Diverse Voices: Carrie Vita, Director of Agribusiness at HighQuest Partners, LLC.
By Young Tyler, USGR, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Generalist at Syngenta (March 28, 2023)
(NOTE: this article is reprinted with permission from Syngenta as it originally ran in their ED&I newsletter.)
Ever since she joined HighQuest Partners, LLC eight years ago, Carrie has brought her passion for uplifting women and creating community to each role that she’s served in within the organization, including her current role as Director of Agribusiness. Now overseeing both of HighQuest’s agribusiness platforms -- Unconventional Ag and Women in Agribusiness -- Carrie and her team are driven more than ever by their shared mission to create and sustain initiatives to provide educational, professional, and networking opportunities that help individuals and companies continue to make strides in gender parity and equitable community-building.
Entering with Open Arms
Despite her current role, Carrie’s career originally began in real estate, though life would soon take her in unforeseen directions. “About my third year as a property manager, I met my husband. He was in the Coast Guard at the time and moved us around the country for 20 years. Most of that time I’d stayed home and raised the children because it was hard to find steady employment while frequently moving around with young children.”
“The first thing I’d do when we moved to a new place was get involved in the community—a women’s group of some sort, whether it was sports or a book club. In 2014, I actually met two of the people who are still on the Women in Agribusiness team while playing co-ed softball! They told me about the organization. I was floored that despite us being in our little place in Maine, they were helping to manage this big global program centered around women in agriculture. They asked if I wanted to join the team, and I did. I was the first remote employee because my family moved to New Orleans shortly thereafter. We were able to make it work because I loved my job and HighQuest was open to my working remotely.”
Carrie began running operations for the division in 2018. “I met a lot of interesting people. I ran the ops, I dabbled in content development, I had my hands in all of it as far as the event planning and working with sponsors. I became very close with Syngenta during this time and met some amazing people like Brandon [Bell], Kathy [Eichlin] and others. To this day, there's great mutual respect between our organizations.”
Carrie also notes that her husband retired from the Coast Guard in December 2021. “Now he stays home and takes care of the kids and I’m the one always on the run [laughs]—we’ve very much switched roles in the last few years. But it’s great because my husband’s always been supportive of our initiatives.”
New to the Industry
Although she lacked a background in agriculture, Carrie feels that Women in Agribusiness’s ability to welcome women from all walks is a great strength of the organization.
“I was embraced very quickly and easily by staff, as well as by attendees and sponsors. I was what I’d call an uneducated consumer. I didn’t know where my food came from, or the sheer number of roles played in the industry. I’ve learned so much, and I also worked hand-in-hand with the previous event director, who was a great teacher and advocate. The women involved in our advisory board, our ambassadors, and our allies, are all so welcoming because they want women to excel in the industry. They want to educate the community. I never felt that because I didn’t grow up on a farm that I was judged or told that this wasn’t what I was supposed to do. We have women who attend our annual summit who came into the industry from so many different avenues.”
“I never felt like the ‘new girl’ who wasn’t worthy of entering the conversation. I don’t know if it’s a farmer thing because they’re such hardworking and welcoming people—but from farm to fork, I have felt since day one like I belonged.”
The Importance of Women in Agribusiness
Reflecting on her introduction to the Women in Agribusiness Summit, Carrie shares that “the first time I attended WIA in 2015, I witnessed magic. So many different people of different walks and identities working and networking together, and the first thing they say to one another is ‘hi my name is X and how can I help you.’ That is the atmosphere at the summit—it’s awe-inspiring.”
“If we’re all working to our full potential and we’re appreciated and lifted up and provided with the knowledge and tools to succeed, the entire industry benefits, male and female. And it’s more than just the annual summit. The initiatives we have—from event partnerships, to awards, to student sponsorships, scholarships, and more—they all provide and build this year-round community and network for professionals to reach out and rely upon.
Carrie also affirms that while Women in Agribusiness’s focus is on women, allyship is an important part of the formula. “Other summits you go to, you often find that the men are the ones who are always sent by the company to attend year after year. But when you put women in the title of the event, it encourages companies to rethink who they send to events and who they provide opportunities for. But we do also want men to attend—we welcome allies who want to support the initiatives of empowering women in the sector.”
“There’s a lot to say when you get 900 women and allies in a room who are engaged, who are ready to share their knowledge, and who are ready to learn. They have that know-how that benefits everyone in the ag sector, they’re movers and shakers, and we’re proud to see the magic that happens when they’re brought together. I can’t describe it. You just have to experience it and be embraced by the magic.”
Carrie shared that when she first joined the Women in Agribusiness team, there wasn’t much talk much about equity, diversity, or inclusion as intentional features of the strategies. “You heard it, but it felt like more of a buzz word. The initiatives have grown at WIA since then.”
“In 2019, we offered a unique opportunity for women-owned businesses to showcase their ag products at our IGNITE expo, which was part of that year’s WIA Summit. As part of this we offered presentations on tips for small businesses and the importance of being certified as a woman-owned company. We’re inclusive of all groups at our summits and MeetUps and host related ED&I topics and sessions, including publishing articles and interviews by ED&I industry experts in our WIA Today blog.”
“The more appreciation we have of all the skills and talents of each individual in the sector—regardless of identity—the greater the chance for collaboration and creativity as we work in unison to be the best at our jobs. After all, we all have to eat!”
Goals for This Year’s Summit and Beyond
“We’re just going to keep moving forward,” Carrie says regarding her vision for the organization’s future. “We’ll continue to accept new ways of thinking and doing business. Progress comes in so many different packages, but it would seem that the more diverse groups – women included – still have to work a little harder to prove themselves where others don’t. We have more work to do when it comes to daring others to step outside of ‘standard’ work definitions. We have to be bold enough to make room for different ways of getting the job done by those who have not historically been allowed to be the changemakers. Because we know that women rooting for women works, but having everyone along for the ride makes it such a smoother journey.”
And Carrie remains confident that Women in Agribusiness is in a strong position to lead the charge. “I’m excited that this will be our first year in Nashville. We’re always striving for the most informative conference for women in the sector, and each year we raise the bar. We’re cognizant about feedback we receive and we’re listening and providing more tours this year. We’re doing more breakout sessions, more options for pre-event workshops, career development opportunities, and we’re scheduling more opportunities for networking fun, taking advantage of the engaging choices to gather and share in Nashville. Our goal is to always go bigger and better and to always provide more career-enhancing opportunities for all women across the industry. We hope you’ll be the judge and join us for this year’s summit in Nashville on September 26-28.”
* Learn more about the 2023 Women in Agribusiness Summit here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A double graduate of UNC Wilmington, Tyler Young joined Syngenta as ED&I generalist March 2022 and has a professional background in higher education administration (with an ED&I focus) and social justice non-profit work. In his role, Young supports Syngenta’s North America ED&I strategy through his work with their NA-based Business Resource Groups. He serves as the supporting architect of NA-based ED&I Learning and Development initiatives with oversight of content development and maintenance of ED&I communications (including the NA ED&I SharePoint site), and by supporting relationships with industry partners such as MANRRS, Women in Agribusiness, Cultivating Change, etc.