All aboard: female representation in ag leadership

Innovation Guelph offers multiple programs to help women become involved on boards

By Kaitlynn Anderson
Staff Reporter
Better Farming


Women in agriculture – and other industries – can access a variety of resources to help them develop the confidence, skills and knowledge which can enable them succeed on boards.

Whether women are currently involved with any organizations or not, Innovation Guelph provides a range of resources through the Rhyze Project for females of all ages. To date, these initiatives include the Rhyze Award, the Rhyze Academy and Rhyze on the Road.

The Rhyze Project “started out as a women’s entrepreneurial initiative,” says Kristel Manes, a director at Innovation Guelph.

Over time, the project grew to include an aspect focused on educating and counselling women to “give them the tools to be able to sit on boards and work together effectively,” Manes says.

Innovation Guelph wanted to help address the disproportionate representation of women in these leadership roles.

On average, women account for approximately 15 per cent of all board members, she says.

While women often want to participate on boards, they may feel that they do not possess the proper skill sets.

So, “from that (realization), we built a training program,” Manes says. “Women who feel that they don’t have the confidence or skill sets (can participate in the) governance training program.”

In addition to providing the women with information about the structures of boards and committees, “we will help them with etiquette, explain what the (various positions) do and (discuss) how their votes count,” she adds.

The organization wants to ensure that women from all backgrounds feel that they can be involved with boards.

“Whether it’s the mom who is raising two little kids, the woman who just retired and is now looking for something to do, or somebody who is a newcomer to the community – it’s a great way to meet people and get (involved) with the community,” Manes says.

By encouraging other women to participate in these groups, individuals who have served on boards for many years can also have a break to avoid exhaustion.

“Often, these people may feel like they have to (continue serving) because there are no (other women) to take their place,” she says.

However, before individuals – both male and female – decide to become involved with a board, they should “make sure that their values align with those of the organization.”

To help determine whether an organization is a suitable fit, people can “look at the cultural diversity of the board, how (the organization) has operated in the past and what the (group) has been successful at,” Manes says.

Women can also inspire each other to share their skills and knowledge.

Motivating Hands
    PeopleImages/E+ photo

“If there is an organization that someone is passionate about, encourage her to ask about opportunities,” Manes says. “Or, if you see or hear of opportunities, pass the information on – but don’t pass it to the same people that you always do. Think of people that you haven’t (previously) considered.” BF

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