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How agriculture boards can bring more diversity to the table

  • 3.5 min read

Creating an inclusive and diverse board of directors for an agricultural group is an important reflection of the real world and community the board represents.

Yet inclusion doesn’t stop at inviting men and women to the boardroom. Age, ability, culture, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity are also important types of diversity.

According to Jennifer Wright, senior advisor and stakeholder engagement specialist, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, there is significant evidence that diversity of backgrounds, thought and experience brings richer, more innovative business approaches.

“It’s important that boards of directors accurately reflect their customer base,” Wright says. “In agriculture, our customer base is changing as the diversity of Canadians increases. Having diverse boards can also attract different labour pools to the industry, including people who wouldn’t typically consider agriculture because they don’t see themselves in it.”

To begin increasing diversity, CAHRC has developed a best practice guide for boards. There are three steps to review current structures, identify areas for improvement and implement changes.

Establish benchmarks

Measuring the current situation of the board identifies gaps in existing processes and procedures. A board climate survey should include questions that focus on identifying openness to various types of diversity and areas that need attention to encourage inclusiveness.

Review best practices

Reviewing policies, procedures and documents against identified best practices for each area of board governance is key.

Boards that recruit directors by advertising to existing members’ networks may enlist a recruiting service to expand awareness of their opportunities. Boards that do not implement a limit to a term may improve their opportunity to bring in new members by changing their governance model. 

Monitor progress

After implementing improved processes and policies, the board’s progress should be measured using multiple methods.

Adding new faces isn’t enough

Wright emphasizes that diversifying board membership is important but taking steps to create an inclusive environment is also critical.

Boards need to ensure that they have an inclusive environment, so all members feel welcomed, valued and part of the organization.

“It is not enough to just change the board makeup to be more diverse. Boards need to ensure that they have an inclusive environment so all members feel welcomed, valued and part of the organization. The environment will determine whether new members stay and if boards accomplish what they’re trying to do,” she says.

The Beef Farmers of Ontario is publicly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion within the beef industry and the broader agri-food sector. Their diversity statement focuses on advocacy and education within their organization, its activities and among their members.

Beef Farmers of Ontario directors Joe Dickenson and Jordan Miller were instrumental in moving this policy forward. “While beef farmers are a fairly homogeneous group and a small part of the population, our production chain and consumers are very diverse,” Dickenson says. “We feel people from different backgrounds can make incredible contributions to our industry and we, as an organization and as beef farmers in general, should encourage that.”

Years in the making

For Arzeena Hamir, agronomist and farmer in British Columbia’s Comox Valley, efforts to improve diversity in agriculture have been a long time coming.

“Agriculture in Canada has a history of being very Eurocentric and settler-centric to the extent that the industry actively worked to exclude indigenous farmers and farmers of colour,” Hamir says. “When an organization recognizes that their board might not have a lot of diversity and wants to address that, I think that’s a fantastic first step.”

Hamir, who is ethnically Indian but also has an African cultural background, is a first-generation immigrant to Canada. In addition to many local involvements, she is past chair of the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC and is currently co-chair of Farmers for Climate Solutions.

Provincially and nationally, she knows many agricultural boards are successfully improving gender diversity.

“The sector has made some really good strides, so I’m hoping that same energy can propel groups to see how much they have benefited from including women, and then look at who else is missing from the table,” Hamir says.

Bottom line

Creating an inclusive and diverse board of directors is purely reflective of the real world. Determine where the diversity gaps are on your current board and encourage inclusiveness, review policies, procedures and documents for best practices and monitor progress. Recognizing the need for diversity around the boardroom table is a fantastic first step.

Article by: Rebecca Hannam