Comment: Answering the ‘Call for Action” – Holding space for each other

Thank you Angela Straathof for your great comments about the perception of agriculture only having room for women who fight.

In this coming meeting season, I challenge us all to invite new people to the table, ask the quiet ones for feedback, support someone who is a ‘helper’, redirect the ‘fighters’ to use their passion for the benefit of the group. When the tide rises, we all rise together – that’s the beauty of collaborative leadership.

I don’t discount that the women who came before me absolutely needed to fight to get into leadership roles. I am grateful for these brave women (and their supporters) who created the environment that we live in today, one that I believe is ripe with opportunity.

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By nature, I’m a scrapper too, but I believe it’s time to put down our weapons and ask for a ‘cease fire.’

So for you ‘non-scrappers’ out there, the ‘peace makers’ and ‘harmonizers,’ don’t feel you need to be something you aren’t to make your impact in the world. Other women have helped make the space for you to become our future board member or industry leader. Importantly, too, the dynamic is shifting from the traditional top-down hierarchy to one that is more collaborative and open to different leadership styles.

Is there a chance that we holding ourselves back out of fear or habit? I gave birth to my daughter shortly before starting my term as President in our local Soil & Crop Improvement Association. My daughter wouldn’t take a bottle.  So I brought her with me. And I nursed. While acting as the Chair. Guess what? No one batted an eye. These men are fathers, husbands, brothers. They are supportive of the women in their lives. Was it weird? Yep, I’m not going to lie – it was. But we survived. During my year end President’s address I made sure to thank my wonderful team for supporting me in being able to be BOTH a leader and a mother. It was only afterwards that other women credited me for my ‘bravery.’ I did it because I didn’t have an alternative, not with the intention to rock the boat. Perhaps some of these ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘unspoken rules’ can now be banished: is it possible that the electric fencer has been turned off for us and we just didn’t realize it?

‘Pale, stale and male’ was a troll comment on social media last fall to describe the board of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. I disagree with ‘stale’ but yep: they are pale (beyond the farmer’s tans anyways) & male. Unfortunately, that dialogue discounts their personal contributions & sacrifices. It also discounts the fact that each of these men is only one member of a farm team – for them to be able to attend meetings & strengthen my industry, their partners (wives, parents, staff, kids) are keeping the home fires burning and running the farm.

I would love to be able to run for a GFO Director position some day – but right now I have young kids and crippling debt. My farm is fighting for survival & I have only so much energy & time to give. Frankly, these gentlemen are doing a great job. Why should one of them need to be replaced to make room for a ‘token female’ who burns herself out just so the industry can say there is a woman on the board? I think seeking diversity on a board is important but not the only way to have leadership in agriculture.

‘Look for the helpers.’ TV’s Mr. Rogers’ mother would remind him when he would see scary news on the television, ‘you will always find people who are helping’. Many of the key staff roles within organizations are women. Keeping the GFO as the example: Communications, Marketing, Government Policy, Human Resources, Member Relations are all positions currently held by women – and the Agronomist is too, but she’s off on maternity leave right now. These women may not be sitting on the board but they are most definitely having an impact in helping our Directors represent our industry. The best part is, the GFO is only one board in our wonderful industry. You don’t have to look very far to see a lot of amazing women helping advance their businesses and organizations. And taking on mentorship or leadership roles outside of work as well.

‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today’ is a quote often used in leadership discussions. Frankly, I think people can’t see the forest for the trees: If you are only looking for the established women leaders in agriculture, or the tall trees, they are pretty sparse. However, if you readjust your gaze and look at the forest, you will see there are a lot of seedlings that are coming on strong. I graduated from a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in 2003. We were told we were the first graduating class from the Ontario Agricultural College that had more women then men. I like to think we were just the first wave in the changing of the tides. We are coming, and we will represent when we are ready.

Like Red Green says, ‘We are all in this together.’

Thank you, Jennifer Doelman
Farmer, Mother & Collaborator from Renfrew County

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