Saskatchewan’s Cami Ryan finds herself in an interesting place these days — Missouri, where she works as social sciences lead with Monsanto’s Regulatory Policy and Scientific Affairs department.
It would be an understatement to refer to her career as an adventure, considering she’s not a farmer but comes from a farming family. She’s not a scientist in the traditional sense. Yet her influence is huge. She has quite a story to tell, and she’ll join a full slate of others at the fifth annual Advancing Women in Agriculture (AWC) western conference in Calgary taking place March 26-27 to tell it.
The event brings women in agriculture and food together from across Canada and parts of the U.S. including business experts, motivational and inspirational leaders and industry representatives.
According to conference organizer Iris Meck of Iris Meck Communications, this year’s event will feature a variety of workshops designed to drill down into the major issues women in ag have on their mind — from succession planning to life/career coaching to dealing with difficult conversations, and a lot more.
“We’re so excited about this year. We’ve got great food entrepreneurs, a college dean, government leaders, and a wealth of others all giving their stories on being an influential woman in ag. We’ll be touching on a lot of hot-button topics, from nutritional health to dealing with stress,” Meck says.
For two decades, Ryan worked in the public sector, before making the transition to the private sector in 2014.
She’s become known for her insights on how we can better communicate science in an increasingly complex world (especially on social media), but says she’s never really talked about what got her to where she is in the first place.
“I use social media every day, but there’s something profoundly moving about sitting with someone face-to-face and exchanging life stories,” she says. “There’s never been a better time for women to step out and say, ‘Yes, this is my job, but it’s also who I am as a human being.”
Ryan’s talk is titled The Road Less Travelled: An Unexpected Journey Through Agriculture. She’ll share her insights on the roadblocks or unexpected opportunities that can shift our life direction in subtle or surprising ways.
“I suppose this story of mine has been percolating in the background for a long time. I like writing fiction and poetry, so I’m always thinking about the narrative arc in what I do. It’s happening more and more — I see so many farmers and other people telling their story and speaking about what they’re passionate about. This is the trajectory we’re going to have to continue going on as an industry, and these stories will matter more in the future.”
Why do those personal stories matter more?
“As humans we get stuck in our biases easily — it’s a safe place to be. Sometimes magic can really happen if you push those boundaries and sit down with someone and understand how and why they think the way they do,” she says.
At a time when every conceivable viewpoint that exists on Earth is broadcast live via Twitter every moment of the day, having those in-person interactions are crucial, she adds — especially if women in agriculture hope to effectively communicate with skeptical consumers.
“The minute you place boundaries around how you think, that’s when you have to push your mind to thinking beyond that.”
Janisse Routledge, global regulatory and stewardship learning strategy leader for Dow AgroSciences in Calgary, will be addressing that very subject. Advocacy in Agriculture: What is the message women can take to the increasingly skeptical public consumer? will be the topic of a panel discussion she’ll take part in on March 27.
Throughout her career, Routledge has had the opportunity to work on initiatives that involve consumer perception, market realities and communications. The one thing she enjoys the most is bringing people together to manage issues or to create new ways of thinking.
“It’s my first time at a conference like this talking about advocacy — it’ll be a new experience,” she says. She’ll be talking about how women in agriculture can use what she calls the Three Cs when communicating with the public — compassion, cooperation and collaboration.
“Everyone is coming from somewhere when they share their opinion. How can you better understand where they’re coming from? Working together is better and a lot more effective than working alone,” she says.
Other speakers include Josie Van Lent, dean of Agricultural Sciences at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta., who will share her experiences, understandings and knowledge that she has gleaned throughout her career journey.
Karen MacNeill, psychologist at Copeman Healthcare Centre in Calgary, will speak about mental health issues in the farming community. Edmonton-based writer Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?, will examine what science tells us about the influence of popular culture on the public.
Iowa’s Sharyl Sauer, North America and platform communications leader for the newly-announced DowDuPont spinoff company Corteva Agriscience, will share insights and practical advice from her career in agricultural communications, including how to play to your strengths and learn from the triumphs and setbacks of those around you.
“The agriculture industry, like many others, has no shortage of challenges and opportunities that will need talented, focused people to address,” Sauer says. “When you understand a personal strength like leadership or consensus-building you may be better able to apply that talent to address a challenge. Conversely, it’s important to be self-aware and understand where you might have a tendency to spend too much time in the consensus-building phase, for example, rather than making a decision and moving forward.”
Sauer adds that taking part in conference like this help to ensure a new company like Corteva Agriscience emerges as an important contributor to diversity in ag.
“We want to be a fully transparent, inclusive and responsible company. Open dialogue with leaders in agriculture — like those attending this conference — is an important component of our roadmap for the future.”
For a full agenda and details on the conference visit the conference website at http://www.advancingwomenconference.ca/2018west/.