What’s Your Advancing Story?


What was the environment these Ontario farm women faced when they returned from the Royal to their rural communities  in 1932?

The Advancing Women Conference in October was exciting and thought-provoking, promoting an environment of interaction and determination.  Returning to everyday life was challenging, but, it is here that the advancing of women in agriculture will really happen.  One opportunity leads to the next and we learn to maximize each opportunity.

It has never been easy to sustain inspiration when resuming daily routines.  Rural women of the past, who had limited opportunities for advancement, must have faced overwhelming challenges when they returned to their more sheltered home lives. I was given a family photograph, taken in 1932 beside the familiar walls of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, featuring 105 young women gathered as guests of the Ontario Department of Agriculture. Their pride and timid excitement is evident even in sepia. What are their stories of advancement?

The RAWF has been advancing the community of agriculture for over 90 years. Those familiar walls could tell a unique story of the heritage, heartbreak and happiness of rural life.  The archways and stall boards have seen generations proudly prepare and present exhibits and then deal with the thrill or the disappointment of competition.  My 2015 visit to The Royal proved again that, while steeped in tradition, this annual celebration continues to provide vital opportunities for advancing young and old, rural and urban, male and female.

Each of us needs to seek out opportunities to advance ourselves and to advance others.  Words inspire but actions make change. Opportunities is a noun. Keep it plural! Advancing is an adjective & a verb. Doubly important!


Advancing Women in Ag Wrap-up

This blog post was written by Anna Roberts, who won a free registration to the Advancing Women in Ag conference with her entry about why women need a voice in agriculture.

A brief prologue;

Hi, my name is Anna. I am an Ontarian, a parent, and an avid ‘let’s try this’-er. I am also a farmer.
Oh…and I’m a woman!

A few weeks ago I had the extreme privilege to be invited to attend the Advancing Women in Ag Eastern Conference in Toronto, and was included within an inspiring group of 450 women who are also involved in agriculture.


It was such diverse group of ladies, from those who still remember the smell of ‘purple paper’; who can tell a bull calf from 50ft. away, or recite today’s market prices off the top of their head, to those of us who’s dreams of lush green pastures and 20-hour days are just beginning to unfold.

But the best part… how each woman had her own story.

Bonnie Schmidt reflected on how life is a contact sport; it’s not about what you know, it’s about what you can do. Jeff Leal reminded us that each challenge is an opportunity, while Cheryl Fullerton encouraged us to be purposeful, embrace (our) ambition, be proud and believe (in ourselves). Dr. Marla Shapiro pointed out that our core values do not change, our priorities do, so that we may always know the difference when trying to find balance in our lives. Susan Blair mentioned that perfection is subjective and noted how we must expand our thinking and allow ourselves to view things differently if we wish to grow. Finally, Kathleen Wynne urged that strength is intellect. It is education. It is creativity, and that, as women in agriculture, we must be strong.

Premier Wynne and Anna Roberts

Premier Wynne and Anna Roberts

Jennifer Christe (AWN Lead) and Anna Roberts

Jennifer Christe (AWN Lead) and Anna Roberts

Looking back; after days of chores, hours of school work, time spent trying to save a sick calf, fix mixers, stay awake during over-nights at the dryer, and finally making it home only to reheat left-overs before I head back out for the morning milking… the message is clear:

Do what you love. Follow your passion. Embrace your ambition.

Never apologize for who you are.

Lessons that may apply to anyone, yet, provide a special significance to those women working within our male-dominated agricultural industry. Lessons encouraging us to embrace our differences as women, and lessons that I may not have taken to heart had I not been given this chance to peek inside the hearts & souls of these speakers.

I will always look with admiration to those who have followed their passions, admitted their weakness, shown their strength, & celebrated their uniqueness as women – who continue to give me hope that it is because I am a woman, that I will go on to move mountains.


What is All This Conversation About Women in Ag About Anyway?

There’s been a lot of talk about women in agriculture lately. The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council recently launched the “Supporting the Advancement of Women in Agriculture” project, the Advancing Women Conference has attracted over 1400 women in less than 2 years and and Country Guide recently featured us in their article “Agriculture’s Glass Cieling“.

Some are likely wondering though, “Why are we talking about this?” Women have the right to do whatever job they choose in agriculture. Are we creating an issue where this is none? We’re promoting equality, but are we in fact achieving the opposite by focusing on women? Why isn’t there a “Men’s Ag Network”?

All good questions if you’ve never worked in an environment where you are the minority. While more women are entering agriculture all the time, the industry is still predominantly led by men and though hard to believe, women continue to face prejudice daily. The issue can be particularly bad on farms, where women are treated as something less than their male counterparts. Countless women have shared stories of sales reps (male and female) ignoring them, insisting on talking to their husband or father, and not talking their role on the farm seriously.

Admittedly, the situation is better for women working in agribusiness, where most clients trust their reps based on their knowledge not gender, yet it still happens. Our industry has perpetuated this mindset and if this wasn’t reason enough, there is the fact of the shockingly low number of women in leadership roles in Canadian agriculture. In fact, only 8 of 65 national and provincial agriculture associations are led by women, women are underrepresented on industry boards and in corporate management, even though more women are enrolled in and graduating from life sciences programs, including agriculture, than men.

This isn’t about “replacing men” with women either. It’s about transforming agriculture so our best and most talented people, regardless of gender, have the opportunity to excel and reach their full potential in this industry. This isn’t possible without a culture of support and empowerment. People are motivated to try harder and reach further when they feel valued. It’s also important people believe they can succeed, so the more women see of others achieving success in agriculture, the more likely they will try that much harder. With many industries facing this bias, agriculture stands to attract the best talent going forward if we can embrace the strengths women bring to the board table.

This also means allowing more women to be at the table. Just because there’s one, that doesn’t mean there can’t be more and sadly, women might be one of the biggest culprits of this mentality. Luckily, for every story I hear of a “queen bee” in agriculture, I hear many more of women leaders giving a boost to those coming up the ranks. These leaders recognize that high tides rise all boats, and providing support and encouragement to other young men and women only leads to further success for the whole industry. They believe there is value in sharing their experiences and ensuring others learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, even with these female leaders keen to help, they may not always be easy to reach out too for young women starting out in their careers.

This is where the Ag Women’s Network comes in. Though still in our infancy, there is a real need in the agriculture industry today for women to have a safe forum to network, learn from one another and support each other’s ambitions. In doing so, women are empowering each other to not only face day-to-day challenges, but preparing themselves to possibly step up to tackle greater, industry-wide challenges. And although there are women’s professional groups and many agricultural organizations, none are serving the intersection of both.

One of the goals of the Ag Women’s Network is to organize events “closer to home” for women working in rural Ontario to network with each other first and meet leaders within our own industry. We also want to keep our events and discussion as  accessible as possible to any woman in the industry. High profile networking organizations, such as the Women’s Executive Network, provide amazing speakers, but their venue (downtown Toronto) and price tag (upwards of $100) can be prohibitive for young women in agriculture to attend.

Finally, I think there is also considerable opportunity for women in agriculture to engage in more conversation with those outside our industry. Empowering women to step forward might also mean more women telling agriculture’s story. Without question, that’s something the whole industry can benefit from.

Announcing the Advancing Women Conference Contest Winner!

A big congratulations goes out to the winner of our first ever, contest winner! Anna Roberts, Ottawa, Ontario was selected from the entries received for her answer to “Why Women Need a Voice in Agriculture”. We are excited to meet Anna next month at the Advancing Women Conference in Toronto, which she will be receiving a free registration!


Our contest winner, Anna Roberts, get close to a farm friend.

We were thrilled with all the entries and greatly appreciated the thought and consideration given to the topic. It was very clear this is a topic many are passionate about and we wish we could’ve awarded everyone a prize. Be sure to check out all the answers. Here is Anna’s winning response:

Believe it or not, our agricultural industry is already run by ‘women’! Our Cows, Ewes, Hens, & Sows are the very breath of our business, and it is upon their remarkably unique ability to create life that we rely.

A woman may be many different things throughout her lifetime; a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend… a mother. Over the past century we have developed & honed our voice as women and have persevered for stable footing as honest equals to our men. While we must, and do, embrace this equality to our fullest ability, we must also celebrate that which makes us uniquely capable as famers & active members of our Ag Industry. It is in this, perhaps the singularly most phenomenal part of life, that women can provide a unique understanding & perspective to what might otherwise be overlooked as the mundane, as a necessity.

We have a voice, but we can’t just speak. We must sing. We must dance, paint, show our passion & forever enthrall with what our perspective can offer the world & our industry.

Tell Us Why Women Need a Voice in Agriculture & You Could Win Registration for Advancing Women

Thumbs-up-for-Advancing-Women-contestWe are so excited to be partnering with the Advancing Women Conference to give away 1 (one) registration to the Toronto event this fall! We know there are many women in our industry who would benefit from attending this incredible event. Unfortunately, perhaps not all have the means, so we want to make sure one lucky individual does!

Here’s how you win:

  • In the comments below this post, explain, in 140 words or so, why you feel women need a voice in agriculture today.*
  • Tweet about your answer with a link back to this post. Here’s a nice, short url you can paste into your tweet: http://wp.me/p5xs9y-1Z
  • Remember to use the hashtags #womeninag so we can find your tweet
  • Be sure to follow us on Twitter and subscribe to receive blog and event updates
  • Be willing to tweet during the Advancing Women Conference and write a blog post afterwards about your “top 3 takeaways”

Contest closes Friday, August 28 at midnight. The winner will be chosen by the Ag Women’s Network executive team based on the following criteria:

  • Passion and sincerity
  • Creativity and depth of thought
  • Structure of answer and clarity of idea

The winner will be contacted no later than September 4, 2015. Winner is responsible for making travel and lodging arrangements at the conference. Prize includes conference registration only (approximately value of $540). Unfortunately, only new registrants will be eligible to win. Ie. We will not be reimbursing any registration costs already incurred. Winners must be 18 years of age or older in the province in which they reside. Legally, here’s some other stuff we need to tell you.

* Your comment may be used in future communications (website, email or social) by the Ag Women’s Network.

The Advancing Women Conference – East is being held October 5-6, 2015 at the Weston Harbour Castle in Toronto. Farm and Food Care Ontario is sponsoring transportation from London and Kingston. Don’t miss the premier ag women’s networking and leadership development event this side of the prairies!

What is the Advancing Women Conference?


Earlier this spring I attended the Advancing Women in Ag Conference in Calgary on behalf of my employer and along with three of my colleagues.  I was a skeptic. The thought of attending a women-in-agriculture conference was not on the top of my things-to-do list, but I was strongly urged by my boss to attend.

“It will be a great networking opportunity,” he reminded me.

So I went. The speaker line up was intriguing, I had to admit. Where else can you hear Kristine Stewart, the head of Twitter Canada speak one day and Debbie Travis speak the other? Both interesting women with a great story to tell.  And it really is all about telling stories. Everyone has a story to tell and sharing those stories helps everyone. It reminds you that no matter what you are going through, someone else can relate. That is one thing I took away from this conference. Each speaker had great advice or was a source of inspiration for the approximately 600 female agricultural professionals in the room. There are themes from the conference I still think about; chase your dream, just ask – give people the option to say yes, never say no out of fear and my ultimate favourite, from Debbie Travis: Dream it, Do it, Live it! Debbie Travis was by far the highlight speaker for me, and I just may have found my next vacation destination at her new Tuscan retreat in Italy!

The conference presented topics for discussion that are typically overlooked when talking about careers in agriculture. Susan Blair tackled one such topic head on, which was also an important one for me. A Saskatchewan-raised farm girl who is now the Executive Director, Animal Health for Boehringer Ingelheim, spoke about the tough choices she had to make to leave the farm and take a job in corporate agriculture. She reminded the attendees that it’s alright to make those tough decisions and to do what needs to be done. Those jobs are very important to the agriculture industry and people with hands on experience are needed to fill them.

The two days turned out to be an important experience for me. While I was there, I was in the middle of a major life-altering decision, and it made many of the messages from the event resound with me and even help me have confidence in the decision I was making. Check out the #AWCWest2015 thread on Twitter for updates from the conference. I was also able to catch up with colleagues, acquaintances, some old friends and do a fair bit of networking. I hate to admit it but my boss was right…but please don’t tell him I said that!  Look for me at AWC East in October. I’ll be there and I am looking forward to doing it all again!

– Cheryl H.