Representatives from BFO and other leading agricultural organizations took part in comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion training
By Jackie Clark
Back in January, Beef Farmers of Ontario released a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement, outlining their commitment to continuous learning on the subject.
Recently, representatives from the organization completed a comprehensive DEI training course that will inform their strategy and actions moving forward.
The BFO staff and board had released “our statement of values, and felt that it was really hard to set out a tangible action or work plan when we didn’t have necessarily a good understanding of what DEI meant and what that work should look like,” Jennifer Kyle, BFO’s manager of public engagement and digital strategy, told Farms.com.
“Some sort of training or learning opportunity would be essential to be able to have confidence in making those decisions,” she explained. After some research, BFO decided to work with Bloom, a workplace advisory and consultancy company, for training.
“It was two hours a week for seven weeks, and then there was also an orientation session,” Kyle explained. “Altogether it was about 15 hours but broken up over the course of 7 or 8 weeks.”
At first, BFO officials were concerned about the time commitment, especially for farmers over the spring and summer season.
“When we talked to Bloom about our concerns, the conversation we had with them was very enlightening,” Kyle said. Bloom experts explained that “when you’re talking about DEI, we’re sometimes talking about hundreds of years of oppression. So, to try to condense it into a shorter course, it doesn’t do it justice.”
BFO committed to the comprehensive DEI training for their staff and board, and were also able to open up the opportunity to local organization leadership, Sheep Farmers of Ontario officials, and some Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Canadian Cattlemen’s Association representatives.
Bloom trainers “were able to offer flexibility as to how participants joined the session. There were some weeks when we had people who were calling in from a tractor or truck cab, while they were out (working). They were still invested enough to show up,” Kyle said.
“They really encouraged a lot of discussion outside of the sessions as well,” she added. So, if a participant had to miss a session they were still able to engage with their peers on the subject matter.
The course took participants through foundations of DEI, which included basic concepts, terminology and skill-building. Then a couple sessions “focused on anti-racism specifically,” Kyle explained.
The final sessions were about trauma and healing which involved “discussing the information that we had learned,” she said. Participants were invited to reflect on how different people move through the world and experience things differently.
Bloom also provided extra resources for participants to refer back to or continue learning from.
“All of the facilitators knew their stuff inside out and backwards and were happy to take any questions,” Kyle said.
Each session started with “the facilitators reminding everyone that it was not just a safe space but a brave space,” she explained. “So, you are welcome to ask whatever questions you have, and there would be no judgement. It was a space where you could say the wrong thing, and it would be okay, and there would be conversation about it.”
Because of this communication, “people felt comfortable to engage,” she added. Some parts of the sessions included open questions or anonymous discussion.
“Overwhelmingly the feedback has been quite positive about it,” Kyle said. “When you have a group of people with diverse opinions and diverse backgrounds and beliefs, we did anticipate and we did get a little bit of pushback on some of the topics, but overall I think people were really good about coming with an open mind.”
In fact, “I had people who had expressed some concerns about the curriculum before it started and those same people had texted me or emailed me the day after the first session saying ‘I was worried but I really enjoyed that session,’” she said. “You probably would be hard-pressed to find anybody who said they didn’t learn something.”
Will the training help guide policy or programming goals?
“I would say that in some ways it already has,” Kyle said. The DEI committee at BFO now has “a lot more confidence to make some of those decisions about the different actions we might take.”
Read Bloom’s blog post about their experience with BFO here.