Denise Hockaday on tackling ‘firsts’ as a women in Ag-Business

Denise_1Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a dairy farm that was a two-family operation.  As kids we worked on the farm regularly and learned about hard work and responsibility.  The cows still need to get milked if you’re sick!  After high school, I attended the University of Guelph.  Not knowing where it was going to take me, I decided to enroll in Agricultural Business because I knew there would always be agriculture and always be business – I enjoyed both.  After graduating I started working in research with Monsanto on a new corn biotech trait for control of corn rootworm.  Over the years I worked in many different areas across the organization including operations, marketing, management of our seed business and now starting a new business for the company in Canada as Climate Business Lead.  Hard to believe I’m still here after almost 14 years!

 

Tell us about your role and what your “typical day” looks like.

Today, my role is titled Climate Business Lead for Canada.  About three years ago Monsanto acquired the Climate Corporation and it continues to act as a subsidiary of it.  I was asked to set up the business for Canada and bring it to life.  Since I’m always up for a challenge, I’ve taken that on. 

Here’s the more formal description: Denise is responsible for the Canadian launch and growth of the commercial business for The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, which aims to help farmers increase yields and reduce risk through Climate FieldView™ insights and decision tools.  

As for my typical day, I can tell you there is no typical day in my world…there hasn’t ever seemed to be one.  One day I might be on 8 hours of video conference and the next out traveling to attend or speak at a conference.  My calendar probably has more consistency year to year than day to day.  That being said, my day generally starts before 8:30 and runs until 5 – except on travel days and times when I need to work later with some Pacific coast or other global counterparts.

 

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Denise with Husband and two children

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

I personally find satisfaction from achieving goals.  They may be the smallest of goals (like getting through my to-do list or making sure the kids take a healthy lunch to school) or accomplishing larger goals in conjunction with a team (like launching a new business).  For me, it starts with having that goal in the first place and building a plan to get there.  You have to know where you’re going so that even if you have to take twists and turns along the way, you always know which way to point.  The other step I take is to prioritize.  I say “I have” to take them because it would be impossible otherwise.  Life and work demands for me are a constant triage and to prevent myself from going insane and keeping work and life harmony in check I have to prioritize.  Sometimes this means letting things go, being “okay with okay.”

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

I’ve gone through a lot of “firsts” for our company as a woman.  First woman at our ECAN management team, first maternity leave for my boss (who’d been managing for 20 years) and in our commercial organization, first female business lead for a few.  In all those cases, we had to learn as we went.  It was a challenge because there wasn’t any precedence, no laid out path, no one already had the answer. However, it served as an opportunity to shape how it could be in a positive way for other women in our organization.  I did learn along the way though, that as women we all have different desires and priorities and so although some precedence started to be built, it doesn’t mean that works for everyone. 

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

I have been fortunate to have had many positive influencers in my life. My parents and siblings taught me do it right the first time, even if it takes more work, what hard work means, giving hearts and supporting others wherever possible in addition to making sacrifices for others.

Managers and colleagues were folks who gave me confidence in myself when I didn’t, supporting my passion in making the “right” decisions and not always the easy or popular ones.

I did have one manager though that stood out. I would say he encompassed all of the things above and at the root of it all, he cared about people and the people in the organization.  He made the largest impact on my career because he wanted me to take on a new opportunity that didn’t make sense to me – because I was a woman.  His whole team was made up of men, in fact the organization was except for our administrator.  I asked him “why on earth do you want me to be on your team?  I just got married, I’m young (insinuating that I will most likely start a family soon) and I’m a woman?”  His answer to me was, “I want your voice at the table and you can make valuable contributions.”  If he had said anything else to me other than those words at that moment, I can tell you now I would not be doing what I am today…I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 10 years ago.

 I think the lesson is that sometimes, early in your career you don’t have enough experience to know what you are truly capable of but others see what you have to offer before you see it yourself. Those are times you need to trust that assessment made by someone else and trust yourself to know you can step up to the challenge. 

 

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?

Many years ago, I was at my wits end, work and life harmony was completely out of sync and I didn’t speak up.  I let it continue, communicating in a not so blunt way that I needed help and things needed to change.  Problem was, I kept finding a way to deliver and make things work.  Until one day, something else came to me and I erupted inside.  I took a day to compose my thoughts and had a very intentional, blunt conversation about my issue.  Thankfully it was heard, but I learned that I needed to be more blunt and intentional in topics that were important either for business or personal and not wait for an eruption point.

 

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

I often ask myself do I work to live or live to work?  I enjoy work and a good challenge.  At the same time my family is my number one priority.  I still have runway left in my working life and I wonder if the answer to my question changes depending on where you’re at in your career, age or just different for everyone?  I’d love to hear how others put that into perspective for themselves.

 

How do you define agriculture?

Wow, this is a tough one.  I think of agriculture as a foundational building block for the world.  It plays a critically important role for all of us to exist, sustain the earth and continue to evolve.

 

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

I think one of the most important topics that everyone in agriculture is facing right now is the disconnect we have with folks not engaged in agriculture.  Generally speaking, these folks don’t have a good handle of where their food comes from or what it takes to produce, nurture, process and deliver to the grocery store.  The same folks are also influenced by small groups that work to discredit what farmers do or communicate inaccuracies and the challenge is that those not engaged in agriculture don’t know when the info is right and when it’s wrong, or do not have the energy to dig further to find the truth.  As an industry, collaboratively, we are doing good things to have our voice heard, but this isn’t a small mountain to move.

 

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 think networking groups like AWN are important to help folks feel connected, share thoughts and ideas and help women not feel as though they’re on an island.  I find similar networks within organizations can also be helpful – many times other women are trying to answer the same questions as you!

 

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

I would say believe in yourself and be willing to try.  It’s okay not to know everything, but if you’re willing to try, learn or take risks, you haven’t left anything on the table. 

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. 

Mental health on the farm – trends seen by a social worker turned farm advisor

Michele Van Beers worked as a social worker in rural ontario for 30 years before switching into accounting. AWN writer Maggie McCormick had the opportunity to connect with her regarding mental health trends and concerns in Ontario.

michele_2Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up in a very large blended family on the outskirts of Strathroy. Both of my parents operated small businesses my father being a home builder and my mother owning a daycare centre, as well as eventually operating a veal calf farm. As with most rural families we were actively involved in all aspects of our own operation, in addition to being employed as farm labour within our community.

My first career path took me into the social service sector. I worked for almost 30 years in this field, beginning as support staff in residential programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, and then transitioning into the mental health sector. I worked front line for many years assisting people who identified as having mental health needs when they faced crisis’s and transitions in their lives. Over the years, I was able to develop my skills, build my education and seize opportunities which enabled me to work in senior management positions in the not-for-profit sector.

I am currently tackling my second tax season with Farm Business Consultants as a Local Tax Consultant (LTC) out of the London office. Being a local tax consultant is about building relationships and assisting people to not only meet their mandatory reporting requirements, but also assist them through foreseen and unforeseen transitions for their businesses and in their lives. All members are at different stages of development, growth, redesign, decline and/ or retirement from their businesses and sometimes life circumstances cause them to have to make hard and sometime exciting decisions. I really thrive on being part of their network of support and a trusted advisor to aide in their decision making.

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

2014 was a significant year of change for me, I was at a major crossroads with my career. I identified and seized an opportunity that had presented itself to me. I decided I was going to move out of the not for profit sector, and find avenues to apply my skills and unique learning experience in the corporate world. Going back to school was a significant undertaking, this at a time that I was also becoming a first time grandmother. I choose Business Administration – Accounting as my focus, as I believed that this program would round out my skill set and be beneficial in my next role. Graduating, I felt ready to apply my life and educational learning to a new role.

michele_1How do you define personal success?

To put it simply, for me being a success means that I am a part of a thriving family, I am an active member of a supportive community and I have a rewarding and respected professional career.

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

I am a big supporter of building a mentorship network and have embraced the opportunity whenever I have been able to. I have found it best for me to have diversity in the people to advise me and it is vital to continue to nurture these relationships. I have had the benefit of some very strong relationships with mentors over the years and as a result the mentorship has become reciprocal, which I have found to be very rewarding. I use these relationships and learnings to build my personal value statements which in turn guides my day to day decision making.

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?

For me personally, the mistakes I have learned from the most relate to balancing my responsibilities as an employee, a wife and as a parent, and forgetting at times to place emphasis to my own self-care.  I recall a time when my children were very small, I decided that I would work full-time overnights. My thinking at the time was this way I could engage in my children’s activities and school life, be the mom I wanted to be, I could still be a beneficial member of my work team and a success in my job, as well as financially contributing to my household at an equal level. The piece I didn’t emphasize was when I was going to sleep. I can laugh about it now, but following a year at this pace my house of cards crashed. I was exhausted and picking up the pieces was very difficult. I would like to say I never made that mistake again, but that is not true. What I can say is the challenge of the balance continued but with each new challenge and each decision made, I was better able to recognize when issues were arising and adjust the goal or plan as needed. I never again let things get that far out of balance for my family or for myself.

How can the agriculture industry build more resilient communities, and support those who may have mental health concerns?

I think we need to reframe how we look at the issue of mental health altogether. Society as a whole I believe, thinks of mental health as mental illness. They think of it as a sudden illness which you might be diagnosed with, perhaps receive treatment for and then it is managed and/or you’re better. However, what I believe to be true is that all of us experience our mental health on a continuum that shifts and moves based on what is happening in our lives and how we are equipped to deal with our circumstances. Two people experiencing the exact set of circumstances, but with different tools and support networks in place will manage their circumstances very differently and therefore the effect on their Mental Health will be vastly different. 

I believe the key to maintaining balance on the continuum in your mental health is in building your self-awareness and coping skills and to develop your personal network of supports. This is what makes you resilient to the impacts of stressors in your life. A network of resilient individuals who seek and offer support within their community are able to build and maintain a resilient community.

I believe that for the agriculture industry there are three main barriers to this development. First would be the personal isolation that is inherent to many in their roles. Many agriculture roles are remote and isolated, and although this is a part of the draw for pursuing this career it can also be a disadvantage when stressors happen and accessing appropriate supports. The second barrier to overcome is the demands of the roles themselves. People pursuing careers in a lot of traditional agriculture roles don’t work a standard 40 hours a week. They juggle many pressures and may not feel they are in a position to prioritize building their mental health resiliency. The third barrier I would identify would be the issue of stigma and perceptions of mental health in our communities. When we can get to the point that we can openly discuss plans to manage our own anxiety or depression as easily as I can discuss managing my diet because I am diabetic, we will be able to make real progress in this area 

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

I believe one of the most important issues in agriculture right now is the sustainability of it as a family based business. The desire to have an agriculture lifestyle and to raise families this way is becoming unattainable. The family demographics, financial resources required and business management skill requirements are all factors that are rapidly changing, and I wonder if the industry is prepared for assisting individuals to get ahead of this development curve in order to prepare for it. We can see that the large-scale operations are thriving, but when I speak with people individually they are concerned with the entire agriculture industry changing to be corporately run, and many are asking is this really what we want in the long run. 

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

Perspectives on learning

AWNWinter WarmUp 2017 has provided a great deal of food for thought on Personal & Professional Development.  There has been a dynamic flow of conversation around the experiences of “learning”.  One cannot help but notice the abundance of support people have expressed for each other.  We asked several AWN members to share unique perspectives on learning opportunities and we thank them for their reflections.  We all have a different journey in how, when and why we take on learning opportunities.  We encourage you to keep learning in whatever way has meaning for you.

‘Motherhood has been my greatest journey in self-discovery. It’s taken me far beyond any training programs I’ve done throughout my career, where I’ve learned so much more about myself and how I interact with others. Managing (and/or surviving) the behaviours of a toddler makes me feel like I can actually accomplish anything in my professional career.

Through social media and blogs, there is so much support for families trying to figure out how to be their best selves and the best parents. As with most online content, you have to sift through some extremist information, but I don’t feel like I’m alone when looking for help, ideas, or even some people to vent my struggles to. I’ve joined some Facebook groups with moms that have similarly-aged kids as mine, and they’ve been great resources for the past two years’ –  Kate

‘Going back to school was mostly a necessity for our family if we were to survive. The 80’s with high interest rates and very depressed prices, as well as ruthless banks, hurt us financially, emotionally, physically and socially. While my university classes were my night out, it was very, very tough juggling the four kids and all of their activities, along with the directions our farm had taken-growing fresh market vegetables & berries and Ag entertainment. Quite honestly, I do not know how I got through, guess I just tried to do what had to be done’- Diane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

‘January is the middle of what we call conference season on our farm. From mid-November to the end of March there seems to be one meeting or another, a conference here and a conference there. For me it means hitting the road and heading to Michigan and Montreal, Toronto and Connecticut. Attending these meetings takes time away from my day–to-day work, making things a little harder to get done and puts many miles on my truck, but I feel the trade-off is worth it. Seeking to find out what’s new and exciting is not only interesting, but important. In an industry as dynamic and diverse as ours, it is essential to continue engaging and learning from those around you. In the words of my dad “we go to these events to ‘learn what we don’t know’”. To grow as an individual and as a business, new ideas and discussions are key. For me this means taking the time to attend and learn from the wide variety of workshops, meetings and conferences available across the region. From farm management events like FarmSmart, or Dairy Sen$e to personal development like Advancing Women there is something for everyone. In November, I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Young Farmers Forum in Toronto. The two day event showcases a wide array of topics for young farmers from across the province to discuss, debate and learn from. Being able to spend two days in a room filled with young people passionate about agriculture instils in me a sense of positivity and optimism.

At an event such as this we have the opportunity to learn from each other, as well as the experts. We can learn from each other’s success and, just as importantly, from the missteps and mistakes made along the way. By doing this we collectively move forward. Discussion and collaboration are invaluable tools, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of any opportunity to present itself, as often as possible. There are many ways to do the same thing; the trick is finding what will work for you. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the classroom. Learning is an ongoing experience that we can all embrace’   – Kara

‘When individuals take the leap of faith to try something completely new, such as the performing arts, the results can be amazing.  The ability to handle new situations with an extra boost of confidence can be carried with you your whole life through.  Watching people grow and take on a new challenge is also motivating to others’ – Robyn

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.

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.