Expand Your Reach – And Your Sphere of Influence

2186. It’s not the latest GPS screen from John Deere.

2186 is the year that women will finally achieve wage parity, according to the World Economic Forum report released in the fall.

“When measured in terms of income and employment, the gender gap has widened in the past four years; at 59%, it is now at a similar level to that seen in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.”

So, it’s not really surprising the United Nations chose the theme “Be Bold For Change” for International Women’s Day earlier this month. Indeed, bold actions are needed to end the injustice women face in the world. Even in our country and industry, where women are granted equal rights, there is a very real gender wage gap and women are still expected to do the majority of the unpaid housework and child rearing.

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Bold actions look different for everyone. What is “bold” for me may be no big deal for you and terrifying still for someone else. What is important is we are consciously making the decision to step out of our comfort zone, even if it’s just to question the unacceptable “acceptable” sexism which exists in our society.

 

That was the message from Claire Cowan, one of the speaker’s at this week’s AWN event, held in conjunction with the Perth Soil & Crop Improvement Association.

IMG_2731Cowan described the spheres of influence we each have and how we need focus first on ourselves, then slowly move outwards to change our behaviour and eventually, hopefully, attitudes around us will also change.

“Get comfortable with your awkwardness,” she suggested, offering tips for how to react (or not react) when you face an inappropriate comment in the workplace or industry.

Addressing Your Spheres of Influence:

  • Recognize your own biases in the thoughts that enter your head or words and phrases you use.
  • Point out to your colleagues (especially men) when you witness sexism. They may not realize its happening.
  • Have a conversation with them about what they can do to support you and stand up against this behaviour.
  • Ask. Ask if your company has done a gender wage study and what they are doing with the results. Ask your commodity board the same question. Ask if they have a strategy to engage more diverse voices on the board.
  • Make it happen. I see many women leave the corporate world to run a business on their own. Whether you’re a farm or providing ag services, make sure your biases aren’t creating an unfair gender balance.

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Step Up, Speak Up, Get Social

Even still, standing up to speak in a meeting or putting our ideas out there is intimidating. I still get nervous and often miss the opportunity to ask a question in a forum, because I’m too scared to step to the mic.

If we get over this though, we can “expand our reach” even further, because as Christina Crowley-Arklie shared;

“Everyone can be good at communication. It doesn’t cost anything or require formal education.”

Christina may have been born a public speaker, but having personally witnessed shy 4-H members develop the confidence and skill to speak in front of an audience, I believe she is right.

Knowing your audience and how to catch their attention is key. Christina cited the U.S. election as an example of where this strategy was employed with incredible precision and great success.

Once you’ve prepped, Christina offered the following  tips on delivering a good presentation.

Tips For Delivering A Good Presentation

  • Warm up by saying the phrase, “Tip of the Tongue, the Teeth, the Lips”. It’s a tongue twister and will get you prepped to speak clearly when you take the mic.
  • Dress for success. If you look your best, you will also feel your best.
  • Get in your comfort zone. Arrive early and make sure all the technology works and you’re comfortable with it.
  • Have your necessary props. If all you need is a “clicker” and you plan to do more speaking or run future events, consider buying one and bring it along with spare batteries.
  • Eyes on the sky. If making eye contact freaks you out, scan the room looking just over people’s heads.

Finally, with social media providing us with an opportunity to share our message with lots of people, it is still very hard to create the personal impact and connection that a well-delivered presentation or speech can have. The best way to practice is by doing, so when you’re ready to reach that next sphere of influence, put yourself out there and be heard!

Follow Christina on Twitter  and check out her blog, The Passionate Voice. for more about public speaking, personal branding and social media.

Follow Claire on Twitter.

Special thanks to the Perth Soil & Crop Improvement Association and all the sponsors whose generous support made this event possible. 

AWN Chair Jen Christie on creating a network for the development of all women

In 2013 Jen Christie realized there was a gap in the Canadian agriculture sector for women’s professional growth and decided to do something about it by helping found the Ag Women’s Network. Jen shares about her own career path and lessons she has learned, as well as her hopes for AWN in the future. You can connect with Jen via her blog savvyfarmgirl.com or follow her on twitter @savvyfarmgirl

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

I grew up as the 6th generation on our family’s dairy and grain farm in beautiful Bruce County. My 2 brothers operate the farm alongside my parents now and I spend spare time there when I’m not traveling. We were involved in 4-H growing up, and I studied Agricultural Business at the University of Guelph, where I had ambitions to do “ag marketing” and work in the dairy industry. 

After graduation and several summer gigs at AI companies, I started at John Deere Canada ULC as a Marketing Rep. My only real responsibility was to learn. I worked for John Deere for 10 years in a variety of sales, marketing and most recently, dealer development roles. I traveled across Canada attending events on behalf of the company and realized I really liked industry relations and communications. I also learned a lot about brand management.

During that time, I was also still involved with 4-H at the national level as a Director for six years before taking on the volunteer role of Global 4-H Network Summit Chair. In October, I joined the 4-H Canada team to focus only on the Summit.

My role at 4-H is to oversee the Global 4-H Network Summit and also manage and deliver all the marketing and communications related to it. For the communications, I work with our agency but I am mostly on my own creating the plans, writing, editing images, coding emails, updating the website and posting on social media.

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Jen (far right) along with parents, brothers, and grandmother

Who is (or has been) your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

My family has always been a big influence on me. My parents worked hard to build the farm we have today and I may only be starting to really appreciate how much work that was. They are all a sounding board to me and my brothers regularly inspire me with their innovative thinking and work ethic. Although our communication styles might not be textbook, we do communicate and watch out for one another.

My Oma & Opa came to Canada after the war and they frequently remind us how lucky we are to 1) have food and 2) be farmers who can produce our own food. My Grandma is yet another strong woman in my life, who has taught me to love unconditionally.

I also have a couple mentors in the industry, who I have turned to when there are big questions I want to talk through, about my career or an opportunity. Both are informal relationships, but I’ve come to really value their perspective and appreciate their willingness to entertain my ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem. 

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

I had an opportunity to lead a very neat project. It was based on an idea that was still pretty new and I was honoured to be hand-picked to lead it by an upper-level manager. Unfortunately, I believed so strongly in the idea I missed getting proper buy-in from the rest of the management team.

When upper management changed, no one was able to explain the project goals or intent, and it appeared the project was unsupported. Despite having stuck to the original, approved plan, I took for granted how much everyone else needed to fully understand the project. I learned how important it is to make sure everyone is “on the bus”, especially when you are trying something new, because you never know when you will need that vote of support.

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AWN panel event at the Canadian Outdoor Farm Show office in April 2015

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career (that you think AWN members might be able to provide answers to or advice on)?

What do I do next? I’m on contract until the fall at 4-H. I am interested in so many different areas of agriculture – dairy, sustainability, marketing and communications, the role of women and food security. Deciding what path I will choose next is exciting but a little daunting! I’m planning to approach it the same way I did with my switch to 4-H. Evaluating the experience(s) I’d like to have and choosing this way.

What solutions, tools or processes do you think could be put in place to help advance Canadian women and specifically Canadian women in agriculture?

I’m a big believer that technology can give people a leg up, as long as they can access it. Affordable, high-speed internet in rural areas can give not only women but everyone in rural Canada, including northern Canada, access to better tools, like video-conferencing, webinars and online courses. I’m hopeful since the CRTC has deemed it an essential service that plans to extend coverage will be expedited.

As a founder of AWN, tell us a bit about what encouraged you to start the network?

The idea for AWN started when I was thinking about female mentorship outside my company. I didn’t know a lot of women in leadership in Canadian agriculture and those I knew of I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out too. At industry events, often a few of us would end up chatting about the opportunities and concerns we saw in our careers. The idea formed that we could connect solely for this purpose to share and learn from one another and at the Youth Ag Summit in 2013 I committed to holding an event.

That fall the first event was held in Guelph and the Facebook group was formed soon after. Initially, the audience was women in agri-business. As the group grew though, it became very apparent producers were interested in participating, and the opportunities for women in ag industry leadership was equally great.

The rest, as they say, is history!

What’s one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in helping build AWN?

We’re literally building from nothing so some days it feels like there are so many! Being volunteer-led we are constantly struggling to balance all the great ideas and the fast-paced growth with the time of our volunteers.

I’m super proud of our volunteers, especially our leadership team. As we grow and evolve, I think we’re getting our groove. We are all very proud of the AWN community and we have the members to thank for that. The support women have for one another is outstanding and we try very hard to encourage that even if we don’t always get it right all the time.

What is you vision for the future of AWN?

When we launched our new logo last year, we also defined our mission and vision. This was really important because it’s become our guideposts for what we will do going forward. We believe diversity in leadership is crucial for our industry’s future.

We want to lead this conversation in agriculture by continuing to provide opportunities for women, and men, to gain the skills and knowledge they need to take that “next leadership step”, whatever it is. It could be pursuing a promotion or running for a commodity board or maybe it’s just changing their farm business. If we can connect people to help make that happen, we are providing value. 

Do you have a piece of advice for young women starting their career in agriculture?

Take pride in what you do. Even if you’re not passionate about the work, when you take pride in your role and what you’re doing, you will be motivated to do the best job you can do. That is how you can prove yourself and earn the opportunity to ask for opportunities better suited to your passion. It also is a good way to check whether your values are aligned to your organization. If you find yourself unable to be proud of what you’re doing, then it could be a sign something is wrong and you need to speak up or move onto a new organization that is a better fit for you.

‘You have to do and try and fail, often, to really learn and develop from the experience’ – Jen Christie

What professional development resources have you found most helpful?

I’m a fan of the 4-H motto, “Learn to do by Doing”, because while there are so many awesome conferences and resources out there, you have to do and try and fail, often, to really learn and develop from the experience.  That’s why the MBA was such a good experience for me too. Using case studies and applied projects we tried to apply what we learned, and I took a lot away from that.

2 tools I found very good to better understand my natural strengths are Strengths Finder 2.0 and Kolbe A assessment.

As a marketing & communications professional working in digital a lot, there are a few other resources I use regularly: Unmarketing Podcast and Book by Scott Stratten & Alison Kramer; Everybody Writes by Ann Handley; Marketing Profs conference; Hubspot Blog

By Maggie McCormick

Canadian Young Speaker, Katelyn Ayers talks women in Ag – Read the whole speech.

Earlier this week, an article appeared on CBC about women in agriculture, featuring a fellow enthusiastic women in agriculture and Ag Women Network member, Amanda Brodhagen. The piece couldn’t have come at a more opportune time with the focus we are trying to highlight about the important role women play in our industry. The article itself has generated thousands of views and created such positive social media buzz. 

The work that Amanda is doing to be a spokesperson for our industry and for AWN, and the work that EVERY member of Ag Women’s Network is doing to champion women in agriculture is truly amazing. This conversation recently sparked a young woman by the name of Katelyn Ayers, to focus her attention on it when she competed this past fall in the 2016 Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture Competition (CYSA).

The CYSA competition is held annually, each November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) to provide a platform for Canadian youth in agriculture, aged 18-24 to share their views and opinions on pertinent topics in the industry. This year, one of the five topics that competitors could choose to speak too was “Old MacDonald had a farm…But what about Mrs. MacDonald?.”

Katelyn, hailing from the University of Guelph, Guelph, ON spoke to this timely topic and for her efforts, was named one of the top six finalists at the 2016 competition among a field of 30 competitors!

With the topic of discussion this coming holidays surely to be the role of women in agriculture and how we can continue to foster this movement for the betterment of agriculture in Canada, enjoy reading Katelyn’s speech from the 2016 competition to hear her valuable perspective. 

Congratulations Katelyn on a job well done and to YOU, our AWN readers and members who continue to keep the conversation alive and well on the vitally important role we a play as women in agriculture. Happy holidays (10 days to go!)

You can also watch Katelyn’s speech here on the CYSA youtube account.

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Have you have heard the song “Amarillo Sky” by Jason Aldean?

He says, “Lord, I never complain, I never ask why
Please don’t let my dreams run dry
Underneath, underneath this Amarillo sky.”

It’s a song about a third generation Texan farmer who is struggling to make ends meet, battling high fuel and low commodity prices. He works hard in the field every day. Driving his tractor another round to provide for his family.

But why isn’t the song written about his mother, aunt, sister, daughter or wife? I’m not criticizing Jason’s song. He’s not the only one who neglects the female farmer’s story. In almost every country song the farmer described is male. Turn on the radio and I can almost guarantee there will be a song playing about some guy in his truck or tractor.

Honourable judges, fellow competitors, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, my name is Katelyn Ayers. I am a young woman with aspirations of working in agriculture in the near future, and gender equality in agriculture is a topic that hits close to home.

I myself was raised on a farm, my dad is a third generation farmer. He does the majority of the manual labour on his own. Seldom does he ask for help when changing the oil in equipment or unloading a gravity bin of grain. I have always looked up to my dad as the hardworking fulcrum who keeps the farm operations running smoothly. My mom, on the other hand, deals with the farm financials and files the taxes every year. They exemplify the stereotypical roles of a married couple managing a farm. This was my norm. I helped with occasional barn chores and drove equipment but usually only when an extra hand was needed. Dad could do most things easier and faster.

When he took over the family farm in the early 90’s, 74% of farmers were male. Now, 20 years later 30% of farmers in Canada are women. That’s 80, 500 Canadians with numbers continuing to grow! This number is even bigger in organic agriculture. According to the Certified Organic Associations of BC, 40% of organic operators are female.

It was not until I started my degree in agriculture at the University of Guelph that I really considered the possibility of women taking on the central role on the farm. In fact, many of my female friends are going through succession planning right now to one day take over the farm! This was (at first) mind blowing to me! It was not how my family worked. Now, in fourth year, my perspective has totally changed! My example, my model, my norm, has shifted.

Now, I am going to give you some historical context of gender equality in the workforce within Canada. Females have been viewed as inferior to men for thousands of years. It wasn’t until 1916 when women first received the right to vote in Canada. This was a huge step towards gender equality. However, perceptions were only changed slightly. The man was still considered the breadwinner while the wife stayed home to cook meals and raise the children.

Fortunately, women gained momentum as the 20th century progressed, through establishing clubs and organizations like the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada, Women’s Labour Leagues and the Canadian Federation of University Women, just to name a few. Women’s Institute has played a significant role in enhancing female leadership in agriculture. The focus of this group is recognizing the importance of organizing rural Canadian women so they might speak as one voice on important issues. Today, it continues its long tradition of giving a voice to rural women.

Now, in the 21st century, women have come a long way from being just “housewife” material. We are taking on prominent roles in the workplace and making major contributions to society. More modern examples of women’s equality movements include the creation of the Ag Women’s Network and the Women in Ag Conference. The Ag Women’s network is about cultivating and connecting agricultural leaders. This 1500-member network provides a forum for women to share their experiences and learn from one another, fostering relationships and empowering women to push themselves further. Also, this past April, 600 women attended the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference in Calgary. Various hot topics were covered including “understanding how men view us and how to build a bridge in the workplace.” Despite these leaps and bounds made by women, there is still a ways to go before men and women will be considered on par around the globe. According to Catalyst Canada, Canadian women earn $0.82 to every $1 earned by men. Approximately 10-15% of this wage gap is due to discrimination.

The equality gap is especially evident in agriculture. A lack of work-life balance has been an ongoing issue for working women. According to Statistics Canada, on top of their jobs, women farmers are spending twice as much time as their husbands doing housework and three times as much time on childcare. This is likely due to the nature of the business. It is a heavily male dominated sector with the vast majority of those involved being men aged over 55, often with old-fashioned ideologies. Farmers need to evolve and realize that women engaged in agriculture is in fact normal. The close-mindedness passed from generation to generation of male farmers needs to come to a squealing halt. However, men are not the only perpetrators in this situation. There are also incidences of unconscious bias coming from women against their own gender.

Evidently, women haven’t exactly been welcomed into the ag industry with open arms. I’ve heard people make jokes like, if a family is without a son, the farm is destined for sale. Surnames will be forgotten and the farm will be lost. It is never considered that the daughter may want to keep her name and be interested in taking over the operation.

Women have a lot to offer the agriculture industry. The Harvard Business Review claims that companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk. Not only do they better address the concerns of customers, employees, shareholders, and the local community, but also, they tend to focus on long-term priorities. Women are breaking through the glass ceiling in agriculture.

Old Macdonald has owned the farm for years but I think it may finally be time to start succession planning so his keen daughter or granddaughter, Ms. Macdonald can continue the family tradition of farming. She’s ready to take over the tractor wheel and be the star of Jason Aldean’s next country billboard hit.

Win-win: Inclusivity for a growing industry

By Maggie McCormick

Agriculture is moving into some exciting spaces. Consumers are interested in what they’re eating, science and technology are advancing, and food, fibre, fuel and feed will never be unnecessary. Just because it’s exciting however, doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles along the way. Canadian agriculture is going to need talent to propel it to a place that allows farmers to continue to grow food efficiently, safely and in a way that pleases the end user all at the same time.

In 2012, the Ontario Agricultural College released Planning for Tomorrow, a report on hiring trends in Ontario agriculture. It found that demand for post-secondary graduates in the food and agriculture industry far exceeded supply. In the 2015 Canadian report by AgCareers, the job posting service saw a steady increase in agriculture job postings. In November, research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council determined “[t]he gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past ten years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs.” Scientists, engineers, software designers, marketing professionals, educators – agriculture is going to need them all and more.

In addition to the many positions available to be filled, millennials have said they expect to change jobs every three years. The high turn over rate means agriculture will constantly be competing for millennial talent, and that of their younger cohort, with the rest of the country.

What do we need to attract talent to agriculture? At a meeting I attended this summer, a bank executive was reflecting on what sectors needed to attract talent. “We know that for sectors to grow they need to have an appealing culture”. If that bit of wisdom holds true, to attract new talent and keep them we are going to need to keep building an inclusive culture.

By building an inclusive culture, newcomers to the industry will have positive experiences in agriculture. They will feel welcome, supported and ready to put down roots in the communities that support the industry. They will bring new ideas that will both support and evolve current practices.

In an inclusive industry, newcomers will better connect agriculture with customers. We need diversity in our industry to help us reach an incredibly diverse customer base. There are so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, traditions and needs to serve. Insight and ideas will be invaluable to growth.

Finally, an inclusive industry makes a healthier environment for newcomers, but also for those already working and living in this space. Becoming more accepting will help everyone feel safer to share their ideas and be true to their entire identity. It will be a space for open dialogue, and everyone will benefit from the culture.

Ideas for building the inclusive culture

Creating positive experiences

Agriculture is steeped in tradition, but often tradition can be a little hard to access if you’re new. Just because some hasn’t participated in a culture doesn’t mean they won’t want to! Celebrate traditions by sharing them and making them easy to access, without judgement. This industry is incredibly unique and has so many opportunities outside the workplace. By inviting newcomers to participate and explaining traditions, it will make agriculture more inclusive and stand out.

An understanding environment

While we’re celebrating traditions, let’s celebrate what newcomers are bringing to the industry. Maybe it’s their own traditions, maybe it’s their perspective on issues, maybe it’s new knowledge and expertise. If someone has an idea, they shouldn’t be shut down because “that’s not how it’s done”. Maybe the way it’s done is getting really worn out anyways! The HR Council notes that “[w]hen individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work, they will not engage fully as part of the team or in assigned work.” Ag has to be a safe space to share thoughts, feelings and experiences to attract engaged talent.

Open dialogue

To become more inclusive, we need to keep talking about it. Without discussion we will never be able to acknowledge our issues and try new things to fix them. After all that’s part of the reason AWN exists! There are some obvious ground rules to beginning a dialogue: don’t make assumptions and don’t force it. A good discussion involves a lot of listening, rather than jumping ahead. If someone has a unique perspective, they will share if they want to. Overall though, the more we discuss it, the more comfortable we will all be about addressing industry challenges.

In the end an inclusive culture doesn’t really need justification. “Welcome all people” is a statement I’m sure most can get behind. However, there are definitely some added benefits if the industry can grow and strengthen at the same time.

Wielding the power of words

By Maggie McCormick

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” J.K. Rowling

I hope you’re not sick of J.K.’s wisdom yet!

At a recent family dinner, we were discussing whether I would change my last name when I get married next year. This of course led to a deep dive into a multi-layered discussion of names. In our blended family, there are three different last names that also represent a mixture of ethnicities. My step-sister, whose last name is hyphenated Scottish and Chinese names, said that growing up it felt critical to her that she shared one of my step-mom’s names because so often people made assumptions that she was adopted based on her appearance. For her that name, that word, held the power of belonging and also deflection of other’s assumptions.

There are a lot of opinions out there about the power of words. To some, a word only holds as much power as you give it. Sticks and stones and all that. For others they are tools that can help or harm depending on how you use them. In my workplace we have lengthy debates about the use of a single word, because our communication roles are about perception – about how our words will be interpreted by the receiver.

Words are given power by the sender, but it’s most important that we consider the receiver first when we set out to build an inclusive environment.

A perfect example are jokes. A friend makes a joke about someone of a different ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, but you’re sure they would never discriminate or intentionally hurt someone with that background. For the receiver, that doesn’t really matter; nor does it matter if those joked about are present. Careless words, whether there is intended malice or not, can create a toxic environment.

The Meaning and Messages Behind Words

This effect is often referred to as “microaggression”, a term first coined by Prof. Chester M. Pierce of Harvard University in 1970 and has since expanded.

“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”Derald Wing Sue Ph.D. (Psychology Today)

A very useful way of illustrating the power of language, and how words might be microaggression, is with this diagram, below (based on this one about covert racism). This triangle reflects words that women might hear. At the top of the triangle are pretty hateful terms but less frequently heard (I hope!). Below the surface are the more common and subvert comments that men and women might hear, read or say everyday.

the-work-pyramid

As women in agriculture, we often discuss the phrases that get on our nerves and undermine our work. “Can I talk to the man in charge?”, “You’re much better looking than the last guy!” “Still waiting on a ring, eh?”. One time is annoyance. Heard regularly, these names, terms, and phrases deliver the message that our industry still lacks respect for women. Even if you’ve never heard them yourself, someone else might dissuade you from certain jobs or spaces because they know the environment that exists.

We can all imagine what other word triangles look like or know them from experience. They can be about anything –  sexual orientation, race, religion, even geographic location. I admit the word “citiot” used to be in my vocabulary and looking back I so embarrassed about that. But even if that particular word isn’t used, the attitude towards city living can be obvious in other word choices. What kind of environment does that create for urbanites who want to join our industry? What does that communicate to our customers, the vast majority of whom live in cities?

What We Can Do

So what do we do to build a more inclusive environment through our words?

It’s important to consider our unconscious biases. Jen and Joan wrote an amazing piece about unconscious bias in September and I suggest revisiting and sharing it. If so much about word choice is unintentional, we all benefit from shining the spotlight on our choices. I shouldn’t have had to move to the city to realize I needed to adjust my attitude and the terms I use.

We can also ask for change. Calling it out when you hear microaggression, whether it’s intentional or not, can create a better environment.

Most important though is to use the power to heal. In the CBC opinion piece “Why ‘they’ matters.”, Julian Paquette discusses pronoun choice and explains why word choice is so powerful to the receiver. It’s not just about the hurt, it’s also about the healing power. “…respecting people’s stated pronouns – though it may seem foreign at first – is a powerful act of respect and inclusion.”

Really thinking about and then choosing words that help and heal can go a long way to building an inclusive environment.

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.

BC hops producer paves the way for women in ag – Producer Profile Diane Stewart

Diane Stewart is one of the few female hops farmers in BC and she’s looking to connect

By Courtney Denard
Ag Women’s Network

15302279_10154964107833814_1581094137_oDiane Stewart is the owner of BC Hop Company, a 35-acre hops farm in Abbottsford, about 100 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.

The company, which got its start just two short years ago, is a family operation.

Diane works alongside her husband Dwane, her children Cam and Sarah, Dwane’s cousin Brian Zaporozan, plus a small team of employees.

Diane says both she and her husband grew up on farms but they never imagined they’d ever be in the business of beer.

It was succession-planning decisions around Dwane’s family dairy farm that propelled the couple into the burgeoning sector.

“These days you have to be milking 600 head to make anything viable out this end of the world and that wasn’t going to work for us,” she said.

So when a local craft brewer approached the Stewarts, an idea was formed.

There was also something personal going on.

In 2013, Diane was diagnosed with a brain tumour that ultimately had to be removed. It was the size of an orange, she says -luckily it was benign.

The tumour and the surgery left a lasting impact on Diane.

She has recurring issues like memory loss and has been told her personality is different since the extraction. “The tumour changed our lives. We looked back on everything and decided life is too short to do things that don’t bring you joy,” she says.

Diane was a stay-at-home mom until that point and Dwane had been running his own construction company for 22 years but the couple agreed it was time for something different.

Learning about an entirely new production system and market wasn’t easy.15271406_10154964109883814_271255020_o

Fortunately, Diane says the craft brewers were extremely welcoming and supportive so that made the journey a little smoother.

BC Hop Co. brought in the best equipment from Wolf in Germany; in fact, the company’s harvester is the first of its kind in Canada.

All of the fresh hops grown on the farm are sold to local l craft brewers and home brew suppliers.

The farm is active on the festival scene, as well, hosting two major events each year-BeerBq in July and the BC Hop Fest in the fall.

“It’s a lot of work and it’s a tonne of fun,” the farmer says.

As a woman in agriculture, Diane faces her fair share of discrimination.

For example, when BC Hop Co. is seeking new farming partners Diane is often ignored.

“They [male farmers] only want to speak to my husband. I have the exact same knowledge so I try to interject and I am literally shooed out of the room with the farmer’s wife,” she says.

“I end up speaking to the wife about the exact same thing because she doesn’t need to be ushered out of the room either.”

Working with equipment dealers is a more positive experience but Diane has to stand her ground. “As long as I am sure of myself, it’s okay. As soon as I show any kind of weakness or mention a man’s name, that’s it,” she explains.

Diane says the prejudice is hard to overcome and hurts the most when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable.

15303784_10154964109873814_843583046_oShe also says that BC does not have a lot of support networks for women in farming.

This is what led her to join the Ag Women’s Network (AWN).

Diane was looking for a space to connect with other females in the industry and a hash tag search on Instagram directed her to the group in a roundabout way.

She soon realized that AWN was formed in Ontario but decided to join anyway, hoping that one day the network would have a stronger presence on the West Coast.

Diane appreciates the conversation on the Facebook page, which includes motivational articles, book suggestions, and things you would talk to you friends about if you’re friends weren’t all from the city.

She sees a strong need for in person meetings too, especially in her area, which “is still run by the old boys club ” in her opinion.

“We as women need to build each other up more and not just on Facebook. Perhaps there is a place for regional AWN chapters,” she says.

For now, Diane plans on continuing her industry advancing work on the farm and supporting new entrants who want to join the sector.

She is open to connecting with other women in ag and says she can be found online and on social media.

Want to connect with Diane – you can check out their website http://www.bchop.ca/ or follow them on facebook or twitter @bchopco