Seed World

5 Ways to Create a More Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment

The agriculture industry is making strides toward including more diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. In the current recruiting environment, however, it’s not without its challenges.

In episode five of Seed Speaks, host Sonja Begemann, editorial director with Seed World Group, is joined by hiring experts who discuss the opportunities, challenges and keys to success for hiring and recruiting more diversity in the workforce.

Guests who joined Begemann include Mark Waschek, executive recruiter with Ag 1 Source; Risa Demasi, co-founder of Grassland Oregon Seed; Emily Ellis, BASF recruiter; and Anna Alicea, BASF technical service program manager. Each expert has experience in recruitment and shows passion for including more diversity in the industry. Here are the key learning points they shared.

1. Build Relationships. “Recruitment in general is about relationships,” Alicea, who works primarily in collegiate recruitment, says. “Our team really struggled last year in this virtual environment to make connections with students.”

To compensate for not being able to shake hands, Alicea and her team have used technologies such as social media to better reach younger age groups. In addition, they’re partnering with college cooperative extension programs and with collegiate FFA (part of the National FFA Organization, formerly Future Farmers of America), Agriculture Future of America and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

2. Take a Seat at the Table. “When I started [working in the ag industry] the first meeting I attended, you could count the number of women on one hand,” Demasi says. “But that has changed, and I think dramatically so. More women have entered the industry and they’re making space for more women and for other types of diversity.”

By simply showing up, other women are often inspired to do the same, she says. As more women take roles in ag, it encourages other women to get involved, and the same is true of other kinds of diversity. People feel more comfortable when they’re not the ones who have to break new ground.

3. Educate Candidates and Hiring Managers. “There’s a lot of education happening within the workplace,” Ellis says. “[We’re] educating our team members, our hiring managers to better understand what some of the challenges are and some of the perspectives that our candidates are bringing to the table.”

Educate those in hiring positions about the benefits of bringing in candidates from different backgrounds. Talk with candidates early, like when they’re in college, so they’re informed about opportunities in ag. Stereotypes that say you need to be from a farm to work in ag still exist to a degree, but educate the students about what’s possible to open up opportunities in the up-and-coming workforce.

4. Expand Diversity with Purpose, Not Numbers, in Mind. “The industry in general kind of loses sight of what the real reason we’re doing this for, it’s not diversity for diversity’s sake,” Waschek says. “What we’re enabling by having a diverse company culture is actually diversity in thought and diversity in action, collaboration from different viewpoints and different backgrounds is empowering to an organization.”

For example, if forage seed companies only hire other forage seed producers, they could be missing opportunity. By hiring an animal nutritionist they’ll understand how to breed plants to meet the needs of that market, helping their customer and, ultimately, their own bottom line, Waschek adds. In the same vein, diversity of thought and background brings new ideas to organizations that can boost productivity and opportunities. Diversity is more than just hitting a number.

5. Consider the Needs of the Candidate. “Thinking about our interns who are scattered around the U.S. [for example], it’s my responsibility to ensure they have an awesome experience [so they want to return],” Alicea says. “It’s also my duty to ensure whatever part of the U.S. they’re in, they’re able to get a haircut and [get the] right hair products. You know, there are some remote locations in the U.S. where ethnically diverse individuals can’t find hair products.”

That’s just one example. Ultimately, it’s up to the hiring manager to make sure that candidates are enabled for success not only professionally, but personally as well. She’s strategic about placing students to make sure they’re happy not only in their work, but their environment as well.

Diversity in agriculture, and increasing those opportunities, is an ongoing subject. While agriculture is making headway, there is still room for growth. If you’re a hiring manager, consider what you can do to help move the bar forward.

Watch the full panel discussion here:

Miss other episodes of Seed Speaks?

Recruiting Talent in Ag

Employee Retention

How to Manage in a Work-From-Home Environment

Recruiting Seasonal Labor