Can we be advocates for ag, too?

On September 1, 2015 in the New-Life Mills boardroom in Cambridge, Ontario, 35 members of the Ag Women’s Network met with Owen Roberts, journalist and director of research communications at the University of Guelph, for an event unlike others we’ve held in the past.

Owen Roberts spoke to the Ag Women's Network about communicating to the media and becoming advocates for agriculture.

Owen Roberts spoke to the Ag Women’s Network about communicating to the media and becoming advocates for agriculture.

Instead of addressing issues we face as women in agriculture, Roberts challenged us to become advocates for the industry and use our collective voices to raise the profile of major ag issues. He went on to explain that we need to be proactive and reach out to the source-hungry media with our local and women’s perspectives and provide a clear message of “so what” and “who cares”.

“I hope you want to have a voice with the media,” Roberts said. “The ag industry needs your help to get coverage on the tough stories.”

Getting media coverage for agriculture isn’t easy – our competition is likely more provocative and entertaining – but using our passion and emotion for the issues that impact our industry is exactly what journalists are looking for.

How to do this? Roberts has some suggestions:

– As a group, we should put out news releases commenting on major ag topics/issues. He thinks this is a great opportunity for us to share our collective thoughts.

– Everyone should have a Twitter account and a blog to share their thoughts and be accessible. There are things we can say that are interesting to a lot of people. Although this means making more time for communications, he warns it should become and additional part of your job. Roberts has a blog post on how to write a blog (halfway down the course syllabus page) and a webinar on better blogging (sign up at Farm Management Canada to access).

– Pick up the phone and call the media. As Roberts explains, when a farmer calls the media, the room hushes because it’s such a rare occasion. And when they do, a reporter knows it’s a real story. He says that calling is very effective, and even though it won’t always result in a story, it results in a relationship since it takes human emotion and confidence.

– Change the stigma of agriculture as a “victim” industry by being proactive and shaping the story, instead of waiting for the media to reach out to us.

– Hold “how to” workshops with the Ag Women’s Network to encourage more outreach and advocacy with topics like how to structure a blog and dealing with media calls.

– Look into writing for your local newspaper. They likely have a community editorial board and are always looking for fresh content and a new angle.

So, members of the Ag Women’s Network, are you up for the challenge?

“Balancing It All Without Burnout” Takes Us Back to Math Class

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I like math. I like math a lot. I may or may not have even attended a summer math camp by choice in my youth. I may or may not have still have the t-shirt. Just saying. With that in mind, when our three “Balancing It All Without Burnout” panelists began circling around the idea of the “Balance Equation” it clicked. In April, dozens of ag women gathered in Guelph to share ideas with three panelists who are busy moms, accomplished ag women and were open to a candid conversation about balance. Those three panelists were Jennifer Kyle from Holstein Canada, Nadine Schwandt from New-Life Mills and Dr. Nancy Tout from Syngenta Canada. All three come from diverse jobs covering communications to regulatory and biological assessment. All three are moms. All three believe that the balance equation is important, ever changing and unique to each woman. According to Tout, a serious scientist who first raised the concept at the event, and this Harvard Business Review posting, a personalized balance equation can help guide a strategy for finding balance. So let’s break it down, shall we?

24 hours – (self care) > (external expectations) + (internal expectations)

The weight you give each item within those brackets and the number of items within those brackets are yours to pick. Our panelists all agree that “it’s a moving target” and “changes through life” which means your balance equation will be unique to you. No pressure to keep up with the Joneses (or Justines) here. What kind of things count as external expectations? Things like work, volunteer commitments, ongoing meetings, relationships and so on. What kind of things count as internal expectations? Your hobbies, finances, personal development, holidays, prayer, meditation and so on. What’s self care? Sleep, showers, flossing, getting dressed and so on. The concept here is that there are 24 hours in a day and that’s finite. You need to shower and brush your teeth therefore self care is beside 24 hours. How much time you need for self care will change depending on your job, your love or loathe of fashion, your toddlers’ schedules, etc. Again, no pressure to keep up with the Joneses or Justines, it’s your call. The hard part is on the right. How you fill the external and internal parts of the equation are up to you. Tout says that internal expectations or personal time has a “different definition to different people” and the others agree. A trap to avoid is filling that side of the equation with 24 expectations and unrealistically giving them all an hour everyday. For that, our team of expert panelists say pick your top 5 priorities or 3 must wins and then forgive yourself. According to Schwandt the goal is “giving your utmost without guilt of where you’re not.” She also says “take time to do something that gives you energy. You’ll be better off and everyone around you will be better.” Doesn’t that feel good to read? I see you nodding. Doesn’t that feel good to release that pressure and hear other ag women cutting the to-do list down to size? You’re still nodding. So am I. Next question however is what happens when the balance equation loses its balance? Like the Ag Women’s Network slogan, it’s about support. Tout, Schwandt and Kyle all agree that the balance equation works because of your support network. Whether it’s your life partner, friends or family. They also recommend that you add a person you consider to be your personal hotline for work-related problem solving to the roster. According to Schwandte, you need “a place to park it” when work issues arise that isn’t at home (taking away from family time) or with friends (they will always have your back which may bring in bias). Regardless of the type of support you need depending on why your equation is out of balance, don’t be afraid to reach out. On the flip side, be ready to be the support for other ag women. Our panelists gave a quick sampling of great tips for supporting one another in maintaining their balance equations:

  • Take notice if someone needs help. Introverts in particular are not always quick to ask for help out loud.
  • Openly offer to keep meetings to midday. Practices like that can allow coworkers the ability to meet their family expectations on time like day care pick ups.
  • Respect others’ balance equations. We are all unique and circumstances change.
  • Watch your unconscious bias. It is up to our generation of ag women to overcome the unconscious biases that make finding balance hard. Be a helper and be open.
  • Commitment shows in passion. For example, others’ balance equations may consist of less at-work volunteer committees. That’s okay and not an indicator of less commitment to the company. Same goes for flex schedules.
  • Let people do things their way. If your husband is taking on your household chores for a few weeks while you focus on planting, don’t worry about the t-shirt folding. The shirts are clean and folded neatly. The folding pattern is different than yours but drop it. I repeat. The shirts are clean and folded neatly. Drop it.

Your balance equation is unique. Your balance equation will change. Your balance equation is important. It will help you champion balancing it all without burnout. -SN