Blog: The Wheat Sheaf

Women in Ag Leadership

Yesterday was International Women’s Day – a day with roots that reach as far back as the early 1900s when it was first used to draw attention to the plight of women in America, when on February 28th 1908, thousands of women marched in the streets of New York demanding better working conditions, equal pay and the right to vote. The movement garnered international attention when the second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen in 1910. In recent years, the United Nations has attributed a theme to the annual event; past themes have focused on poverty, justice, violence against women and equal access to education, among others. This year’s theme comes in the form of a commitment to which they have attached a deadline: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”

As a Canadian woman, I feel privileged to live in a country where women don’t face a lot of the same challenges that many women in other parts of the world do.  But, I am still struck by headlines like the ones floating around social media this morning that point to an Oxfam report that states Canadian women, on average, earn about 72% of what their male counterparts earn for the same work – a gap which remains unchanged since 2009. I can only speak to my experience as a hard-working, ambitious woman striving to make a difference in whatever way I can to Canada’s agriculture sector - a sector where despite the fact that I was not raised on farm and have absolutely no rural ties whatsoever, I feel completely at home. The agriculture sector is where I will commit my life’s work and with that, the advancement of women in our sector, because our perspective is unique – is different from our male counterparts, but equally important.

So what makes women’s contribution so unique and important in agriculture? According to research conducted by Eagly and Johnson in 1990 (as cited in Jackson and Parry, 2011), “female leaders were found to emphasize both interpersonal relationships and task accomplishment more than men.” Increasingly, I see the tremendous value in sector-wide collaboration that is required to achieve our common objectives. We see evidence of this in the success of Alberta’s recently formed Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition (AgCoalition) or at the national level with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops.  In my last blog post(March 1, 2016) I discussed the concept of Level 5 Leadership, the combination of incredible humility and unwavering will. According to Jim Collins, who coined the term, Level 5 leaders “channel ambition into the company, not the self, and demonstrate unwavering resolve no matter how difficult the challenge.” This is a trait that any organization would prize in their top leaders. But why is this important in the context of our discussion about women and leadership?  Because studies show, women tend to be more focused on the success of the company over their own personal success when compared to their male counterparts. According to Dame Barbara Stocking, former CEO of Oxfam “on the whole, women in senior positions tend to be more ambitious about the thing rather their own future and career.” And because according to Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline (1990), “women tend to gravitate toward longer-term issues that lie at the periphery of most businesses’ attention, like sustainability and approach these from the standpoint of collaboration and discovery.”

I believe there is an important conversation to be had now and it can start by exploring some of the following questions: If as a sector we were committed to the U.N.’s goal of “50-50 by 2030” what impact would that have on your farm, in your community, in your organization, at your board table? Is it important for Canada’s agriculture sector to achieve gender parity and if so, why? Do we recognize the value that women can bring to positions of leadership and how can we work together to create meaningful opportunities for women in Canadian agriculture?

 

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