AWN Profile: Stephanie Lee Berger

Stephanie Lee BergerStephanie Lee Berger is a woman with an interesting past. Before joining Green Tractors John Deere in Nobleton, Ontario she had a unique career in film. She followed her father’s footsteps after completing her degree at Seneca College in Business and Marketing and became an armourer showing film stars how to use firearms. In both careers she has faced opportunities and challenging situations. Together these experiences have made her the woman she is today. Stephanie now lives with her boyfriend on his family’s dairy and cash-crop operation in Loretto, Ontario. If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie after reading her profile, contact her via Twitter (@stephanieleeb) Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/StephanieLeeBerger) or through email (stephanieleeberger@gmail.com)

To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.

I grew up in a unique and inspired household. I am the third generation of women born in Nobleton, Ontario. I have two incredible people that I am very proud to call “Mom and Dad”. My father is from the South of France – so that is where I get my love of good cheese, wine, art and fashion. I am bilingual, as a result, and am of both Canadian and French citizenship. His career was in the film and television industry, which I’ll explain more later. My mother has been totally blind since I was four years old. She’s incredible. She has taken a massive inconvenience, and turned it into an avenue to help others. She currently walks alongside her fifth Dog Guides of Canada Canine Vision Dog Guide, Lotus. Together they travel the continent spreading awareness about the importance, and gift, that a dog guide is for people with disabilities and ailments. She also has raised my younger brother (who is also legally blind) and I to be strong individuals and to be brave.

My closest friends would tell you that I take too many pictures, bring too much food to parties, bake too often and have too much mascara. But they may also tell you that I have a creative, craft-nerd soul, a big heart, go for long drives to clear my head, and love the roar of a diesel engine. And that it’s rare to find me wearing any footwear other than cowboy boots. I have nineteen pairs!Stephanie's Boot Collection

I am a dairy-woman in training, and have certainly embraced the work, the dedication and the passion. I’ve finally found where I need to be.

Before working in agriculture you had a career in film. Please tell us more about that.

My father has been a very influential player in the Canadian film and television community since 1955. He started as a horse-wrangler and cowboy for films, then became an actor and stuntman (Canada’s FIRST!), then moved on to work as a property master, special effects, and eventually foresaw the trend of the use of firearms in productions. From this our family business, “Shooting with the Stars” was born.

As an Armourer, our job was to provide safe training to actors and actresses to properly (or improperly – whatever their role may call for) use a firearm on film, and provide the equipment as required on-set.

This was my first taste of being a female in a very male-dominated workplace. My knowledge and expertise, and young age, were questioned from time to time, but I learned very quickly to take it in stride. In retrospect, I feel that being a woman made the actors feel more at ease and open to learning. It was my job to make sure they felt comfortable and of course, look natural.

I’ve been so fortunate to work with the likes of Sofia Loren, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Danny DeVito, Jackie Chan, Diane Lane, Colin Farrell, Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Love Hewitt… to name a few.

My truest honour was to work alongside my father. When Dad was in his 73rd year he had some serious health issues, and I had to make the decision for him to slow down. As long as I stayed in the business, he would too, and I wanted him to bow down gracefully and enjoy his life, since he had given us so much. This was a heartbreaking decision for me and one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make. But, just months later, he had a stroke and a seizure, so it was a blessing in disguise that I left. At 83, he is now in great health, and is enjoying retirement with Mom and the dogs.

What was the transition like between your career in the film industry to agriculture?

The transition was a challenge, I felt like I had no direction. I worked for an incentive marketing company in the city, but felt that the corporate environment wasn’t exactly what I wanted, especially after my experience in film as a freelancer. One day, on a whim, I decided to visit our local Green Tractors John Deere dealer in Nobleton. The Davis family had been friends of ours for many years and I ask if they needed anyone “to wash tractors”… That is literally what I asked. A few days later, I started at our Brampton location in sales. I will admit I had no idea what I was doing. I had always been a bit of a gearhead, but I had to prove myself, especially since I was a woman. I learned about the parts department while I was there, which was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done; I learned the equipment, inside out. I worked there, selling small stuff for about a year. Little did I know, that I was being groomed to do marketing, advertising, and sales for our (then) three stores. I moved to our head office in Nobleton, and just celebrated nine years with the company.

What do you do in your current position?

We now have seven locations all over Ontario. I do all of our market forecasting and planning, budgeting, advertising campaigns, promotions, events and clinics, sponsorships, customer experience and about a million other things. And I still sell equipment. It’s quite a task to balance, but I like the challenge.

Professionally we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?

Personal success is finding something you love to do every day – and loving it so much that it doesn’t feel like an obligation. I feel that success comes to everyone in different ways – whether it be professional or personal. Important steps for me are: 1. Know who you are; 2. Learn what you want from life (it takes time!); 3. Find unconventional ways to get there! 4. Make time for yourself. Not your family or spouse or children – just YOU; 5. Celebrate the little hills, as much as the big mountains; 6. Constantly create new goals, whether it be mastering a new recipe, a yoga pose or the perfect solution to handling emails. And celebrate them!

What’s the biggest professional/personal challenge you’ve had to face?

The biggest professional challenge I’ve had to deal with would definitely be making the choice to leave the family business. I’ve also dealt with a lot of adversity in both of my careers since I am a woman who chose “non-traditional” roles. There were times that I would get defensive and angry or sad, or feel defeated, because I was being treated differently or questioned because I am a woman. But each time that would happen, I used that energy to learn from it. Rather than lash out and use the “girl card”, it tasted so much better to simply “prove ‘em wrong” by doing an amazing job. As time went by, in film, I created a name for myself and I went to work, did my job gracefully, and always got called back. Just like the guys did.

Stephanie Lee BergerSelling equipment, as a woman, is a different story altogether; that would take days to summarize, but I will say this: There are some people that question my knowledge, because I am a woman, not because I am me. But once they feel my firm handshake and let me help them find solutions – those misconceptions tend to melt away. A talented, good person is a talented, good person… regardless of their gender.

Who is your biggest influencer/mentor?

My mother, Beverley, and my grandmother, Lillian. Before she lost her sight, Mom sold vehicles for the Ford Motor Company. In the 1970’s, it was rare to see a female salesperson at a dealership. She faced a lot more judgment than I ever will, and she always approached it with grace and a smile. I also admire my Mom for raising two kids that she could not see. She likes to say that we “challenged” her. I take that as a compliment, because we gave her the drive to get up and to move past her disability and carry on with life.

My Grandmother sold industrial steel in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, which I can imagine being nothing short of a challenge. She worked hard, kept great business relationships, and was efficient and organized. She retired as a well-respected and successful lady. When I feel frustrated by that guy who said, “Oh, you can’t know anything about tractors…”, I remind myself of what Mom and Gram had to plow through to pave the way for us all today, and I smile, and respond with “How can I help?”.

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

I am at the point in my life that I will soon be ready to think about starting a family and I often ask myself how I plan to deal with that. Will I continue on or will I be on the farm full-time to raise a family? It’s a huge decision.

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the art, science and business of tending to the earth, cultivating crops and raising livestock, for food and other products. I also define it as a labour of love and a series of constant, ever-changing experiments.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN)?

I enjoy the idea of being in a group of women who are tied to agriculture in so many different ways. We all have a story to tell, and so much experience and knowledge to share. It is very empowering to see lenders, reps from seed companies, writers, a lawyer, mill marketers, livestock association staff, researchers, communicators, Nuffield Scholars, primary producers, vets, an architect, equipment marketing managers, salespeople, retired schoolteachers and Aggie students alike, all in one room – coming together thanks to one common thread: agriculture. I like that when I leave an “AWN” meeting, I feel energized, and my brain is rolling for days with ideas and inspiration. I am happy to MAKE time for these events.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (contact.scraig@gmail.com).

Here I am. Making it in a man’s world.

Ladies - you can do it!

Special thanks to Ryan Hicks for my very own “Rosie the riveter” poster!

Later this month, I will be addressing Ontario students at the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) conference on this topic, and in preparation, I’ve been thinking all week about what I may say. How AM I doing it? I’ve been trying to identify what has set me apart from other women and not just resort to fitting my own experience to the advice we’re told today to heed. I don’t have stories of extreme discrimination or feel I’ve had to fight for where I am. I worked hard, asked for what I wanted and took opportunities that came my way. Here I am.

 Despite the real challenges we face as women in agriculture, for the most part I have never felt limited personally. I was lucky to have some incredible managers early on who believed in me, supported my ideas and opened doors for me I might never even known existed. This wasn’t entirely by chance though either. My first summer job was more about the network and working in another part of Canada than it was the actual work. I filed expense reports and stuffed envelopes. Though there were some perks, it certainly wasn’t a glamorous job in of itself.  Despite this, I went to work with a “can-do” attitude which was recognized by that manager when it came time for me to embark on a full-time job after school.

At John Deere, this same work ethic, desire to learn and pursuit of excellence meant every last detail was covered. I was often the last to leave the office and constantly was on the lookout for opportunities for improvement. I have never been scared to speak up, ask for what I want and expect I can accomplish anything I set my mind on. I put in five years, criss-crossing the country, attending countless events, meeting customers and pushing for more Canadian content whenever there was a break in conversation. The scale of what I was trying to accomplish now seems dwarfed but the impression I left with coworkers has lived on. I can undeniably connect my “fans” and sponsors internally to those years, so the effort paid off.

“Did I work harder than my male counterparts though?”, is the question. I traveled every other week for a solid 3 years, and I actually loved it. For some people that would be gruelling, but when you enjoy what you do it`s not hard work. There is no doubt, it would`ve been harder if I had a family. I was told recently, “that’s why you’re so successful”.

And while I can`t help but notice the number of women in leadership positions without children, I see many others who master both and do it well. I can`t begin to predict what the success factors are for this though because I don`t have a family. I`ll find out when I do. I will still be determined and driven to succeed when I have kids. I poured five years of my life into my job. Then I poured nearly two years into my MBA. I’m no further ahead nor behind my male or female coworkers. I’m here. And it’s a good place to be.

It’s easy to focus on why it’s difficult to be a woman in any industry, let alone agriculture. There are countless articles on the subject. Not as often mentioned are the benefits to working in a traditionally male sector. The benefits go well beyond never having to wait in line at the bathroom.

 Why it’s Worth Being A Woman In a Man’s World

You stand out. As many women as there are entering agriculture as a career, there still seem to be a disproportionately low number at industry events, and internally within my own company’s events. This means you are more likely to stand out and be remembered. Time and time again, I find people know me by name and remember me, especially if I’ve spoken up at the event. If you’re trying to advance your career or get your ideas heard, this memorability is a great asset because people will seek you out when they have an opportunity they think you could assist with.

You “get” who the real decision maker is. While only 26% of Canadian farm operators are women, I know many more farms where the women play a key role in the decision-making regardless. Despite this, I hear countless stories still of salesmen ignoring them or treating them like their questions or comments are frivolous. We know better. We spend just as much time getting to know the women in the business and addressing them in conversation, not just because we know they get it but it’s just plain rude otherwise.

You have unlimited opportunities. Right or wrong, the focus on equality in the workplace has led many companies to actively look for skilled, intelligent women leaders to promote. If you know their “rules” (ie. mobility is huge at my company), then you literally have limitless opportunity. You still have to work just as hard as any other employee, male or female, to earn it but chances are there will be more options available to you than ever before.

You fly under the radar. I don’t disagree being talked down too, minimized and downright ignored sometimes makes me wonder if it’s 1950 instead of 2015. Admittedly, there are times, I have found this gross underestimation of my knowledge an advantage though.  I’ve learned a lot by asking questions when I think it was assumed I didn’t know what I was talking about. (I’m sure there were also times I really didn’t know what I was talking about!)  I would bite my tongue and soak as much information in as I could in the moment. At the very least, this made it especially easy for me to say “no” to sponsorships when the pitcher failed to realize I was the boss (see point 2 above).

You will see things no one else will. I read a Forbes article that stated “women see opportunity in everything and everyone”. Many of the future business opportunities, not only in agriculture but all industries, will solve social problems. Women are more likely to face the problems, recognize and can therefore address the situation first. Look around the agriculture industry and you will find women tackling the toughest challenges. Women like Alison Sunstrom and Chetna Sinha, who are worlds apart and yet see gaps in the industry for which they have ideas and are determined to make the world better by closing. Women, like Fawn Jackson, are leading sustainability efforts at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and as the primary grocery buyer, like Jennifer Carlson, are making food better for their family. However small it may seem, you will make an impact that will be profound in its own way, and possibly change not only the industry, but the world.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

-Jen C