Opinion: Greater inclusivity can benefit farming in many ways

We are often being encouraged to “foster an inclusive culture” in agriculture, but what does it actually mean?

According to Google, “inclusive” is defined as “including all the services or items normally expected or required”. The key word here is “normally expected”. So, if you’re an employee, there would be some services you would normally expect to be provided, such as a toilet, shelter and basic cleanliness.

See also: Young farmer calls time on casual racism in agriculture

And what about “culture”? Google defines culture as “ideas, customs and behaviours characteristic of particular people, society or organisations”. The way I describe it, however, when I am talking with farmer groups, is to ask: “How do you want people to feel about your business?”

So, when we put these definitions together and ask, what is “fostering an inclusive culture”, my interpretation would be “understanding and delivering to the needs of all, continuously”.

Let’s be honest, most will look at this and think it is a soft subject, not exactly “top of the priority list to improve the bottom line”. It involves critical and proactive thinking, and starts with asking “why?”. “Why” bother with all this fostering culture? If the employees do the job, then everything is OK… right?

The “why?” for me, as a lesbian woman in agriculture, goes back to highlighting our mutual necessities rather than our individual differences.

As a minority, we recognise this feeling of “difference” and maybe even the feeling of discrimination or prejudice because of our differences.

From my own experience, and despite being an extrovert, I have found myself withdrawing from certain situations of work because I am either female or gay, and there are conversations that make me feel ashamed.

Similar experiences apply to other groups or individuals, too, be it related to race, gender or age. Not only will employees retract from social situations if they feel like an outsider, but they will become less productive, lacking motivation to work in a culture that does not accept them.

Subconsciously, we do not recognise several minority groups. We are susceptible to invisible prejudice. While in most cases it is not malicious, there is a lot more to consider about inclusivity than a policy on equality and diversity.

To foster a culture takes time, with everyone on board and everyone understanding the “why?”. We have all felt discrimination at some point, whether it is was sexism or ageism or your face face not quite fitting. Take yourself back to the place and the feelings you felt. Would you want anyone else to feel that way?

There are some great examples of communities that have fostered inclusive cultures, even within farming. And there are lessons that can be adopted to help support businesses aiming to be more inclusive.

But to foster this culture, we need resistance and resilience to come together. Resistance against prejudice and resilience to be proactive in setting your reputation (how do you want people to view your business?).

To show an inclusive culture in agriculture, we need to welcome diversity to bring in new ideas, skills and mindsets. By creating a culture of inclusivity, people feel empowered, stress is reduced, the focus is on work instead of hiding or feeling discriminated against. It’s a win-win. But it’s also a mindset change, not an overnight tick box exercise.

Amie Burke, skills manager, AHDB

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