If you were to close your eyes and imagine a farmer, who do you see? For many, the typical Canadian farmer would most likely be a man. And yet, women have been an integral part of Canadian agriculture for generations. Farmwork to Feed Canada spoke with three women who work in agriculture and agribusiness about the challenges and opportunities for women in these industries.
For the women we spoke with, the main challenges experienced by women in agriculture include lack of representation, the gender wage gap, and gender discrimination.
Joan Craig is a beef producer who lives in Arthur, Ontario. She owns and operates her farm with her husband. Craig grew up on a farm but decided that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. When she retired from teaching, Craig returned to farming. She recognizes that many Canadians have an unconscious bias that assumes that the majority of agricultural workers are men. She would like the Canadian government to recognize and acknowledge the work done by women in agriculture.
“To be seen and to be appreciated means a lot,” said Craig.
Claire Cowan is the CEO of North American Plant Genetics and agreed with Craig about the lack of representation for women in agriculture.
“It’s still not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room… I find that women are under-represented, especially when you get into senior positions or positions with more direct access to power,” said Cowan.
Julia Romagnoli noted many of the same barriers and challenges to women in agriculture as Craig and Cowan. Romagnoli grew up in an agricultural setting and then attended Guelph University where she studied agricultural science with a focus on animal science. She now works for John Deere Canada as a Production System Specialist.
When Romagnoli attended Guelph, she noted that her classes were split almost 50/50 between men and women. However, when she moved into her career, she noticed a marked absence of women.
“I’m always in meetings and I’m surrounded by men,” said Romagnoli.
Further barriers noted by Craig, Cowan and Romagnoli include the gender wage gap, gender discrimination, and the lack of rural childcare available to farming families. Their comments are echoed by a June 2020 report released by www.agcareers.com. According to their research, nearly two-thirds of women (61 per cent) working in agriculture reported experiences of sexism or discrimination based on their gender. And 77 per cent of women with children felt that being a working parent had made it difficult to advance or commit to their career, while only 51 per cent of men agreed with that statement.
The successes and opportunities
While it might seem that women face many barriers and challenges in agriculture, all three women we spoke with emphasized the importance of celebrating the successes and opportunities in agriculture for Canadian women. As a growing industry, agriculture holds plenty of opportunities for women to start their careers.
“Over the years, my managers have all been men, but at the same time, I think we’re changing that,” said Romagnoli.
Cowan and Craig agreed, and stated that there are a diverse range of roles and opportunities available to women who want to enter agriculture and agribusiness. Craig recommended doing research on the different opportunities the industry has to offer, either through social media or online.
The three women also spoke about creating online communities with other women who work in the industry.
“My biggest advice would be to harness a network of supportive peers,” said Cowan. “My greatest source of strength is the women that I know in this industry that I can call up or text… and rely on to celebrate my successes and also help me when things are tough.”
Craig and Cowan are both members of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN), a group that focuses on cultivating and connecting leaders through the empowerment of women. AWN provides a space where members can share their experiences and learn from each other.
Similarly, Romagnoli has built a community through social media. She runs the Pride in Ag Instagram account, which aims to showcase the diversity of people who work in agriculture, specifically the LGBTQ+ community.
“Even though it seems that the visibility and the presence of this [LGBTQ+] community in agriculture is non-existent, it’s not, and it’s my goal to help change that,” said Romagnoli.
Cowan, Craig and Romagnoli all agreed that it is a very exciting time for agriculture.
“I see incredible opportunity for all genders in our industry,” said Cowan. Women will play an important role in the diversification and expansion of agriculture in Canada.
The contributions of women in agriculture may be finally getting the recognition they deserve. Craig urged us to remember that women have always played a part in the successes of agriculture and agribusiness in Canada.
“We should not overlook the strong, brilliant, hardworking women who founded agricultural success in our country, and have fed and continue to feed us,” said Craig.
Resources for women who are interested in pursuing agriculture as a career:
- The Women Entrepreneur Program developed by Farm Credit Canada in 2019
- Ag Women’s Network
- Influential Women in Canadian Agriculture
- Women in Ag
- Advancing Women in Agriculture conference
Cover photo: Julia Romagnoli
Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.