Influx of female candidates is a welcome change in evolving agri-retail industry.

Women working in agri- retail were once the exception to the rule. Amber Knaggs remembers an obvious gender imbalance when she began her career as a sales agronomist for Munro Farm Supplies 15 years ago.

“When I started, it was very rare to have a woman working in agri-retail. I remember attending meetings, looking in the crowd and seeing two other women,” she says. “Now, it’s much more even. I see that difference in a meeting room.”

Women have been entering the ag workforce in increasing numbers throughout the last decade, bringing a balance to the male/female mix on farms and in the agri-retail sector. This new wave of candidates is a welcome shift in an industry where skilled and passionate workers are always in high demand.

Increasing Opportunities

Blaine Cochrane, sales manager for Shur-Gro Farm Services and Munro Farm Supplies, notes that the agri-retail sector has often mirrored the once male-dominated farming industry.

“There was a comfort level – males dealing with males, farmers dealing with farmers. Right or wrong, that’s the way business was done,” he says. “But this has changed.

“Other than the administrative side, all positions – branch managers, sales agronomists, yard personnel – in the past, would have typically been filled by men,” says Cochrane. “We now have a lot of applicants that are female, for all sorts of positions. But predominantly what we’re seeing is a lot of female applicants for sales agronomists.”

Agri-retail has also become an increasingly popular choice for women who want a fulfilling career without leaving their community.

“One of the reasons I went into this job is that I didn’t want to live in a big city,” says Knaggs. “I wanted to live in a small town. I wanted to live how I grew up, where my children went to school and have that sense of community. That’s why I’m here.”

The Best Person for the Job

Cochrane notes that the rising number of female employees at Shur-Gro and Munro is not the result of an internal push for diversity, but simply because more and more women are proving themselves to be the best choice.
“We don’t recruit specifically for women or men – we recruit the best person for the position,” he says. “Lately, a lot more women have been entering the field and in many cases, they are just the best applicant for the job.”

Chad Bodnarchuk, recruiting manager for AgCall Human Resources, agrees. “Ag is very open and very progressive,” he says. “We’re not looking at a man versus a woman. We care about whether you know the answers; whether you can help the farmer.”

The agriculture industry’s tireless efforts to communicate its positives have also played a significant role in attracting more women. The career opportunities have proven irresistible to those looking for a lifelong career that provides stability and meaning.

Bodnarchuk notes that the increased communications have not only demonstrated the benefits of careers in ag, but have also shown how many passionate women are already a part of this growing field.
“If you look at all the videos coming from initiatives like Ag More Than Ever, it’s great to see a balanced passion for agriculture,” he says.

Welcoming the New Wave

To ensure that an organization is perceived as welcoming to this growing group of candidates, Bodnarchuk suggests taking a look at the internal culture.

A rising number of women workers means that in many families, both parents are pursuing full-time careers. Therefore, a healthy work-life balance becomes a key factor for job seekers. “It’s important for parents to know that their employers will be open to that balance,” he says.

Options such as flexible work hours can be a big draw when the primary family caregiver is seeking a career. “There are a lot of fathers that stay at home too, but generally speaking, mom is still viewed as the caregiver,” says Bodnarchuk. “When it comes to the doctor’s appointment, often it’s mom who’s going to go.”

An essential way to communicate a supportive, flexible work environment is via the job description. Bodnarchuk warns employers to not overlook this important opportunity to “sell” the company culture to potential employees. “The job description is like selling your house,” he says. “You’re selling the culture and setting up the skill set.”

The job interview is another opportunity to demonstrate a welcoming environment for women. Bodnarchuk suggests letting candidates speak with a cross-section of the staff to provide a realistic impression of the company culture.

“If you’re interviewing a female, make sure you give that candidate a chance to speak with others at the company to see what it’s like. If you just have a bunch of men sitting at the table, it might be more intimidating,” he says. “The company has to sell themselves at the job interview just as much as the candidate does.”

Women in the Workplace

Companies like Shur-Gro and Munro are proving that anyone – regardless of gender – is welcome to pursue a career in agri-retail.  Despite starting in the industry when there was a higher ratio of men to women, Knaggs notes that she has always felt welcome in her workplace.

“When I first started, yes, it felt very male-dominated. But it was never a deterrent to me where I thought I wasn’t being accepted or anyone had to make special considerations because I was female,” she says.

In some cases, a more balanced group of men and women has brought positive changes to an organization’s culture. “We have nine female sales agronomists right now,” says Cochrane. “Now that we have more of a mix, it makes for a better workplace. I would say it has done a lot of positive things for our work culture, especially in terms of respect in the workplace.”

In addition to the work atmosphere, Cochrane also expects that many of Shur-Gro and Munro’s female staff will eventually bring changes to the company’s corporate structure. “I see a huge opportunity for the female workers as they grow with the company and get more years of experience,” he says. “Over time, I expect to see a lot more females in management roles.

“That’s what we want,” he says. “We would love to have these people stay, expand their knowledge, advance their career and elevate themselves in the industry. That can only make for a better industry.”
Bodnarchuk expects women to continue their upward trajectory in the agri-workforce. “Since the mid-90s, we’ve really seen an influx of women getting into the sales and management roles in ag – they’ve really broken that open,” he says.

This has started a snowball effect, as more women working in the sector creates an inviting atmosphere for others to join in. “Once you see one go in, others think ‘I can do that too,’” says Bodnarchuk. “It’s giving them the courage to step forward and say ‘I want to be a part of this.” 

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