Iowa State extension and outreach to hold inaugural Women in Ag Leadership Conference


Courtesy of Lisa Scarbrough

Madeline Schultz, Women in Ag program manager, has worked to develop and oversee the planning process for the leadership conference.

Madeline Mcgarry

Iowa State’s Women in Ag program is hoping to inspire students, farm operators and agribusiness professionals at a debut event.

The primary conference session will be held on Nov. 28, and will be preceded by a series of intensive workshops to be conducted on the evening of Nov. 27.

The conference will include a series of interactive sessions and speaker-led events, each with a focus on various topics, from learning to becoming an active and influential figure in agriculture to encouraging the establishment of mentorships and professional networks.

Roxi Beck of the Center for Food Integrity and vice president of Look East will deliver the keynote address, working to bridge the gap between consumer perceptions and the reality of the agricultural production industry.

“The consumer population has a lot of questions for people in agriculture, and we have to stop being dismissive of the perceptions of modern agriculture,” Beck said.

Diane Young, owner and director of technical services for Foundation Analytical Laboratory, will present “There Are No Glass Ceilings” during a general session at the conference. Young will challenge the idea that women are faced with barriers that prevent them from advancing in their career field.

“There’s really only glass ceilings if we put them there,” Young said. “If you are looking for one, you will find one.”

Over the past four decades, women have increased their presence in both legislative positions and governorships throughout the United States. However, nearly two thirds of American voters believe it is more difficult for women to be elected to office than men.

“Women are more likely to be elected to office than men, but just so few of them run,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. “It’s really about turning their interest into action.”

Bystrom will present “Making a Difference Through Public Service,” a session focused on women and running for office, particularly as it relates to serving in agricultural areas.

“[Agriculture] is not a male or female issue, according to the latest survey research,” Bystrom said.

In addition to encouraging women to become involved through elected positions and serving on boards and commissions, Bystrom will work to stress the importance of voting in an election to the attendees.

Keri Jacobs, assistant professor and cooperatives extension economist in Iowa State’s Department of Economics, will be leading one of the Monday evening workshops, titled “Becoming a Cooperative Board Influencer.”

The session will focus on the role of women in leadership positions, particularly when involving themselves in the cooperative industry.

As 16 percent of the board seats for major U.S. companies are comprised of women, Jacobs hopes to educate the attendees on how to become more active within cooperative boards, serving as both chairs and general members.

“My goal for the session is to give women insight into what co-op governance is like, what the roles and responsibilities are, and why it is important for them to become involved in their cooperatives in this way,” Jacobs said.

Attendees will also have the option to attend a Monday evening workshop led by Jennifer Leptien, interim director of learning communities, and Lora Leigh Chrystal, director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program.

The workshop is entitled “Discover Your Ag Leadership Strengths,” and is based on “StrengthsFinder,” an assessment that informs individuals of their most predominant behavioral and leadership characteristics.

“Participating in the session will allow women to enhance their roles in the ag industry and their personal life, and will allow students to master their academic responsibilities,” Leptien said.

Additional conference sessions will highlight rural entrepreneurship, addressing consumer perceptions of the ag industry and balancing family roles, while allowing women to engage in an expansive networking opportunity with attendees, speakers and panelists.

During the general conference proceedings, attendees will also be introduced to seven women from across Iowa being recognized as part of the “Women Impacting Agriculture” award ceremony.

A full description of the conference sessions and activities, in addition to the link for registration, can be found online at