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Making a Place at the Table: Examining the Impact and Influence of Women in Agricultural Leadership in the Canadian Prairies
- Author / Creator
- Braun, Jennifer AJ
Since the first days of cultivation of the land, women have played an essential role in the development of agriculture of the Canadian prairies. Over the past 150 years, as prairie agriculture has undergone a range of socio-cultural, economic and technical changes, so too have the roles, contributions and expectations of women. The opportunities for and advancement of women in leadership in the sector are increasing, but not always evenly and not without difficulty. This research explores the ways in which women in agricultural leadership in the Canadian Prairies are positioned – and are positioning themselves – as leaders and contributors to a sector that is experiencing shifts both internally and externally. Externally, these changes are being influenced by public concerns, such as those related to the health and environmental impacts of the agri-food system; internally, the shifting gender dynamics have created a new milieu of contestations over which women should be promoted to positions of leadership, and what they must do to get there. Women are typically underrepresented in positions of high level leadership, from agricultural politics to government, to research and development. This is slowly changing, as more women are graduating from agricultural colleges and taking on professional jobs. Further, women continue to grow in their proportion of owner/operators on farms throughout Canada.
These are interesting shifts within the sector and co-exist with larger public conversations around the importance of having women more equally represented around the leadership table. As such, this dissertation hinges on the following questions: how are women shaping agricultural processes and policies in all sectors within agriculture in Western Canada; and how do women navigate the complex and patriarchal terrain of the agriculture sector in this region to achieve their leadership success? Through 70 in-depth, qualitative interviews with women in agricultural
leadership from the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, Canada I explored these key questions.
Overall, women in agricultural see themselves contributing in important ways within the sector, particularly around their communication and marketing abilities. They see themselves as bridge builders among disparate stakeholders; and between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ approaches to agriculture. More specifically, women see a distinct opportunity to use their motherhood capital as knowledgeable and expert feeders of children to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of conventionally produced food. The road to leadership has not been without difficulty, and advancing in agriculture, as a woman, still requires complex gender performances rooted in expectations of the past. To gain legitimacy as a leader, some women must enact a performance of respectable farm femininity: a complex mix of respectable femininity and masculine-coded farm credibility. These expectations are rooted in more traditional constructions of rural, hegemonic masculinity, but continue to carry important weight in conferring credibility to a woman in agricultural leadership. This has important implications for how women are able to carve out their career path on the way to leadership.
Finally, evidence from this research indicates that part of the changing dynamics within the sector are, in part, because of the influence of post-feminism and neoliberalized organizational environments. A strong belief in gender-neutral, meritocratic advancement coupled with equally strong anti-affirmative action dispositions render many of the larger, structural and institutional barriers to women’s advancement both invisible and irrelevant. Despite all of these complications and obstacles for women in leadership in agriculture, there are reasons to remain hopeful. Strong women leaders are working hard to change things within the sector including: asking difficult questions around institutional sexism, changing workplace
policy and culture to support parenthood; and collaborating on interesting projects that enhance social and environmental sustainability. There are, indeed, ‘possibilities, with openings’ emerging throughout the world of agriculture in the Canadian Prairies, one just needs to work more diligently to find and promote them. I do this through the lens of critical feminist hope as a way to ensure that both the hope and the seeming hopelessness are represented in my portrait of Canadian Prairie agriculture.
- Graduation date
- Fall 2019
- Type of Item
- Doctor of Philosophy
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