By: CropLife International
Are you a woman interested in a career in plant science? Here’s a field guide to help you get started.
Believe it or not, plant science is not just about farming! Whether you are interested in engineering, or biology, there is a myriad of opportunities in the plant science industry for women. While women have always played a vital role in feeding the world, they can now do so in so many new fields, not just farming.
And there’s a real need for increased representation of women in plant science. The plant science industry is working hard to close the gender gap and increase opportunities for women to have equal access to technologies and plant science solutions; however, women from some countries and regions still face significant hurdles. While the majority of working women in developing countries rely on agriculture as their main form of income, only about a quarter of agricultural researchers in Africa are women—and of that quarter, only 14% hold leadership positions within their research teams.
Climate change, population growth and other factors present challenges to all farmers – but women often lack access to the technologies and innovations that can help them improve yields and increase incomes. Ensuring that women have access to tools and plant science innovations they need to succeed is key to promoting global food security and helping create a world with zero hunger
Encouraging and promoting opportunities for women in agriculture — be it through working on a farm or pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) concentration — ultimately helps to address global issues related to climate change, biodiversity and societal rights. The plant science industry is in a unique position to approach these issues with viable solutions — by addressing inequality within the industry, we can better work towards solving these global issues for good.
CropLife International encourages diversity and inclusion in the field of plant science. If you’ve ever thought about a future in the plant science industry, read through this helpful field guide to see what opportunities lie ahead.
As you’re starting your career, a wide range of concentrations and opportunities are available to you. It’s important to think about what kind of job you want to do and which aspects of STEM interest you the most. Are you most interested in genetics? Perhaps a job as a biochemist or a biotechnologist would be best for you. If chemistry is your passion, then take a look at becoming a toxicologist. If you’ve always had a curiosity for insects or bugs, check out the life of an entomologist.
No matter what your passion, interests, location, even likes and dislikes may be, you are sure to find an opportunity in plant science just for you. There’s many different paths you can choose!
In fact, there is such an incredible amount of job diversity in agriculture, that you are not even limited to working directly with plants. If you like math and have a specific interest in finance or accounting, an agrifinance firm may be the right place to start your career. On the other hand, if the idea of working on a farm or in a field of crops sounds appealing to you, you can become an agroecologist and develop sustainable soil management practices, such as Soil Health Institute Chief Science Officer Dr. Cristine Morgan and Water Smart Agriculture Program Regional Technical Advisor Dr. Marie-Soleil Turmel. Careers in agriculture extend even beyond the STEM fields—rural sociology and agricultural communications are just two examples of even more opportunity in agriculture.
WORDS OF WISDOM
As you work to secure your dream job in agriculture or STEM, there may be some challenges or snags you hit along the way—do not let them discourage you! While the gender gap in agriculture remains, progress is being made year after year, and barriers are being broken down by ambitious and driven women in science – leading the way for those that may follow in their footsteps.
Take it from the words of some of the women CropLife International has previously featured in our Female #FoodHeroes campaign:
“While barriers remain, I believe the situation for women in science has improved over where it has been historically. Around the world, movements like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science help to highlight the gaps that remain, but more importantly, the achievements of women in STEM fields. These are important steps in the right direction.”
– Cari Carstens, Global Regulatory Lead – Seed Applied Technologies & Biologicals at Corteva Agriscience, United States
“One piece of advice I want to give to young women in agricultural science is to expand your interests. Take time to look around, read more and talk to more people. Even if you already have a specific area to focus on, having a broad knowledge-base and interests will allow you to innovate more through interaction.”
– Xi Chen, Group Leader at Syngenta Beijing Innovation Center, China
“I would advise young women today to obtain an education in the field of agriculture, and after graduating ask that they return to help develop agriculture in their home villages…I would like to form a Women’s Farmer Group. As women we must be food heroes, for the generations to come.”
– Ibu Kholliqunah, Farmer in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia
“Women need to be better represented in agriculture. New solutions require diverse perspectives, different genders and different regional outlooks…Working with agriculture or food systems is an awesome opportunity for those interested in being part of the solution to deliver the global goals from plant breeding to data science and innovations! We need more diversity — we need more women.”
– Gabriela Burian, Sustainable Food Systems Lead for Bayer, United States
“The expectations of you and your role as a woman (and mother) in agriculture and industry, may be very different to how you feel and what you want to do in your life. Be brave, be smart, be energetic. Don´t hold back! And look for role models and mentors to inspire you during tough times. Networks help. And taking breaks to recharge your batteries.”
– Elke Duwenig, Senior Expert in Biotechnology, BASF, Germany
“As a teacher and farmer, I would encourage a young farmer to expand her own knowledge and seek out knowledgeable people who want to see her grow as a good steward of the land. Growing sustainable food is the most essential career in the world. Civilizations depend on us, so own this role with pride and integrity.”
– Jeannette Andrashewski, Farmer, Canada
“My biggest challenge was believing in myself and knowing I was qualified enough to take on the next challenge. Mentoring and role models have been key to overcoming these doubts, and they have enabled me to grow and now be in a position where I can do the same for young women in agriculture. I believe there is a need for more mentoring programs for women in agriculture.”
– Catherine Feuillet, Chief Science Officer, Inari Agriculture, United States
“Follow your interest, bring your passion and commitment to work and make your voice heard. Now is a fantastic time to get involved to shape the future of farming. Technologies are progressing at a significant pace and opportunities are endless. We need individuals with curiosity, creativity and the will to make a difference.”
– Jutta Boehmer, Head of Crop Protection Research Bioscience, Syngenta, United Kingdom
“This may sound simple, but one thing that took me many years to learn is that my voice and my ideas are important. To all women and men out there who are still finding their own voice – don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Chances are, you may also be speaking on behalf of someone else who hasn’t spoken up, and you may inspire them to raise their own voice the next time.”
– Laura Potter, Head of Analytics & Data Sciences, Syngenta, United States
“My advice is for them to educate themselves, to learn, and be very good at what they do. One important career differential is the ability to manage a business and people, but we cannot afford to lose our understanding of the differences between human beings: between men and women, youth and adults, the rich and the poor. We have to respect those differences and learn that everyone around us has something to add to our daily lives and to agriculture.”
– Hilda Andrea Loschi, Agronomist Engineer, Brazil
“Agriculture needs young women to not only be part of the industry but to step up and lead. Young women can use social media to advocate for modern agriculture and share their perspectives with peers who want to know if their food is grown in a safe and sustainable manner.”
– Shannon Hauf, Senior Vice President and Head of Crop Technology for Soybeans, Bayer, United States
We’ve spoken with dozens of other Female #FoodHeroes who have given us great insight into being a woman in the plant science industry. If you don’t have time to read through these testimonials (and we encourage you to do so!) there are a couple key takeaways these inspirational women agree upon:
- Be your own cheerleader
- Find a mentor in the industry who can help you grow and navigate challenges
- Support, encourage and advocate for women in your industry
- Don’t lose sight of your initial ambition and goals
- Seek out opportunities to learn new things
- Your perspective is valuable – let it be heard!
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER
Soon it will be time to tidy up your CV (curriculum vitae) and cover letter and start applying for your dream job. While you’re finalizing your application materials, consider where you might look to apply. Almost everywhere you look, there are support systems and opportunities available to help you on your path. FMC Corp., for example, has partnered with the Women’s Initiative Network to help support professional development opportunities for women in the company. Sumitomo offers resources from career support to childcare support to support working mothers. Corteva launched an internal platform called Common Ground to elevate the voices of women in agriculture and advocate for change.
Other companies have set targets to encourage women in leadership and management roles. BASF Corporation is actively seeking to promote women in leadership roles within their company, and Bayer is dedicated to gender balance in management positions. And in 2016, Syngenta was recognized by Women in Agribusiness (WIA) as the company of the year for diversity thanks to its progressive diversity and inclusion policy and commitments.
Besides these companies’ career pages, you can review career sites like AgCareers.com to find a company or position that best suits you. If you’re considering a university (or are already in university!) in the U.S. think about getting involved in Annie’s Project or the Sigma Alpha professional agriculture sorority to grow your connections — and also meet new friends! Similar affinity groups are available in many countries globally. If you’ve already graduated, reach out to the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and see if there’s an upcoming virtual conference you can attend.
By bringing the best and brightest women to the forefront of the agriculture industry, we can not only make huge strides in achieving equality, but also work towards solving global challenges that threaten our very existence. Food insecurity, biodiversity and even climate change can be better addressed and mitigated if we encourage more diversity in plant science. Through resources like this, we at CropLife International hope we can help jumpstart successful careers for brilliant, ambitious women all over.
If you have found this field guide helpful and inspiring, please share it with friends or family who may also find value in it. And for similar content from CropLife International, check out our Female #FoodHeroes series and our video on five influential women changing the landscape of agriculture for the better.