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Manitoba Farm Women’s conference panel says technology can connect women in agriculture into powerful networks

Women who farm and live in rural Manitoba need relationships with each other, not merely ‘connections,” — not easy to establish or maintain given provincial geography.

But organizations well established and new are working hard to change that, and with a high-tech twist.

Why it matters: Manitoba women in the agriculture sector can be geographically isolated, but they don’t have to be cut off from their peers.

Technology has helped close some of the distance gap, enabling more women to meet, organize and build skill sets as they work together, said panellists at the recent Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference.

“We’ve kind of built our own machine,” said Pam Bailey, chair of Ag Women Manitoba which formed last year.

Their group emerged from a University of Manitoba mentorship program where participants said they wanted and needed to support each other as they started farming or pursued other agriculture industry-related careers.

Bailey told the conference she was recognizing her own need for a network at the same time. She is the first woman on the Manitoba Canola Growers Association board. She helped co-found Ag Women Manitoba after realizing farm life could potentially get isolating.

“I’d married into a relatively small family in a small community,” she said.

“I realized if the connections didn’t come to me I’d have to go find some.”

Ag Women Manitoba now connects women through face-to-face meetings, but also by using communications tech such as conference calls, Google Hangout, Zoom and apps such as Slak, as well. It also uses social media.

Likewise, those participating in their newly established group Manitoba Women in Agriculture and Food are also using a combination of personal meetings and video conferencing to link together, said its chair Laura Lazo, another panellist during the conference.

They especially like Zoom, a video link that allows group members to work together on documents, she noted.

Manitoba Women’s Institute may not be using these technologies to the same extent but its provincial board and organizing committees regularly use conference calls and email to communicate, said Arenda Vanderdeen, spokeswoman for that group.

The MWI, with its chapters that are accessible for local women to meet, is all about relationships as well as connections, too, she said.

The reason Manitoba Women’s Institute came into being 108 years ago was to be a network for otherwise isolated rural women, said Vanderdeen, who also flagged the annual Rural Women’s Days hosted by MWI and the action-oriented resolutions the organization annually brings forward to the provincial government.

The goals of the various groups are similar.

One of Ag Women Manitoba’s main objectives is to foster leadership capacity among women. All kinds of organizations are needing people to step up and serve in them she said.

“One of our goals as an organization is to equip women with those skills and the tools they need so they can take on those roles and those challenges,” she said.

Lazo, who’d cited in her panel talk the significant wage gap that exists between men and women, and how women do not advance in their careers as quickly as men, said later in an interview that it is clear men continue to assume more visible roles on organizations.

Reasons why fewer women come forward can be complex, but one of the factors is the impostor syndrome, Lazo said, referring to a term describing individuals who doubt their own abilities.

“We think, ‘I am not quite qualified yet, or I’m not quite what is needed,’” she said.

Studies also show men and women tend to promote their own genders when it comes to leadership opportunities, she noted.

“So if a board is made up of men, chances are they are going to nominate other men to be part of that board,” she said.

The Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference, now in its 32nd year, attracted 135 women to the Winkler conference. Its theme for 2019 was “Putting You on Your To-Do List.”

It chose that theme because demands on women’s time are intense and it can be difficult to make one’s care or self-development a priority, said Jody Jury, chair of this year’s conference.

“It’s something as women we do not do very well at all,” she said.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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