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

Networking as an Introvert

By Stephanie May

Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I am an introvert! I would like to start off by saying, not all introverts are the same, but we do share many of the same traits. I am very shy by nature, and in some settings, I find it difficult to connect with new people, or walk up to someone I have never met and introduce myself. My past and current jobs have been either sales based, or client focused. I have had to find ways to overcome this obstacle so I can maintain existing business relationship, meet prospective new clients or customers, and build my personal network.

People wrongly assume that introverts don’t like people. This is not true. We thrive off of meaningful, deep conversations where we feel connected to another person. We do not care for small talk, and because of this, typically do not enjoy walking into a large group setting, or event where we don’t know anyone. We like spending time with ourselves. In fact, I think it is the number one requirement for being an introvert. If there was an application, it would read “Must be able to spend prolonged periods of time alone and with your own thoughts”. This is how we recharge and refuel. While extroverts often thrive off the energy of being around others, introverts receive the same feeling from being alone and processing their experiences, or reflecting on an encounter with another person.

So, how does one flourish in a career that demands high levels of social interactions and networking to be successful?

Play to your strengths

Introverts are good listeners. Think about your goal for attending the event, and ask questions relevant to your goal. I like to think of a couple of questions ahead of time, and prepare a few follow up scenario’s. It may sound like a lot of work, but typically I can come up with a few things on my drive to the event. I like to start out with a basic, or surface question, something easy to answer. Then, let the follow up questions lead into deeper conversation. Talking about the weather typically won’t help you achieve your goal in finding out more about a prospective client.

Suggestion:

Surface question: “Where are you from?”

Follow up questions:

  • If you are familiar with that area, tell them something you love about it, or talk about a connection to that area that may lead to a further discussion.
  • If you are unfamiliar, ask them where exactly it is and ask a question about the area. What is a popular nearby attraction, or what is that area known for?
  • How long have they lived in the area? If they are a farmer, you can ask about how many generations have been farming there. This question will then typically be a good introduction into more specific conversation about their operation.
AWN-leadership-team-greets-guests

AWN members practice networking at a Speed Networking event in June 2016

Find ways to become involved

Volunteer at an event. This is an excellent way to get to know people, while giving yourself a purpose at an event and a reason to interact. Offer to sit at the registration table at an industry meeting. You will meet everyone by name when they come in and find out what company they are representing. This way, during break, you can specifically seek out the people you would like to talk to, and gain a better handle on who is in the room.

Maintain the relationship

Always follow up. After all your hard work initiating the conversation, you don’t want to lose that person in your network. Once you are back in the office and have had some much-needed quiet time to recharge, make sure you stay in touch with the people you just met. A follow up “nice to meet you” email should be very simple, and often not even require a reply. Try not to have a big ask of a person on the first email, you just want something simple to help them remember you.

Suggestions:

  • Say hello and that it was a pleasure meeting them, and you hope your paths cross again
  • Send them a link to an article or resource that is relevant to a discussion you had
  • Send them a link to your company newsletter, or ask if they have a newsletter you can subscribe to in order to stay up to date on their business

Keep in touch long term. In order to keep the relationship, you want to ensure a minimum contact of 1-2 times a year.

Suggestions:

  • Schedule networking follow ups with people in your calendar as a reminder
  • Always keep in mind people that are in your network, and send them information relevant to their business
  • Send congratulations on an achievement (personal or professional), or birthday wishes
  • If you are travelling to their town, ask for a restaurant recommendation or an activity to do while visiting. You don’t always have to offer to see them while you are there

This week, I challenge my fellow introverts to make a new connection! Use AWN Facebook group to reach out to someone you have never spoken to, comment on a post, or reply to someone’s tweet! Happy networking!

Winter Warm Up – Challenge yourself!

Being your best self is something that takes constant thought and adjustment to adapt to the ever changing world around us.
We at the AWN would like to challenge everyone to set some goals this week as we discuss professional and personal development. Sign up for an online course, learn a new skill or practice public speaking; no matter how big or small the task seems to be, any action toward those goals will not be wasted.
“When you develop yourself to the point where you believe in yourself so strongly that you know you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, your future will be unlimited.” – Unknown.
Reflecting on my own development milestones, I realize that I would not be the person I am without my mom. I am a natural non-joiner, I’d happily spend my time by myself working on the farm or reading. My mom had to push me on the bus to get me to kindergarten, and every 4-H club and camp I’ve ever gone to. I never wanted to go, and then I ended up never wanting to come home either. I always have a great time once I’m out but it takes some motivation to get me there. Some people are extremely introverted and require a lot of energy to do things that extroverts seem to do so easily. We are all so different and will have different ways of approaching personal and professional goals.
Throughout the week I hope that you will join us in sharing your own experiences and goals for development and, as always, we will continue to share and not compare as we are all at different stages of our lives and careers. We hope to hear from everyone: from shy members who have yet to comment on AWN content, to the seasoned public speakers in the group. We are a very diverse group of impressive women and we are looking forward to hearing from you over the week, especially on our Online Networking Social on our Facebook Group Friday, January 13 at 7pm EST, and #AWNChat on Twitter Saturday, January 14 from 11:00 am until noon EST.

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.

How can we make the agricultural industry more inclusive?

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” J.K. Rowling

By Maggie McCormick

This week, we asked several people to answer the question, how can we make the agricultural industry more inclusive? Here they’ve shared their ideas from each of their unique perspectives.

“Agriculture has many different meanings and practices across the world and from individual to individual. For First Nations people here in Canada, recognizing traditional knowledge and teachings that exist within communities and respecting the differences that exist between different nations is a place to start when looking at making agriculture more inclusive. Some nations focused on agriculture production, while others have had limited exposure. Listening to the needs and wants of all generations is a key place to start when looking to work with First Nations communities.” – Marlene Paibomesai

“This is such a great question with so many answers. For me personally, inclusivity focuses on physical/mobility challenges. I use a manual wheelchair which requires ramps, wide enough doors and adaptable equipment. Through 4-H I was given the opportunity to show various types of livestock which would not have been possible without the support of others. See how a person can interact with an animal and help make it possible for them.  I’m currently looking into driving, and in the agriculture context, farming equipment would have to be adapted to meet my physical needs. I’m currently not aware whether this is available or not, but if it’s not, it’s something that should be thought of and done. My limits have been all my life, but some may unfortunately come to an accident where life is changed for them and adapted equipment would be important for them to keep doing what they love to do. For the office side of agriculture, make the businesses of agriculture equal opportunity to work behind the scenes in, whether that’s office jobs or even those jobs that go to different events to promote their industry.” Lesleigh Elgie

“The first step is to recognize that the industry is already filled with diverse people. From ethnicity, religions, family structures, genders, and sexual orientations, the ag industry has many people with a different narrative than traditional ones. Recognizing this, and rejecting the notion of a single narrative, is the first step of many needed to create an industry that is inclusive, safe and accessible for those with differing identities.” Martin Straathof, Guelph Pride Committee

“Born and raised a city girl in Toronto, I know how few resources there are for learning about opportunities in agriculture; it is an industry that is rarely presented to urbanites as an option. Careers in marketing, journalism, research, sales, and business management go unnoticed because all we see are farms. If we could showcase how dynamic and expansive the industry is to kids at a young age, specifically in city schools and at downtown fairs and events, and celebrate, not denigrate, their “innocence” in ag, we would go a long way to building inclusivity for urbanites.” Holly McGill

I’ve experienced people creating an environment of “in” vs. “outsiders”. Oddly, this has come from people who likely experienced this from someone else, but are just perpetuating it as a defence. People enjoy being comfortable, but to make change we are going to have to make things uncomfortable and call it out.” M. Wilson-Wong

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.

A place for all people in agriculture –Industry Profile: Sonya Fieldmeier

Originally from Northeast Saskatchewan, Sonya Fieldmeier is a research associate for Ag Quest in Saskatoon. Sonya generously agreed to share about her career in agriculture, discovering her lesbian identity, and her perspective on how we can create a more inclusive industry.

awn-sonya3Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up on a grain farm in Northeast Saskatchewan near a village called Ridgedale. My primary schooling was taken there in a school with 65 kids K-12. Our small school was closed in 1998 and we were sent to Tisdale for high school. I attended the University of Saskatchewan and got my degree in Agronomy with a minor in Agricultural Economics. My father and his brother had grown the farm into a large operation by the time I finished my education, and I came home to work with them for a couple of years.

Tell us a bit about your career path and your current role.

I decided to leave the farm due to my aversion to risk. My wife and I then moved to Saskatoon and I started off as a retail agronomist. I found that sales are not my strong suit and quickly began looking for a more hands-on career. I found a position covering a parental leave with an independent research company called Ag Quest and have been there for 7.5 years now.

When did you identify you were a lesbian, and when did you share this with your community (or family)?

I always knew I was different from my friends, but there were no openly LGBT folks in my community, so I didn’t even realize that it was a thing until Ellen came out on TV. There were a couple of teachers in my school everyone knew were gay, but refused to acknowledge it. This made me think it was something shameful that should be hidden. So I thought, “surely that’s not me, I’m a good person.” It took a while for me to accept that it wasn’t a bad thing, just different. I came out while in university. I told a few close friends and my family who were all very supportive. The rumour mill took care of making sure everyone else knew.

Have you found your community to be accepting and supportive?

Ridgedale is a wonderful community.  My wife and I were married there in the town hall. The Co-op put out a donation box, same as they do for any local event, and we received a lovely gift of cash and a card signed by everyone in town. When we moved to the city, they had cake at Coffee Rowe to wish us luck. We hope to move back there in the near future.

awn-sonya1Has your LGBTQ+ identity influenced where you’ve chosen to live and work?

Its hard to say whether this is just due to my personality, but I’ve always been really nervous doing cold calls to farms. My appearance is quite androgynous so there is often an awkward moment when I’m mistaken for a man. I’ve become used to it and it doesn’t bother me much anymore, but that may have influenced my choice to work in a career that limits the amount of interaction I have with new people.

 In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry (or any industry) be more supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals?

Company’s need to ensure that all employees are aware of their human resources policy and also ensure that it is enforced should any discrimination occur. It is important for LGBTQ people to know that their employer will protect them from hate.

In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry encourage more diversity and be more inclusive?

I would like to see employers ignoring the name at the top of a resume, and instead focus on the education and experience of the candidates only.  I also believe that media has a big role to play in shaping public opinion. Seeing more diversity in coverage of agricultural events or farm focused advertising in magazines, TV and online will help everyone realize that there is a place for all people in this industry.

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 the agriculture industry has been doing very well in this regard. Enrolment at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources is majority female now, and it seems that a nearly equal number of men and women are employed by many ag companies. Of course we all know about companies or organizations that are still the “old boys club”, but hopefully we can see them opening their doors a bit more soon.

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

Lead with your knowledge. The most successful women I know are always able to impress when they reveal their expertise up front and refuse to let anyone undermine their strengths.

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

My dad, he taught me the value of patience. He raised me to appreciate the magnificent diversity of nature and how each plant and animal has a role in the ecosystem. I’ve chosen to make my career in the agriculture industry because of my dad’s influence. As a kid, I spent as much time as possible out with him on the farm and he encouraged me to get my degree in agriculture.

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

Misinformation and education regarding science, agricultural technology and food safety.

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By Maggie McCormick

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.