Upcoming Tools and Programs for Women in Leadership and Entrepreneurship in Agriculture and Agri- food.
By Jennifer Wright, Project Manager, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
Women play an important role in agriculture. On-farm, women make up 30 per cent of the workforce. Although they account for 60 per cent of STEM university graduates, 4-H and agri-leadership training programs, they are not well represented when we consider leadership roles in agricultural jobs.
Agriculture as an industry is facing a labour shortage that is forecasted to continue to increase in the coming years. Diversifying the labour force and ensuring that everyone achieves their potential within the industry is a key to making sure that the industry has the talent and resources necessary to support the success of the industry in the future. Women play an important part in this workforce, thus ensuring they are contributing their skills at the level in which they are qualified is essential for the future of the industry.
Over the past 18 months the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has conducted research focused on barriers to advancement faced by women in agriculture. The results of the research have provided great insight into the issue, as well as actions that can be taken to help address some of the barriers identified.
Although data shows that there is a strong base of qualified women working in the industry, these women are not pursing or moving into the more senior leadership roles at the same pace as men with similar qualifications.
This point is clearly illustrated when looking at board representation by gender. Our research looked at a random sample of sixty-five industry association boards across Canada, with a mix between national and provincial mandates. Of these organizations, only 12 per cent were led by a woman and only 28 per cent had at least one woman on the board.
There are a number of obstacles to career development that women encounter that their male counterparts do not, or at least not to same extent. This includes maternity leave and an increased responsibility for childcare, often resulting in time away from work. Also, the lack of childcare available in rural settings can impede a mother’s ability to work full-time, impacting her career.
It is not, however, that women do not want to pursue the leadership roles. Our research asked women in agriculture across Canada about their desire to pursue more senior positions and career opportunities. 73 per cent of women surveyed indicated they had aspirations to develop beyond their current role. All of these women were taking steps such as networking, training and education, mentorship and applying for new roles to move themselves in their desired direction.
When this same group was asked about what they felt was holding women back from moving into leadership roles, there were a number of factors reported. The top three factors impacting women moving into leadership roles were: breaking into the “old boys club”; perception of their own capability; and the lack of role models.
Based on this research, CAHRC has prioritized the development of tools and content with the following focus:
Self-Directed Career Development
• Coaching & Mentorship opportunities
• Networking opportunities
• Sharing profiles of women to celebrate role models
Creating an Inclusive Environment
• Retain women by encouraging an inclusive environment
• Communicate in ways that both women and men understand.
• Values may not be aligned with the employer
• Have the conversation (i.e. supportive maternity leave, travel expectations, male networking styles)
• Relate issues to the cost to the business. This may be the way for men to understand the issues.
Create a safe space / enabling environment for learning in leadership
• Build career awareness amongst women, including awareness of career path opportunities
These priorities will be addressed in three main areas of tools, currently under development:
• Supporting Women in Agricultural Leadership Site – an online resource designed to capture and disseminate all related information for the women in agriculture community, including links to available leadership position opportunities and leadership training options.
• Supporting Women in Agricultural Leadership Network – a scoping activity is underway in order to define and develop a mentorship program to compliment the existing networking opportunities currently in place in the industry. The site will also include information sharing about networking opportunities.
• Supporting Women in Agricultural Leadership Suite – a series of instructive reference materials to support increased advancement opportunities for women. This suite will include guides, checklists, templates and supporting webinars for Boards and training institutions to improve the accessibility of opportunities for women.
Is Your Board Representative – A Best Practice Guide to Ensuring Women Are Included
Is Your Training Program Representative – A Best Practice Guide to Ensuring Women Are Included
There is no quick fix to the situation for women in the industry. These are just preliminary steps in supporting the advancement of women in agriculture. More needs to continue to be done to ensure that the contribution women can make to agriculture and agri-business is fully realized.