By Sam Schwoeppe
The American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee hosted its inaugural ACE (Advocate, Cultivate, Empower) Summit in Washington, D.C., in June. The event was much more than a traditional advocacy “fly-in.” It was a rich opportunity for attendees to build advocacy skills, connect with others in agriculture and develop a community of empowered women ready to take on leadership roles. Women who serve as leaders in agriculture at the local, state and national level from around the country packed up their suitcases and brought a wide range of talents, skills and expertise to D.C.
On the farm, we are always looking for new technologies that are going to help us be more efficient and do more with less. Each day we strive to be better than the day before. Opportunities like the summit help us to add more tools to our toolbox for communications and advocacy so that we can create a better agriculture community. These tools help us effectively share our stories with those who have the power to influence outcomes on our farms and in our communities.
Historically, roles in agriculture have been somewhat siloed. People worked on the farm, or they worked in agriculture-related industries. Few opportunities were offered where farm and industry met to discuss policy and practices, and when meetings did occur, they were somewhat awkward.
Today, women are in a unique role in agriculture. Many of us have various side-hustles off the farm to bring in income or insurance benefits to support our families. Women own this “in-between” space because many of us have had one foot on the farm and one food on the industry side for years. Women’s roles in agriculture are changing because more of us are educating ourselves to prepare for leadership positions and serving in these dual positions both on and off the farm. When balancing this preparation and knowledge gained from life experience, women bring deep expertise to their leadership roles. They are confident in their abilities because not only can they drive the machinery to harvest the crop, but they can also market, process and package it, and put it in front of the consumer who is purchasing it.
More opportunities such as the ACE Summit are needed. Agriculture is changing faster than ever and we need more women in decision-making roles. In today’s fast-paced business world where change is the new norm, women are more suited to leadership positions than ever before.
Effective leaders are open to change, inspiring and motivating with an agile ability to switch from one leadership style to another. Younger professionals have different requirements to create success in organizations. The demand for transparency is one example. Interactive leadership, often espoused by women, meets this demand and provides for the sharing of information and encourages collaboration and contribution from all stakeholders.
Women’s leadership is all-encompassing and provides a supportive leadership style through engaging and empowering people. Effective leaders must recognize the differences and unique contributions people bring to today’s workforce. Not only should they understand the differences, but leaders must also know how to leverage individual strengths and differences to engage people to put forth their best efforts and lead thriving organizations.
This is my call to women in the agriculture community: Have the courage to stand up for what you believe in and live your lives as a testament to your faith, your love of farming and to your values and beliefs of hard work, dedication and service to your profession.
My hope is that women in agriculture will be the change they want to see in the world – gracefully exhibiting the example of an educated and empowered woman who knows her way around the agriculture industry. When obstacles are placed in your path, see them as opportunities to learn, and turn challenges into teachable moments that hopefully create an easier path for the next woman to walk down. When offered the opportunity to lead, accept it with grace and show up. Taking advantage of opportunities like the ACE Summit will empower you to do so.
Sam Schwoeppe is a farmer and Farm Bureau member in Indiana.