First in a Series: How to Increase the Number of Women in Agribusiness

By Yvette Owo, HighQuest Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practice (October 26, 2021)

It is widely recognized that organizations who foster an environment where their diverse workforce feels supported and safe will be more competitive, have more customer loyalty, and be better able to attract and retain the best talent. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is critical to creating and maintaining a successful workplace; one founded on the principle that all people can thrive both personally and professionally.

In this WIA Today series of three posts, we’ll hear from Yvette Owo, executive consultant, HighQuest Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practice. In this first post, we’ll talk about strategy building:

  • The strategies and tactics companies and the industry can use to brand agriculture and agribusiness as a great career choice for women.

  • How to influence change in your company when you’re not in a leadership position.

  • How companies can find women willing to go into agribusiness.

  • Strategies to help you approach leadership in your company to discuss gender diversity.

To start with a simple analogy, let’s compare it with getting a new client, a date, or persuading anyone to do something for you. To influence someone, you want to share the benefits or talk in terms that matter to them.

1. Learning from the Women in the Company

Suppose an organization doesn’t have a lot of women. That means something about the company is unappealing to women, and perhaps even driving them away.


A good starting point to understand how to attract more women is by asking the women who work at that company. Using a process that:

  • Provides the anonymity to speak freely.

  • Includes leadership and HR commitment to integrating the feedback into recruiting, employee management, and retention.

  • Doesn't put the responsibility of the company’s recruiting on their shoulders - unless it’s in their job description. Instead, the process maintains the responsibility where it should be - with HR and leadership, who are responsible for guiding the company’s talent management.

A few simple questions to ask the women include:

  • What attracted you to work here?

  • We’ve noticed the company has few women and want to change that. What do you feel can be done to increase the number of women who come to work here?

  • What do you feel can be done to increase the number of women who stay here?

While I gave those as three specific questions – and let’s be clear, this is not a full solution, it’s a deep dive to show an example of the information you want to ask for – this needs to be a thought-through strategy and executed with genuine commitment (resources, dollars, and accountability) behind it.


As a caution, I often see underrepresented people in a company having the same workloads and performance expectations as everyone. In addition, they are asked to support recruiting and retention by:

  • being brand ambassadors,

  • attending recruiting functions, and

  • doing a lot of other extracurricular activities that are not asked of their peers.

When doing these extracurricular activities doesn’t help their performance ranking or salary, this can lead to burnout, disengagement, and eventually quitting for another job.


While it’s important to leverage diverse people as resources to help you understand the landscape, you shouldn’t expect them to shoulder the recruiting and retention workload that is the responsibility of HR, and for which leadership is accountable.


2. Attracting More Women

Now, back to the how-to: organizations also have to go out to where women are. Similar to when marketing, you go to where the customer is. Here, the “customer” is the employee you want to attract. Go where they are.

For example, if the company is hiring at the undergraduate and graduate level, it can target universities with business and other clubs for women.

Food & Agriculture companies can hyper-focus even more by developing relationships with women's groups at universities with solid agricultural sciences programs.

For hiring people outside of school or who may have jobs now, building relationships via LinkedIn can be far more effective than most people initially presume.

Also, consider people with an existing job. While the top people are mostly employed, you can build relationships for when they are ready to make a transition, or they might like your offer better than their current position. Also, most top performers have friends that are top performers and can direct you to that friend.


3. Building Pipelines vs. Short-Term Fixes

Having relationships with schools, university clubs, and individuals helps you develop a pipeline – not just a short-term solution. If you are still asking how to hire more diverse staff in 10 years, then you know there isn’t a strong pipeline; or if you are experiencing new hires leaving, then there is something causing them to leave, and that needs evaluation.

When you want to attract people to your industry, consider the things that matter to them and include those things in your recruiting process, company branding, and employer messaging. That means more than just having a few women in the company pose for pictures. That might get a few people in the door, but it will also show a lack of deeper commitment and can make new employees feel tricked, which is not good for retention.


The messaging should address:

  • Important concerns raised by women who work in the company.

  • What you hear as motivation from the women you’re trying to recruit.

It’s about listening. And showing that you’ve heard what they’ve said by messaging it back to the audience. Be sure what’s in your messaging is factual so people don’t feel deceived once they get in the door.


Continuing to listen, respond, attract, and maintain relationships with recruiting pools for women will help you build a long-term pipeline for creating diversity in the workplace.


Look for the second part of this DEI series here in WIA Today next month.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Owo is heading up the DEI consultancy practice with HighQuest Partners by helping companies realize increased diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as sustainable business profitability, process, and team improvements.


Previously, Owo had been a senior business strategy manager for more than a decade with Accenture, advising Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies on product launches reaching 1.6 million customers, managing strategic cost reduction programs of over $2 billion and M&A deals of more than $26 million, and also improving regional, national and global DEI initiatives and outcomes.

She teaches business strategy at the University of Texas at Austin, from where she also received degrees in business and political science. Owo is based in sunny Austin, Texas, and can be reached at yowo@highquestpartners.com.





WIAT Banner 980X85 Oct. 2021 (1).png

Do you have a story you'd like to contribute to WIA Today? Or a suggestion for a story, or comments about an article? Please reach out to Michelle Marshall at mmarshall@womeninag.com and share your thoughts. We'd love to hear from you.

1/1