Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, and in an effort to keep from climbing the walls of the airplanes that lack in-flight wifi (Yes, “Hi my name is Emily and I’m addicted to my email”), I’ve been reading some books that have been on my “must read” list for far too long.

I dove headfirst into Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sandberg, formerly of Google and now the COO of Facebook, discusses the importance of women in the workforce and how more women must “lean in” and rise through the ranks of corporate America. It’s a powerful book with a powerful message.  

Last week, I spent the week with our six College Aggies Online (CAO) Scholarship winners, all of whom happen to be women this year. Together we flew down to Arkansas where we visited with our CAO program sponsor, Tyson Foods. During a whirlwind week at Tyson’s headquarters, the ladies and I were able to tour Crystal Bridges (a breathtaking art museum originally commissioned by Abraham Wilson and Gloria Bachman), the Walmart Museum, visit with one of Tyson’s farm families, meet with Sara Lilygren (Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs at Tyson Foods), Donnie Smith (CEO and President of Tyson Foods), visit with executives from Tyson’s Social Responsibility and Social Media Departments; and tour the famous Tyson R&D and Food Safety labs.

We also were able to meet and learn about the hatchery/genetics process by visiting Cobb-Vantress’ U.S. headquarters. Whew! Makes me tired just typing it all!

Most of our CAO scholarship winners are about to graduate from college and enter the workforce and I have to honestly say, our workforce couldn’t be luckier than to have any one of these outstanding ladies on their team.

Throughout the tour, these ladies were engaged, animated and asked thoughtful questions. They soaked every experience up like mini-sponges and took every opportunity in stride.

Throughout Ms. Sandberg’s book she explores the challenges women in the workforce face – from finding life balance, to finding a mentor, to finding a supportive life partner. But the book is also filled with life lessons and nuggets of sage career advice from Sandberg and her equally esteemed professional colleagues (seriously it’s like reading a who’s who list from Forbes).

One of the most interesting pieces of advice was for women to take a seat at the table; to be present and speak up. I saw that desire to be noticed during our week with Tyson from our Aggies winners. They took a seat at the table and they spoke up.

I have a feeling that many women on the farm don’t overthink gender stereotypes and equitable division of labor, because everyone is expected to pitch in and lend a hand. That is probably why our Aggies students (many coming from traditional “ag” backgrounds) feel more comfortable taking that metaphorical seat at the table.

As we sat eating pizza on our last night in town, I asked everyone to go around the table and tell me their “dream job.” Answers ranged from becoming a veterinarian, to a nutritionist for NCBA, to helping alleviate hunger and conserving natural resources through environmental sustainability advancements – quite lofty pursuits for dream jobs.

It excited me to hear those responses because I think that our Aggies are just the group of women to achieve their dream jobs. But more than that, I walked away from our journey comforted by the fact that these driven young leaders would one day be at the helm of our industry.

I know these students were as inspired as I was by their time in Arkansas.  And I hope they took to heart Sara Lilygren’s parting thought after her brief time with the Aggies: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t have it all.”

So to Megan, Kasie, Rebecca, Kate, Nikki and Nicole, thanks for a great week. And in the words of Ms. Sandberg: “I hope you find true meaning, contentment and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it. Women all over the world are counting on you.”

And agriculture is counting on you, too.