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.