Celebrating Women in Irrigation
March 8, 2023
By Carolina Alban-Stoughton
If someone would’ve told me years ago that I would be working in irrigation and loving the industry, I wouldn’t have paid much attention. And yet here I am, a year into my career at Calsense and enjoying every minute of it. I knew nothing about this business when I started, so the learning curve has been more of a straight line up! As exciting as it is to soak in as much irrigation knowledge as I can, I’m quickly realizing that I’m part of a very small minority of women who work in this industry.
During a recent conversation with Irrigation Association CEO Natasha Rankin, who was a guest of H2OMICS, the Calsense podcast, I tried to explore what was being done to change that. Yes, Natasha is a woman at the top of an organization that represents an industry mainly made up of men, so that is encouraging. However, the interview was also a reminder that there’s a lot of work to be done. “The official numbers are that less than 10% of irrigation professionals are women,” said Rankin. “But what we’re also seeing is that there is an uptick in women who are deeply engaged and deeply interested in irrigation, soil health, the environment – and the career opportunities for women within irrigation are a multitude.”
This last statement rings true at Calsense, where women, including myself, have taken on different roles, including field services, production, accounting, human resources, engineering, and marketing. At the Women in Irrigation Breakfast held as part of the Irrigation Association 2022 Irrigation Show in Las Vegas, I also learned how there is space for female researchers and scientists to pursue their passion for water conservation and sustainability within an irrigation career. In fact, I was able to meet some Ph.D. students enrolled in irrigation programs. “We are an industry that draws heavily from those in STEM studies or STEM backgrounds. But there are also opportunities for people who enjoy being out in nature and making a difference in global health and global food security,” said Rankin.
To promote careers in irrigation, the Irrigation Association developed a scholarship program that awards scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students every year, as was the case in 2022. “This year, we had 18 scholarship recipients, and nine of them were women. And these were primarily young women that are looking to enter an irrigation career.”
Rankin pointed out that three out of 15 members of the Irrigation Association’s board of directors are women, including their President-Elect Inge Bisconer, who is managing member of Surf n’ Earth Enterprises, LLC in Cardiff, CA. She also mentioned that she’s encouraged by the commitment she’s witnessed from irrigation companies to establish programs that will help attract and retain female talent, which in turn will positively impact company and industry growth. “Networking is essential, and I’d say the greatest opportunity is your own employees. I think that what I’m seeing from a lot of the irrigation companies themselves, is recognizing that word of mouth matters, and also being able to demonstrate that you have women as leaders in your company.”
As I continue my irrigation journey, I’m excited about seeing increasing participation by women in the industry and I am committed to being part of that transformation. As we say at Calsense, water is Earth’s most precious resource, and after all Mother Nature is a woman.
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