November 15, 2019

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Open letter - Why we're STILL talking about women in ag

November 8, 2017

An important conversation was started by a tweet recently  and expanded upon in an op-ed in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

 

The tweet many people responded strongly to stated, “in #ag, 80-100% of our organizations are led by white, grey-haired men. We need those men to ask women to join and lead. Men need to take an active role in promoting women in the industry.” It was tweeted by Claire Cowan who was quoting Jen Christie from a panel discussion. Many people responded that women simply need to “step up” and that men didn’t play a significant role in their level of engagement.

 

 First and foremost, we want to acknowledge that our industry is an incredible place to work. The vast majority of men we work with are supportive and actively work to engage women in the industry. We started this conversation, not from a place of anger or defense but rather a place of inclusion and understanding.

 

Through no fault of anyone, it can be hard for some men to fully understand the experiences some women have in the industry. Our goal is to shine a light on barriers that face women so both men and women can work together towards a more diverse, higher performing industry. 

 

The topic is uncomfortable, but we shouldn’t let that deter us. As an industry, we’ve been strong enough to embrace new, sometimes intimidating technology, new food trends and challenging government policy. We have no doubt the industry is capable of engaging in a difficult but worthwhile conversation on inclusion.

 

wasn’t implying she felt held back, she was responding to a panel question about what “role men in leadership bear in making necessary changes.” She was quoting accurate statistics about Ontario commodity boards.

 

We know many amazing women who are leaders in the industry. Other women focus their energy on their businesses, their families and other opportunities. And yet other women do not feel comfortable or confident enough to step up even when they have the skills and the drive. The team at the Ag Women’s Network has worked hard to understand why.. It's important to note that people – men AND women - gain access to powerful positions by being asked. Men on boards are often there because other men asked them to run.

 

Inviting men to work alongside women to break down barriers is the only way forward. It is not lost on us that a movement pushing for inclusivity is perceived as exclusive. The Ag Women’s Network will be moving towards more inclusive conversations because this is an industry-wide challenge.

 

Certainly, many women don’t see any barriers to their careers and opportunities in agriculture. But others have had a very different experience. For some, their experience in the industry has discouraged them from ‘stepping up,’ not a lack of interest as is often suggested. Consider the following experiences:

 

We know women who have been told by their manager, “I’ll give you a 10 cent raise if you keep the dime between your knees. I can’t afford for you to get pregnant.”

 

 

We know women who have learned from sympathetic coworkers that they are making significantly less than a male colleague with less experience.

 

We know women who have been told to “wear a tight sweater to the next meeting” to thank a man for giving the information it was his job to provide.

 

We know a woman whose husband didn’t take parental leave because he “would never live it down at work.”

 

We know women who have endured a full decade of sexual harassment at work because they did not trust that coming forward would bring any real change. Fear of retaliation is founded in reality as a recent survey in Canada showed that in 75% of cases where a woman did come forward, she faced challenges in resolving the issue.

 

Experiences of sexism and harassment like these amount to REAL barriers, and are among many that make our industry less diverse than it could be. Not all women feel these barriers and we are grateful for that. But suggesting women have a “victim mentality,” as some people have, dismisses the lived experience of many and impedes progress. The conversation needs to start somewhere.

 

The women are there but there are reasons they are not getting more involved, and the Ag Women’s Network is focused on creating change. It is well understood that more diversity leads to more innovation and higher performance. If Canadian agriculture is truly serious about becoming a global leader, we need to figure this out and it will take everyone, men and women, to be open to change. The reality is, there are far more men in positions of power who can influence this than there are women.

 

No one is asking for special treatment or demanding that women should get more access to power than men. No one is claiming that grey-haired men are the problem. Rather, we’re inviting men to work with us to build an industry where women enjoy the same benefits men enjoy—the right to work without being seen as a sex object, the right to a fair wage and the right to be considered in equal number for new opportunities.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Ag Womens Network

 

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