By Madeline Schultz, Women in Ag Program Manager
“I’m so proud of the work all of you are doing in agriculture,” stated Wendy Wintersteen, President of Iowa State University, as she opened up the 2018 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Women in Ag Leadership Conference on November 27 in Ames, Iowa. The conference theme was ‘The Conversations of Leadership.’ The 74 women and men attending the conference enjoyed hearing about Dr. Wintersteen’s leadership journey and her insights on the university’s impact on Iowa agriculture.
The keynote speaker, Janine Bruder, Human Resource Director at Nationwide Agribusiness, encouraged women to be honest about their emotions in challenging conversations. “Identifying your contributions to the problem helps remove barriers and lets you start walking side by side,” Janine told the audience. She explained people can take all the time they want to describe their 60-second opener on paper. When it’s time to talk, recognize there is only one-minute to get a truthful and real conversation off to a good start. Janine also led a concurrent session and helped women practice preparing themselves for tough conversations. “Care enough about your team and yourself to get through the emotional sludge and be real,” advised Janine.
Six honorees were recognized as 2018 Women Impacting Agriculture. The ISU Extension and Outreach professionals who supported their nominations introduced the women and described some of their key accomplishments. The women honored are leaders in cropping systems technology, natural resource conservation, agricultural credit, local food systems, family farm finances and marketing, and agricultural education. The honorees shared their personal stories, along with words of wisdom and humor. “I figured out I could do it. I could be a good Mom, have a career and serve on a board. If you have doubts, try it, I think you will surprise yourself,” shared Sarah Ham. The six inspiring 2018 honorees are Sarah Carlson, Sarah Ham, Leslie Miller, Caite Palmer, Val Plagge, and Margo Sievers.
During the concurrent sessions on mediation and conflict resolution, Kathy Hall, Organizational Outreach and Development Director for Iowa Mediation Services, guided attendees in practicing open-ended questioning. She explained essential conflict resolution skills such as focusing on the common positives, reframing, slowing down, and clarifying what is being expressed or asked. “Don’t assume people in the room are listening,” advised Kathy, “People can get lost in their own thoughts.” Kathy explained several tasks for active listening such as to stop talking and to believe the speaker’s reality.
Conference attendees took home practical tools to apply to their farm family businesses from Melissa O’Rourke’s concurrent sessions on the Top Ten Decisions to Transfer a Farm to the Future. The most common mistake is doing nothing. “While estate and succession planning takes time and can be costly, it is well worth the investment when the results you desire are achieved,” stated Melissa. She encouraged women to take a team approach to estate planning that includes an attorney, accountant and other professional advisors. As far as great grandpa’s hammer, “Have the joy of passing it along now,” Melissa advised.
It was an exciting conversation with the panel on Leading our Agricultural Organizations, moderated by Jennie Savits, ISU Enologist (wine-making specialist). Caring and strong board members shared insightful experiences. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” stated Jenni Peters, National Beef Board Member, “Say what you mean and mean what you say in a Christ-like way.” Jenni says women are great at asking questions and the men appreciate this. “Talk to a good friend about any anxieties you have with your board role,” Jenni advises. Jen Sorenson, National Pork Producers Council Board Member, said, “We have a female governor of Iowa and President of ISU, so women’s leadership feels normal now.” Jen enjoys finding common issues with friendly organizations, thinking about the good of the whole pork industry and bringing people together in collaborative ways. “No one grows their business by sitting at home and thinking about it. Get off the farm and go talk to others for the day. Those experiences are valuable,” shared Anne Zwink, Winemaker at Soldier Creek Winery. Her work with the Iowa Wine Growers Association and Fort Dodge Fine Arts gives her opportunities to expand her industry knowledge while giving back to her community.
A panel of human resource professionals from agriculture cooperatives in Iowa offered perspectives on career conversations. Sara Clausen, Director of Communications for Key Cooperative moderated the panel. “Go seek out mentors to help you, they usually don’t come looking for you,’ said Janelle Thomas, Chief Human Resources officer at Landus Cooperative. She advised women to find a friend at work that you can to about your career, seek out professional organizations and read, read, read. Laura Sagwin, Human Resources Manager at First Cooperative Association, explained she is always looking for ways to help employees grow. Talk to your managers about your career goals, let them know what interests you and ask questions. “The cooperative environment has allowed me to the be the HR Manager I always wanted to be,” shared Carla Elliott, VP of Human Resources at Innovative Ag Services, “The human resources team is a true partner in growing the business.” She enjoys encouraging women in their agricultural careers. Carla says it’s often the little things that help people get jobs, like showing up promptly, having a neat appearance, knowing something about the company, and being a team player.
Capstone speaker, Amanda De Jong, State executive Director for the USDA Iowa Farm Service Agency, told the conference audience our conversations can have a lasting impact on other people even when we don’t know it. She gave an example of how a mentor of hers told her if she is thinking about graduate studies, then go to law school. Even though he later forgot he gave this advice, Amanda got her law degree which led her to working for Senator Grassley on agricultural policy. While she was working for the Senator, she similarly encouraged a young woman to go to law school. Four years later, this young law graduate was interviewing with Amanda for a job. Now that Amanda has children, she says this is a good reminder that someone is always watching. Amanda enjoys her ‘Lean In Circle’ of colleagues that support each other in their careers. “As women, we all have something to give back to our industry and to other women,” Amanda stated, “Everything we do influences others.”
Conference attendees were inspired to believe in their own leadership abilities and to keep learning. They gained new friends who can support them in their leadership goals and were inspired by the conference speakers. Attendees took home tip sheets, planning guides, and information to help them continue to improve their leadership skills. Caite Palmer offered a sentiment shared by many, “It was great to be in a space so full of passionate women in agriculture.”
I would like to thank the Leadership Conference Advisory Committee for their excellent guidance and support of this event. We could not have done this without them. I also very much appreciate the continued sponsorship of Farm Credit Services of America and the ISU Department of Economics cooperatives program.