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Diversity Recruitment and Inclusion: Just Do It
Attend the Diversity Add-on Workshop at the 2016 Ag & Food HR Roundtable
By Erica Jane Flores, University of Kentucky

This month I celebrate my ten-year reunion as an alum of Semester at Sea. Over the last decade, the lessons learned from preparing for the experience, to navigating South East Asia and the Pacific Rim, and the lasting impact since has been transformational on a deeply personal level and deeply profound on a professional level. The experience has influenced my work while I was leading national efforts in diversity in inclusion at National FFA or recruiting students at CSU Chico and University of Kentucky, or building partnerships and talent pipelines with industry - I am reminded of the timeless lessons from the adventure of a lifetime - the power of "Just Do It" and the value of "Changing Perspectives". These lessons have guided much of my career, but especially when striving for inclusive excellence in the organizations, companies, institutions, and communities that I have been a part of:

Just Do It! I grew up during the days of MTV Real World and Road Rules, and of the many episodes and plot lines of the reality TV shows, all I really remember was that Road Rules 8 was filmed on Semester at Sea and that one day, I too wanted to do it (Semester at Sea, not Road Rules!). Of the various education abroad experiences, Semester at Sea was by far the costliest. For years, I researched, talked about, and dreamed about the experience. I could recite a rationale, provide evidence on the impact, and present statistics accordingly. Just as quickly I could list the barriers and financial obstacles of pursuing this lofty endeavor. I was approaching the middle of my junior year in college, and I was closer to graduation, but I was not any closer to the vision I had for myself. I still remember the crisp December morning I woke up, sprung out of bed, opened my laptop and started completing my application for the voyage to the Eastern Hemisphere. No further worrying, debating, doubting, or dreaming - just doing.  I woke up and knew this is what I was going to do. I did not have a plan mapped out in full, I just tackled one task at a time.

 When I began working in diversity in agriculture and in higher education, it felt exciting, overwhelming, exhilarating, impossible, fulfilling, and daunting. The list of opportunities and challenges grew side-by-side steadily, but ultimately the worthiness of the effort trumped every fear or setback.

As HR professionals, recruiters, and managers, often our best option is to wake up and "just do it." The decision to pursue Semester at Sea was much more challenging than actually making it happen. The movement into action channeled my energy from "if" to "how" I was going to make it happen. Slowly, I also witnessed that my actions began to attract other people to join in the action, join in the vision. Colleagues, bosses, professors, family members began to ask "how can I help?" Developing and acting on a diversity strategy or inclusion initiative is monumental once you decide to do it, instead of debating or waiting.

As you consider your company, what visible actions have you made in striving for inclusive excellence? What actions have you taken to actively recruit diverse talent?  An ideal action step would be to register for the 2016 Ag & Food HR Roundtable in August 2016. Your actions will influence others into action, too.

Changing Perspectives As our workplace, our communities, our nation increasingly becomes more diverse, we are called to learn the dynamic histories of all the people that surround us – our histories are not the same, our legacies are not the same.  Often in the American Agricultural industry we discuss the pipeline as homogeneous, comprised of predominantly white males.

The history of agriculture is vibrant, rich and beautifully diverse. This year the 31st Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) conference boasted over 1,000 ethnically diverse attendees from high school aged, to Ph.D. students, to seasoned professionals. Collectively they filled general sessions, workshops, and professional competitive events all in pursuit of their future in agriculture.  First-time attendee and Co-Founder of the Cultivating Change Foundation, Marcus Hollan, was shocked and said "I had no idea" there were this many diverse youth and young professionals passionate about agriculture.  Marcus is used to hearing that exact statement, but he is typically not the one saying it.

Marcus Hollan and Jesse Lee Eller will be leading the 2nd Annual Cultivating Change Summit in June, this year in Sacramento, California. The Cultivating Change Summit is an effort to bring together Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ+) agriculturists in and around agriculture (and allies), a group that is rarely represented in either of the communities of which they are a part – the agriculture community or the LGBTQ+ community – for the most unique professional development conference ever.

In July, under the leadership of former Senior Tribal Advisor to Secretary Vilsack, Janie Hipp will bring together hundreds of Native youth for a one-of-a-kind learning experience about the issues they will face as the next generation of food and agriculture leaders in Indian Country at the 2016 Native Youth in Agriculture Summer Leadership Summit. The summit is open to both enrolled Tribal youth and Tribal descendants.

In late October, the 6th annual Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Conference will strive to create a network of America’s agricultural industry, government agencies and educators with student representatives of the country’s growing Latino population to promote advanced study and careers for Hispanics in agriculture and related fields.

I went across our globe for a life-changing summer and a lifetime of changed perspectives and life-long learning. But you do not need your passport or travel the high seas. Right here, all across our bountiful country and across our agricultural industry is a collection of diverse narratives in agriculture – The narratives of people as diverse as the product of our toil. I invite you to get to know and become actively engaged with the organizations that are developing and nurturing the top-tier diverse talent pipeline of our agricultural industry.  While each of these conferences is targeting a specific demographic, each encourage and welcome all people!