Women lag in agriculture leadership roles

Of 65 national and provincial associations, only eight have a woman as their board chairperson or president

While many women work in the agri-food sector, few reach decision-making positions, says a report by the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council (CAHRC).

The number of women working in the sector is unknown, the council says. At the farm level, about 30 per cent of workers are women but not many are regarded as decision makers.

“A greater proportion of men are moving on to leadership roles than women in this industry,” the report says.

It says the main way women come into senior roles is when the husband dies and the wife takes over the operation. Eventually women came to be regarded as owners.

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However, another report by the Conference Board of Canada found very few farms are solely owned by women. Those that are tend to be smaller than average. The owners are less likely to be very young or very old, but more in the 35-50 age range. Turnover rate of these farms tends to be higher than average.

“Data from Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey supports the claim that men dominate the leadership roles in the agriculture industry,” the CAHRC report said. “In fact, horticulture is the only sector of agriculture that has more than 25 per cent of managers who are female.”

However, it notes that in the hort sector, 82 per cent of business, finance and administrative positions are held by women. Conversely, 75 per cent of production and operation staff are men.

The CAHRC report says institutions such as the Women’s Institute and more recently the Canadian Farm Women’s Network have provided forums for women to voice their thoughts and support each other. That has helped propel more into leadership roles.

“However, the research also indicates that there is more to be done in this area. Interviews with female senior managers or board directors found that in many cases they are still the only females on their senior leadership team or board.”

Of 65 national and provincial associations reviewed to date, only eight have a woman as their board chairperson or president, and another eight have a woman in the second-in-command role of vice-president or vice-chair. Representation of women on executive committees is slightly better with 18 of the 65 organizations having at least one woman on their board.

Quotas not recommended

The CAHRC report says there are ways to boost female participation, but setting quotas isn’t the way to go. Instead it recommends building awareness by expanding the recruitment pool and having diversity policies.

“Additionally, it will be necessary to build awareness among women of the opportunities available and instil their confidence to apply for the seat.”

The survey found that large agricultural businesses, many of which operate on a global scale, tend to be led by men and the executive teams are predominantly men.

“Anecdotally there are reports that in these cases there is greater representation of women in the Canadian operations.”

The report cites examples of corporate leadership programs for women, such as the Agrium Women’s Leadership Group (AWLG) and Syngenta’s Leadership at Its Best diversity program.

“Other organizations, such as John Deere and Monsanto have more informal networks in place. Monsanto, for example, has incorporated the practice of hiring managers ensuring for each position more female candidates are included in the hiring process as a way of doing business.”

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