June 22, 2023
The pandemic represented a time of unprecedented disruption worldwide, and women in business — including agribusiness — did not escape a disproportionate impact of that disruption. There were myriad personal and professional complexities well-documented for women at work, with the complexity for women on the rise growing longer and stronger roots as the pandemic marched on.
Today, as we look to the fall, where women will convene virtually for Scoular’s new development event called Perennial and in Nashville for the Women in Agribusiness Summit, we would be remiss to not ask how do we not only reset, but how do we invest in ourselves to exponentially grow?
No question these layered implications have impacted women because of the long history of mixed — and, candidly, destructive — messaging that woman in agribusiness have received for decades — and still do in certain venues.
Work hard. Keep your head down. Focus on the “right” things, and success will come. What are the “right” things? You’ll know them when you see them. It’s good to have ambitions. But don’t be too ambitious. Be confident! But not too confident. No one likes someone who’s always asking about their compensation. And it’s important to be liked. It’s also important to find work life balance. But it’s dangerous to say “no,” so just be careful about that.
These contrasting and destructive messages have long been a trap for women on the rise. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a conversation with a woman struggling to determine how to meet those mixed messages who noted that their solution was to either focus on working harder (an impossible path), or simply opting out of their aspiration to lead.
With that complex backdrop in mind, I’d like to offer an optimistic and empowered invitation to women looking to their future in agribusiness. As I have expanded my wings in our industry over the last six years, and seen the deeply talented women who lead in agribusiness around the globe, it is clear that they are make-it-happen leaders who over deliver and innovate along the way.
To that end, I offer you a quote from Leah Johnson, who spoke to Scoular’s female-focused employee resource group, Scoular Women Influencing Culture, on International Women’s Day. That inspiration offered by Johnson is, “Stop asking for permission to be great.” And I would separately offer, stop playing by a set of rules you think are either unwritten or that you’ve surmised through those dangerous mixed messages. Define your greatness with your own set of rules.
With that invitation to define your own future, I note that there is no time like the present to reflect on the fact that hard work and technical expertise are only the cost of entry to an exceptional future. To chart your authentic path to leadership, additional developmental investments are required. You must make a conscious effort to reinvest in yourself.
Chart out where you would like to be in one, three and five years. Inventory your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities as you consider what it will take to get you to those aspirational “nexts.” Set specific goals and milestones, splicing them into bit–sized bits of 30– or 90–day increments to avoid being overwhelmed.
No matter the chapter you are embarking on, your network and your relationships will always be your most powerful asset. Ensure you are growing and nurturing your network and relationships, cultivating a personal board of directors, truth tellers, and sponsors and mentors who can be your strategic human capital.
Look for “big bets” and transformative development opportunities within your organization or in the industry, volunteering for challenging assignments, leading cross-functional projects, or taking on new responsibilities that stretch your capabilities. Embrace the discomfort as those opportunities will help you learn, innovate, and showcase not only your abilities, but also your agility.
In each new season of your career, you will need to hone and refine an authentic personal brand that not only supports the season you’re in, but the aspirational season ahead of you. Your personal brand reflects your unique skills, expertise, and values, giving context for how others perceive you and what sets you apart from your peers. Make that brand visible through your internal leadership, public speaking engagements, thought leadership articles, industry conferences, among other opportunities.
These are just a few ideas to spark your curiosity. And as you close out the time you’ve invested in reading this article, I ask just one thing of you: Commit to just one thing. Make one plan, one investment, one commitment to investing in your development in the back half of the calendar year. Take some risks. Embrace the mess and use it as fuel for your future. Do not return to your daily grind, failing to make an investment in yourself and your future, plodding forward and stubbing your toe on your ambitions from time to time. Find a good stretch for yourself, and remember, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me?”
Editor’s Note: A version of this blog was originally posted on the Women in Agribusiness Today blog.