their commoditie, and I am also the team lead of our non-GMO/identity preserved food grade soybean program.

Tell us more about your job and what a typical day looks like.

On a day-to-day basis I keep myself informed with where the futures markets are at and what is happening in our local area in regards to supply and demand. I review my customers’ price targets daily and share the knowledge I have in regards to where the prices are at and reasons supporting those prices. I enjoy helping my customers achieve their goals in regards to marketing their grain and value all of the relationships I have created over the past few years. When the markets aren’t too busy, I also help at the scale, when need be, and enjoy dropping in for farm visits!

Who has been your most significant mentor along the way?

Until I started with BroadGrain, I think it’s safe to say my parents were. They run our family’s grain elevator together and have always been driven to be successful and innovative, and have instilled in me the benefits of hard work from the very beginning. Upon starting with BroadGrain, one of my mentors throughout my rotational program was Sonja. She was in a similar role as I am now but on a much larger scale as she was overseeing different commodities. She is a strong woman with the willpower to push herself past boundaries and continues to set goals. She was also a firm believer in girl power, which I think is VERY important! Although we are in different offices now, she is very supportive and encourages me to grow.

Aubrie Mowat 3

How do you define professional success?

Professional success is setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them. It is important to strive for this on a continual basis, as challenges are imperative for our growth and development within our career. All of my current goals have some sort of measurable aspect to them to hold me accountable, but I also like to focus on the skills that obtain those numbers. I am a firm believer that time management and the ability to create and carry out an action plan are two of the most important skills an individual can possess. A person must have “drive” and be willing to work as hard as required to achieve his/her goals time and time again.

What is the biggest professional or personal challenge that you’ve had to face?

The biggest challenge that I’ve had to face is ongoing. Being a female in this industry is a small battle that requires me to prove myself to new customers that aren’t used to female professionals in a position like mine. As time goes on it doesn’t seem as frustrating; now it is just another hurdle to jump over and a chance to improve my skills and competencies. Slowly but surely I know women in the industry will change opinions and views; after all, we are all in this together!

It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. Are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

While I was going through college I really disliked my sales classes as they were focused on selling a specific product and I decided that I never wanted a career involved in sales. I quickly changed my opinion after an interview when I was asked what I thought of sales and almost immediately said I disliked the whole concept and never wanted a job involved in it. Without even thinking, I almost closed the door to a great opportunity. “Sales” isn’t always about selling an object. Every day I sell our company’s services to our customers. It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

The most burning question that people ask me is: “Why aren’t you working at home?” I get asked this question almost every week; I can understand this considering our family has been heavily involved in this industry for more than 50 years, however it still bothers me. I chose to pursue an education related to agriculture in order to secure a challenging career in this industry. I am young, just starting my journey and my main focus is on my own personal development. I am thankful that BroadGrain is such a progressive company and the opportunities within this company are truly endless!

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the most important thing in this world; there is absolutely no doubt about it. It is an industry that is filled with science, compassion and relentlessness, an industry that is at the mercy of Mother Nature, an industry that literally feeds and clothes the world.

Aubrie Mowat 4

Aubrie with sister Alysa

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?

I think the biggest issue in agriculture right now is how uninformed consumers are as more and more of our population is removed from the farm. It is important that we share our stories. We need to inform these consumers of what we do and why we do it. We need to encourage our consumers to ask questions, invite them to our farms and expose them to a day in our lives. Let’s focus on sharing our story and facts to help our consumers make informed decisions. Let’s be approachable and inviting. Let’s do our job in promoting the industry that has provided us with connections, a chance to be responsible for our animals and crops, the strength to deal with the cycle of life, an opportunity to be stewards of the land and the chance to be a part of an amazing industry!

‘Ag Wannabe’ – Christina Fitzgibbons on joining the AG industry

Christina (Couture) FitzGibbon is a member of the Ag Women’s Network leadership team. She found a fantastic professional fit in agriculture, and she’s embraced new opportunities to expand her network and contribute to the industry. She shares with us some advice that she’s picked up along the way and her questions about next steps in life and her career.

If you’re interested in connecting with Christina, contact her via Twitter: or email:

1c68df8Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I am a passionate ‘ag wannabe’ and proud to be able to bring my consumer perspective to the industry. Growing up in rural Ontario enabled me to experience my first taste of agriculture, and I instantly became enthralled with the process, the effort, and the craft of making food and the farmers behind it. Being a small town girl, when it came a time to choose a University, the University of Guelph was the obvious choice! There I obtained a degree in psychology (with a minor at “the Ranch”) and then furthered my education by obtaining a post graduate honours degree in marketing management from Humber College.

After living and gaining professional experience in Toronto I found myself back in Guelph, in the hub of agriculture, working in a marketing role within the agri-food industry. Today, I work at RKD Web Studios in marketing and account management with both ag and non ag clients. Becoming more involved in the ag community has been very important to me, and has given me a true sense of pride. I love that through professional and personal channels I have the opportunity to lend a hand to the agricultural community and offer an educated voice and perspective from the consumer standpoint.

How do you define success? What steps do you take to get you there?

I am a strong believer that success is self-defined. What I think is successful may not be what my friend or colleague believes. But to answer the question… my definition of success is being in a place of continual betterment and learning. If you are able (and lucky enough) to find a position or a role that you are continually learning from and growing from I believe you are successful. For me, my career path has had some ups and downs, but today I consider myself very successful. I hold a position in an industry and organization that is constantly changing and evolving, therefore there is always something to learn and stay ahead of.

“While I have never helped calve a cow, I embrace the agriculture mindset and I am not afraid to get involved or get my boots and hands dirty. My desire for consumers and ‘non-aggies’ to get more involved and engaged in how food arrives from the farm gate to consumer plate is what drives me to continue to be an Agvocate for the industry.“ – Christina FitzGibbon

The biggest step I took in my career and one I continue to take is to get involved! Network, meet people, and put yourself out of your comfort zone! The first organization I joined was Canadian Agri Marketing Association (CAMA), and to be honest I was nervous to get involved and share my voice. But now, I can proudly say I have been on the CAMA board for three years and I am now the Vice President of the Ontario Chapter. The Ag Women’s Network and CAMA have forced me out of what is ‘comfortable’ and have made me more confident to take on new roles professionally.

In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

Without trying to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows, I do not think in your career or life you can make ‘mistakes’. Everything is a learning experience and it is how you approach a situation, and what you take from it, that will define the outcome.

That said, I will share a lesson I learned on workplace politics that I believe can be applied to the office or barn… DON’T GET INVOLVED. This can be easier said than done, but I honestly have never heard of an outcome where someone got involved and it ended well. Whether you wear boots to work or three inch heels, try to take the high road and refrain from commenting or lending your opinion. And if you feel you have to, ensure it is constructive and will have a positive effect on those around you.

Christina with Husband Nick FitzGibbon

Christina with husband Nick

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

As someone fast approaching 30, some would say the biological clock is ticking! How starting a family will impact your career is something a lot of my friends and colleagues have been discussing in GREAT length. When is a good time? Will my employer think of me differently? Where do I need to be before I make that step? Lots of questions and thoughts.

A main concern of mine is my career slowing down as priorities change. To be a successful business woman AND have a family is definitely the goal, but what is realistic? I have seen so many women become superwomen, amazing moms and never miss a beat in their career. And of course I strive to be like them.

But does being superwomen come at a cost? Women in agri-business, like other industries, tend to feel the pressure to work through their maternity leaves or come back early to their jobs due to lack of coverage or feeling they are being left behind. So my burning question is, is it fair for employers to expect the ‘superwoman’ as the new norm? Or are we setting unrealistic expectations when it comes work and family life? I would love to hear your comments on this one!

How do you define agriculture?

The center of the world. Without agriculture and the production of food where would we be?


Mary Ann Doré, Robyn Walsh, Maureen Balsillie, Jen Christie, Christina Crowley-Arklie, and Christina Fitzgibbons during an AWN Leadership team meeting

What do you do as part of the AWN Leadership Team?

Since becoming part of the leadership team in 2014, I have had the opportunity to work on various projects including event planning, governance/policy and currently working on a new website (coming soon!). From the beginning when AWN was just a small group of women meeting in my kitchen to now, a group of 1300+ women and counting, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to both work and learn from this network of strong women.

Currently our leadership team consists of eight strong women from all different backgrounds and expertise. Working with them has been a pleasure and given me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. A big thank you to Jenn, Christina, Maureen, Joan, Megan, Robin and Mary Ann for your continued support; I look forward to helping AWN grow and take on new challenges with you all.

Volunteers make the world go round

– Happy National Volunteer Week!


12.7 million Canadians volunteer every year in Canada

This week in Canada we are celebrating national volunteer week! What an awesome thing to celebrate! According to Volunteer Canada, 12.7 million Canadians volunteer every year, giving 2 billion hours annually. That means one in three Canadians volunteer every year. Statistics Canada lists it even higher with 47% of Canadians volunteering. Stats like this give me so much hope for the future. As North Americans,  we are incredibly privileged, but stats like this show that we are very aware of our privilege and are actively trying to make a difference, Stats like these show that we care about those who are struggling and want to contribute to the betterment of our communities, our country, and beyond.

Volunteers really do make the world go round. Donating money to a charity is quick and easy (and I highly encourage everyone to put aside funds every year to an organization whose work you believe in) but giving your own time and efforts to a cause is equally valuable.  To get a better look at the impact of volunteerism on the economy, let’s assign it a dollar value. If every volunteer was paid minimum wage per hour, it would have cost the Canadian economy at minimum $20 BILLION a year. And this doesn’t even take into account that a significant amount of the work likely has a higher fair market value, probably between $20-50 per hour. I would also suggest that there is a significant amount of volunteerism that can’t even be measured. Think of people who volunteer for small organizations. Those who are activists and show up to demonstrations. There are so many volunteers who cannot be quantified, because they step up without batting an eye.

Volunteering is a fantastic way to fulfill your passion. While I greatly enjoy the work I do, and am passionate about the organization I work for, my volunteering is definitely where I find my true passion. I love Ag and feel very strongly about the advancement of women in this industry. I believe women have an important role and can have a hugely positive impact on our industry as we move forward together. Working with AWN has definitely allowed me to realize this passion and make a lasting impact.

Through my parent’s fruit farm, I once met a women who had established a not-for-profit farmers market in downtown Windsor. She believe deeply in the positive impact of the market. It added a layer of colour to Saturday mornings downtown,  allowed urbanites to develop a deeper connection with their food, and helped  support the agriculture sector in Essex County. In conversation with her one day, she shared stories of all of the volunteer activities she was doing as well as raising her family −her own version of having it all. She also works in public service, and while describing her life to me, she coined the phrase ‘my work is really getting in the way of my volunteering.’ I often have this thought myself as I sit up late working on volunteer items, counting down the hours of sleep I will get that night. I’m sure many would join me in this sentiment, as they spend hours reading briefs for boards or committees that they volunteer on, or simply getting chores done in time to participate in a walk-a-thon on the weekend. Volunteering is a form of empowerment. It really allows us to have it all. It’s a way to work, support ourselves and our family, and still give back.

“My work is really getting in the way of my volunteering”

I wasn’t able to find stats that indicate what percentage of volunteers were women. However, the people I know who volunteer their time and resources are predominantly women. Volunteering as a part of the AWN Leadership has really helped to demonstrate just how much time the women around me give to the betterment of society. AWN is a grassroots organization and is run exclusively by volunteers. At present, we rely on donations of time, space, food, and money for individual events. Without these donations and these volunteers, we would not exist at all. We wanted to take this week to send out a very special thank you. Whether you have contributed to AWN through volunteering on one of the actions team, writing blogs, attending events, or simply following along on Facebook and Twitter. As with so many other fantastic organizations, we are dependent on YOU, and the time and effort  you give us so graciously.

Stay rad volunteers of the world, and keep fighting the good fight!

-Maureen @greenMreen

Success – What does that really look like anyway?

P1020423I am certain that at one time or another we have all asked and doubted ourselves about whether we are successful.  We all WANT to be successful.  But what does success really look like? Unfortunately, it’s much too easy to focus on what we haven’t accomplished and compare ourselves to the achievements of others. I turned 30 last month and this was the first year I wasn’t excited to turn yet another year older, to pass another milestone in my life. I was worried about whether I had really been successful to date, and whether I had actually been able to accomplish my goals (both the realistic and unrealistic ones). I have always been motivated and determined to reach my goals. My 20 year old self had big plans, and big goals to conquer.

I recently started listening to pod casts, and I got into the TED Radio Hour episode about success, and how it has become synonymous with financial wealth, influence and status. Even in this hour long episode, experts on success have differing opinions on success, and what determines whether someone will be successful. One of the interview’s in the episode was with Mike Rowe who was the host of Dirty Jobs. He challenged the meaning of success we are all used to believing and seeing by travelling the country learning about individuals who work hard for a living at their dirty jobs. He speaks about how these individuals with dirty jobs who are successful don’t measure up to how society is used to evaluating it. His view was intriguing. He said “you don’t follow your passion, you take it with you. If you are following your passion and you are happy, great! But, if you aren’t happy, and you’re just doing it because of inertia, someone needs to give you a little slap.” Every individual’s career and life has different characters and chapters, and you shouldn’t discredit your own experiences because it doesn’t match someone else’s story or view of success.

carolyn graphic quoteIt doesn’t matter what area of agriculture you are working in whether it’s getting dirty working on a farm, or in an office, success is what you want to make of it. I grew up on a cash cropping farm and I didn’t have a professional wardrobe until I was 25. I moved from working in crop research to working in an office and I sure as heck wasn’t going to be spending money on good clothes to wear them in the field where they were likely to get ruined. I worked with a great team and it really was a sense of accomplishment coming home after a day in the field covered in a thick layer of dirt. It did take me awhile to get used to being at a desk all day but this month marks five years working at AAC. I love being able to learn about the industry and their initiatives to keep agriculture competitive. These are two very different jobs, but as I reflect on my past and present experiences, I do consider them both very significant contributors to my overall success. Admittedly, between these two jobs I was unemployed for five months, but I kept myself busy applying to jobs and helping on the farm. I was also able to push myself outside of my comfort zone and complete the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP), travel (various states in the U.S., other provinces, and South America) and purchase my first home in my 20’s. All of these experiences have helped me round out my skill set, and develop long lasting friendships and networks.

Perceptions of success will change over time, both for individuals and for an industry overall. Just like my idea of success at 20 was different from now, the agriculture industry has evolved and changed over the last decade. Mike Rowe’s final comment that really resonated with me was about the business owners he visited for the show Dirty Jobs. He said that they looked at the way everyone else was going and went in the opposite direction. Achieving success doesn’t mean you have to follow what society has defined as successful. If you are following your passion and are happy, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you aren’t happy with where you’re headed, there’s always time to pick up your passion and take it with you to your next adventure. Through discussions, networking and information sharing, the members of the AWN will influence the agriculture industry’s view of success in the future. These influences may mean norms will be having more women on boards, more women in leadership roles, and also empowering others to continue meet and achieve their goals. I can’t wait for what will become of the next decade!

PS – for anyone who is approaching 30, like all my friends who were already wiser than me said: it really isn’t that bad!

– Carolyn Kozak

You can follow Carolyn on twitter @carokozy

Industry Profile – Lois Harris

After a successful career in government communications, Lois Harris decided to step out of her comfort zone and start her own business. She’s been working as a freelance writer and editor for two years now and loves working for and with the agri-food sector. Read on to learn more about her career highs and lows and what’s she’s learned along the way.

If you are interested in connecting with Lois, check out her website at, contact her via email ( or Twitter (

 Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I’m 52, have a husband and four rescued cats and live on 3 1/2 acres on the southern border of the village of Durham in Grey County. I’ve lived in Toronto (12 years) and Guelph (16 years) but grew up in rural southern Ontario near St. Thomas in a hamlet called Frome that had about five houses and a church. So I’m a country girl at heart.

Lois Harris 1I was a co-op student from the University of Waterloo in the ‘80s when I got the opportunity to work at Queen’s Park. I worked at several ministries and landed with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs just after a long trip with a girlfriend through southeast Asia. I started as a speechwriter for the Minister and Deputy Minister and took several secondments around the ministry. After 22 years with the government, I started my own freelance writing and editing business, Words Work Communications, in 2013.

Tell us about being an entrepreneur. What do you enjoy most and what is the most challenging?

Although it was terrifying, I’m glad I started my own business. I like the freedom and the flexibility of getting my own assignments. I like being able to help my clients communicate effectively with their audiences. I really like interviewing innovative farmers and food processors because they’re so excited and interested in what they’re doing.

I’m not a big fan of “administrivia” so I have an online bookkeeping account with Freshbooks, which makes it all easy. I also have a hard time with marketing myself; selling other people’s products and services comes to me much more easily.

How do you define success? What steps do you take to get there?

I define personal success as finding out what makes you happy and going for it. WAY harder than it sounds.

In terms of a career, I think you need to figure out what you want to do and hone your skills in that direction. Stay curious. Don’t let the haters and cynics get you down. Be positive but not Pollyanna. Play nice. Keep friends and family close. Laugh as much as you can.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?

I think making the jump from having a secure public service job to being completely on my own professionally at the age of 50 was my biggest challenge.

While I really appreciate my time at the ministry, I got antsy to stretch myself some more. The learning curve was gigantic, so I planned and plotted my brains out. My husband’s a retired editor from Reuters but the pension’s fairly modest, so I really had to make a go of it. My first year kind of sucked, but last year I did better than expected.

Biggest lesson? I thought about making the change for about five years, and could have saved myself many sleepless nights had I done it sooner.

Who would you say is your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

Professionally, it’s my first boss. She was tough – a former Canadian Press editor. There were soooo many red editing marks all over my copy when I started. But she saw something. She encouraged me without coddling and actually worked with me.

She taught me how to write a headline and a lede and how to tell a story. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without her influence. Thanks Marj.

Lois Harris 3

Personally, it’s my husband. He’s been so supportive; he encouraged me to take the leap into freelancing. He’s as nuts about cats as I am and we share a fairly twisted sense of humour. Plus, it’s really handy to have a professional editor right in the house!

Are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

I took a job in my mid-twenties that was too much of a stretch, when I should have taken the time to look around for other opportunities.

The job basically landed in my lap and I was bored of the place where I was working – so I jumped. I couldn’t believe they hired me. The pay was WAY above what I was making, but I was throwing up every night for weeks because I was so stressed all the time. And the new boss was a dragon lady. Nuff said. I moved on and lived to tell the tale, but it was a bit scarring. Lesson: you should get out of an unfulfilling job, but be careful where you leap, and do your homework.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

My most burning question is how can I ramp up my business so there’s steady work without going crazy with too much? I’ve had some really good success with really good people in the agri-food industry over the past couple of years, and people seem pleased with my work. But so far, it’s project-based and sporadic. I’ve only had my business for two years, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

How do you define agriculture? 

Agriculture (or, actually agri-food) is an biologically, economically and environmentally essential endeavour that encompasses research, production, processing, marketing, distribution and sales of food, fuel and bioproducts.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?

The top-of-mind topic is maintaining the industry’s social license with the public by being transparent and maintaining/building trust.

While it’s an important one, I think attracting more people (especially women) to working in all aspects (especially the leadership) of the industry should be right up there, too.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (

Keeping our Kids Safe – Farm Safety Week

Farm-Safety-Sign-PKE-18287_1000.gifHappy Farm Safety Week everyone!!

So it’s farm safety week, what does that mean? We will be extra safe for one week of the year? Or do we all try to implement a safer way to do an on-farm task? How do we carry the lessons learned this week throughout the entire year?

Honestly, growing up on a dairy farm in Newfoundland we were kind of terrible at safety. Not that we did a lot of unsafe things, but because a lot of tasks on the 220 milking herd were dangerous for kids, my brother and I were not allowed to participate until we were much older. Driving tractors was a “no-no” not because we would be bad at driving them but because someone else might not see you as they come flying around a corner. Majority of our farm land is approximately 20 mins away from the farm, therefore required taking public roads making drivers licences a necessity also.
This year farm safety focuses on kids and the importance of ensuring their well-being. This was is a wise move considering the unfortunate events and media frenzy that has surrounded kids “working” on farms. Personally, growing up and having worked on a farm, involving young people and taking the time to talk about the dangers instead of simply avoiding them all together is a better solution.  Talk with your kids, discuss the hazards and explain to them why you may or may not be comfortable taking on a certain task. The Ag Safety Website has a bunch of awesome resources! ( casa_casw_2016_agsafe_family_english_-_colour_vertical

My favourite is identifying basic skills your child can try and then you as a parent or guardian is able determine if the child is able to safely complete the task. Can he/she push a shopping cart? Perhaps then they can push a feed cart. It breaks down tasks into components, making it easier to identify if a task is safe. I understand not all farms can hire staff and require children to assist in work, but please ensure they are well trained and regularly supervised.

I realize our lives can get hectic and safety hits the back burner, but that’s unfortunately when accidents occur. Take the time to review farm tasks with employees, children, family and even neighbours. I am fully aware farm safety isn’t a glamourous topic and is often hard to engage others in the discussion. We as women need to reinforce this notion and ensure everyone involved is on the same page. Take a leader role in safety as all our lives and livelihoods depend on it.

-Robyn Walsh

AWN Re-Launch Event – March 29th, 2016

Join us March 29th to celebrate our network for a fun night of networking and discussion.

We will be hosting events across Canada as well as live tweeting to ensure all of the network has an opportunity to participate.

Thompson Restaurant at the Hyatt Calgary for 5:30pm
Stampede Ranch Guelph 7:30 pm
Stay tuned for more information – we hope you can all attend!


The Ag Women’s Network was first started in the fall of 2013. Since then, nearly a dozen events have been held throughout Southern Ontario, connecting women in person while over 1000 women have connected virtually via social media. The last year has seen exponential growth in membership and interest in women’s role in agricultural leadership.

Hosting an offical launch is to provide our group with another networking opportunity and acknowledge this movement that is bringing women together across Canada to celebrate success and challenge one another to achieve greater potential.

So what can we do to get more women on AG Boards?

In Ontario, it is clear that we have the interest to achieve gender equality on boards, and while many people feel that implementing gender quotas on boards, many women have identified that they do not want to be selected for a board that has a gender quotas. Women want to be selected for a board based on ‘merit’ and not for their gender.

(For the records, I believe that quotas are a wonderful solution. I think that perhaps to achieve a world where gender equality is the norm, we need to be leaders and say, ‘I’m on this board because of my gender, but I will defy expectations in order to make gender equality the norm for the next generation’)

That being said, we need to push our industry to make it more available for women to join a board. Over the course of the week, several suggestions have been made of changes that our industry can make to help achieve gender equality.

  1. Invite her to run –A program started by the Liberal Party started this program during the nomination process for the last election. Under this program, the party reached out specifically to women to ask them to run for public office. This can be as simple as reaching out to a friend who would be an awesome on a board or committee or can be as formal as organization reaching out to women specifically to apply for board position. As stated before, men will apply for a job when they have 60% of the qualification but women will wait until they have 100% of the qualifications. This program lets women know that we, as an industry, want their voice heard.
  1. Mentorship – Research suggests that 88% of entrepreneurs with mentors survive in 4c2069021fab2d32d058b64f8aee7af1business, compared with a failure rate of about 50% for those without a mentor. For women, mentorship is incredibly important, especially on Boards. Mentorship can be something as simple as reaching out to women who are new on boards and offer to be a sounding board, or something as formal as regular debriefs to check in. The Ministry of Status of Women has a program called It Starts with One, which challenges women in leadership (and non-leadership positions) to mentor another women
  1. Childcare and Accessibility – We know that boards require a time commitment. And for many women, that means taking time away from their children and family life. This can mean anything from missing small moments, to not seeing their children’s first steps. For many mother, this can be a burden to carry and may be a strong barrier to achieving gender diversity. We need to challenge organizations to be more accommodating, not just for women but for parents in general to be able to spend time. Some women have indicated that if there was more accommodations for families, in the form of childcare, or remote meetings, that they would be more than willing to step up. These hurdles, that are keeping women out of the board room are the same that occur for women in the workplace and would allow parents to contribute without sacrificing their family life. The House of Commons is currently revisiting it schedule to help accommodate families for MPs so why can’t we revisit this in the Ag sector?

What are some other suggestions to help achieve gender equality on Ag Boards? What can our industry do? What can we do as friends, coworkers, and individuals? AWN would love to hear your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #AWNGETONBOARD or comment below!


Demystifying the Board of Directors

Things to consider before committing to a board

“I am thinking about joining a board…what do you think?”

An immediate reaction to this question could be, “go for it! What do you have to lose?” And although this might be true in some cases, it is important do some research before committing your time, energy and passion to a board.

After a post was made on the AWN facebook page looking for advice on joining a board, I decided to reach out to a professional to gain some insights that hopefully helps our network when weighing the options of joining a board.

Having done some work in the past with Strive! – a consulting organization that helps to build and establish purpose-driven boards and leadership teams – I got connected with Mary Lynn McPherson, a Strive Senior Consultant, with previous work experience at the Royal Bank, as the banks first female agrologist!

She stressed, “First and foremost board work is about service… to a cause… to an organization… most board positions are volunteer (not paid), and therefore it is important to be passionate about the cause.”

Passion… passion for farming, passion a feeding the world, passion to support women, whatever your passion is, it is important to be involved in a board that shares your passion in order to help the cause move forward and inspire change! Okay great, so you have passion – now what? Here are some points

Mary Lynn made that will make you critically think before jumping in:

  1. Board work is about team work – and it is likely one of the most challenging teams in that this board of peers is expected to arrive at a ‘one voice’ message for delivery to its one staff/group… It is important to be diplomatic, kind, courageous, and willing to ask tough questions.
  2. Board work carries with it fiduciary (stewardship) responsibilities – so it is important to understand financial reports, be prepared to accept a certain level of financial responsibility and put/ensure appropriate financial risk mechanisms are in place.  So asking for a copy of the financial statements and asking questions about the financial stability of the organization in advance of joining on a board is a smart move!
  3. Board work can be very rewarding – especially if you are on a board that is a ‘fit’ for your time and the type of volunteering you like to do.  For instance, if you prefer thinking strategically and weighing big picture risk and reward options, a governing board might be a good fit.
  4. Alternatively, if you like to roll up your sleeves and get involved in making things happen, a working board might suit you better.
  5. Board work can be time consuming. It is important to understand the stage in which the board is in. Is the board you are looking to join well established or is it just starting off? Typically if a board is just starting off you are going to experience some growing pains and therefore require more input and time. Before joining it is important to ask questions to understand commitment level so you do not over commit yourself.

Although these points may seem like common sense after reading it over, a lot of people do not take the time to consider the impacts of sitting on a board- you need to research and ask questions!

Still interested in serving on a board? Before you fully commit I would suggest asking to attend a board meeting in advance of signing up. This will give you an opportunity to see firsthand how the board runs, and more importantly if the board culture is a fit for you. Just like when interviewing for a new job, it is important to get a sense of the people you will be working with and if they will mesh well with you. Feeling comfortable enough to express your opinions and share your ideas is critical to both the board’s success and your fulfillment as a volunteer.

Having had the opportunity to serve on two boards over the last four years (CAMA & AWN), I personally have had very rewarding experiences. Surrounding myself with leaders and passionate individuals has inspired me to get more involved in my community and take on new career opportunities. I would highly recommend getting involved in a board that aligns with your goals and passions, but be sure to research and be prepared for the role.

Best of luck AWN and I hope these insights help you in your decision making process!

  • Christina Couture