Going the Distance for Diversity and Inclusion in Agriculture

Diversity and inclusion programs may focus on opening doors to women and people of color, but they also ultimately drive tangible benefits and opportunities for the entire agricultural industry, writes Lynn Grooms at Syngenta Thrive.

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“As agriculture becomes more diverse, more companies are realizing diversity is good for the bottom line,” says Ebony Webber, chief operating officer of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). “They see opportunities to expand into new markets and stay competitive.”

MANRRS, which has 2,050 members in 65 chapters across 38 states, promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agricultural and related scientific careers. The organization helps members through networking and leadership-training programs. It also provides role models and networking opportunities for student members as early as the seventh grade. A growing number of companies are offering internships and full-time positions to MANRRS members.

“Once our members have the chance for hands-on experiences and realize the opportunities in agriculture, they become more engaged,” says Antomia Farrell, Ed.D., assistant dean and director for diversity, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Kentucky. She is also serving as the 2020-2021 national MANRRS president and as the University of Kentucky’s MANRRS adviser.

Women are already playing a sizeable role in agriculture. Female-operated farms accounted for 38% of U.S. agriculture sales and 43% of U.S. farmland, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Joy O’Shaughnessy, chief operating officer, agribusiness, at HighQuest Partners, works with ag retailers looking to transform their workplaces by hiring and retaining more female employees. Photo: O’Shaughnessy speaks to a crowd of hundreds at the 2018 Women in Agribusiness Summit, an event focused on industry trends and outlooks, which was held in Denver.

Joy O’Shaughnessy, chief operating officer, agribusiness, at HighQuest Partners, works with ag retailers looking to transform their workplaces by hiring and retaining more female employees. Photo: O’Shaughnessy speaks to a crowd of hundreds at the 2018 Women in Agribusiness Summit, an event focused on industry trends and outlooks, which was held in Denver.

Joy O’Shaughnessy, chief operating officer, agribusiness, at HighQuest Partners, works with Women in Agribusiness. This group encourages its members to learn about the many career opportunities in agriculture, such as law, finance, insurance, research and more. A part of O’Shaughnessy’s role is working with ag retailers looking to transform their workplaces by hiring and retaining more female employees.

In addition to supporting groups like MANRRS and Women in Agribusiness, agricultural companies can develop their own initiatives. For example, Syngenta recently launched a four-year equity, diversity and inclusion plan. The plan focuses on building diversity and inclusion into senior-level and management teams as well as into employee recruitment, advancement and retention, says Brandon Bell, diversity and inclusion lead at Syngenta, North America.

Webber believes that working together is the key to building greater diversity and inclusion in agriculture. “I hope that as an industry we can become more proactive,” she says. “It’s going to take everyone. But this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

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