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Allies in Agriculture

by Animal Health2 | Mar 14, 2024

3 Firsthand Views: Prepping for a Positive Workplace Experience
Preparing LGBTQ+ students and their allies for what to expect when they enter the workforce is a significant responsibility, and ag-related industries must do their parts. The KC Animal Health Corridor, alongside a variety of ag-related organizations, is doing its part to bring the industry together to support educators, promote inclusivity and develop the next generation of animal health leaders. 

The KC Animal Health Corridor—both an organization and an area spanning from Manhattan, Kansas, north to St. Joseph, Missouri, and east to Columbia, Missouri—includes more than 300 animal health companies representing 56 percent of worldwide animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales. These companies employ about 20,000 people. 

KC Animal Health Corridor: Working Collectively for an Inclusive Industry 
The Corridor works to bolster students’ understanding of the variety of employment opportunities in animal health and the diversity of people needed to fill them. By setting aside competitive goals, we are raising awareness that the industry does indeed include veterinarians, who are vital for keeping our pets healthy and feeding our growing population. But veterinary jobs are only the beginning. We need data scientists, technology developers, regulatory experts, entrepreneurs—and the list goes on. 

We’re also debunking the misconception that animal health is only for certain people. It is for everyone, and that includes LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

In addition to providing tools and resources for educators to share with students, the KC Animal Health Corridor is highlighting the impact members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community are having on the industry, helping students understand the diversity within the animal health workforce and how employers can be a resource. We hope the following insights help you prepare your students to enter an animal health workforce that is as diverse as they are. 

JJ Jones (he/him/his): Cultivating Confident NextGen Professionals Executive director for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and former board member of the Cultivating Change Foundation, which acknowledges and values the presence of the LGBTQ+ community in the agricultural industry 

I’m at a place in my career where I’m comfortable being my authentic self as a gay man. But it wasn’t always that way. I used to think my passion for food agriculture meant I couldn’t be myself.

Many of us who took agricultural classes viewed our teachers and FFA advisors as mentors. We went to them for career and educational advice, as well general life advice. I was fortunate that my ag educator was phenomenal. He always made me feel comfortable. I’ve taken that support a step further and now know I don’t need to create separate spaces for who I am at work and who I am in my personal life. It should be one space. 

This is why I helped create Cultivating Change. What’s more, as a member of the KC Animal Health Corridor’s DEI workforce committee, I help ag educators and students understand there’s more to animal health than they may think. From the LGBTQ+ perspective, there are still hurdles and barriers to overcome, but many people are open and affirming to those with a different lifestyle or background. 

Written by: Emily McVey, Vice President, KC Animal Health Corridor

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned came from my time as a state FFA officer in a program called the International Leadership Seminar. Part of the program involved traveling overseas, a first for me. As I encountered new cultures, a program facilitator said, “It’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just different.” 

We can all adhere to that philosophy and help LGBTQ+ students and allies understand they don’t have to assimilate to a culture, ideals, or an organization, but we should respect them and seek to learn more. Our ultimate responsibility as mentors and employers in the animal health industry is ensuring students of all kinds know they can be themselves at work. In fact, the industry needs them to be. 

Omar Farías (he, him, his), VMD: Choosing an Inclusive Employer Director of Scientific and Academic Affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition and board member and president-elect at PrideVMC 

When I was getting started in my career, I didn’t know what to look for in an employer that supported me as an out gay man. I’m thankful for that perspective now, and I hope LGBTQ+ students can benefit from what I’ve learned. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new job and overlook the importance of finding an environment that supports the true you. Future professionals with diverse backgrounds must research potential employers before deciding to apply. I wish someone would have advised me to ask questions like these: 

  • How does the organization support diversity, equity, and inclusion?

  • Do the company’s benefits cover my health needs if I’m an individual looking to transition?

  • Are there employee resource groups I can join to celebrate my diversity?

  • Does the organization promote from within?

I value that my current employer, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, headquartered in the Animal Health Corridor, has created an inclusive culture with a diverse leadership and a multitude of resource groups, including the Pride Group that I cochair. My husband and I put our benefits program to use even before we were married. 

LGBTQ+ students should expect employers to foster an environment where they’re comfortable being themselves. If you create such an environment, students are more likely to expect that same security in the workplace. Model correct behavior by doing something as simple as introducing yourself with your pronouns. You may become the first advocate for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. 

Finally, make sure your students know that if they find themselves in an unsafe environment, they should leave it. That includes their jobs. Individual safety and well-being are always more valuable than staying in an organization. Everyone deserves to be satisfied professionally and personally. And if you stand up for your students, they’ll be more likely to stand up for themselves.

Mia Cary (she, her, hers), DVM: Creating a Support Network CEO and Change Agent of Cary Consulting and CEO of PrideVMC, an organization focused on creating a better world for the LGBTQ+ veterinary community 

As a cis-gender, heterosexual white woman I can be an ally to many. It starts with caring. My personal and professional purpose is activating others to thrive, and I know equity—ensuring everyone has what they need to be successful—is central to that purpose. 

This is a story about the importance of allyship. During the VMX veterinary conference in 2020, there was a young man who frequently walked by the PrideVMC exhibit hall booth. He slowed his pace but would not make eye contact or engage. One afternoon the exhibit hall was quiet while most attendees were in sessions. I saw him walk by the booth again while looking at us out of the corner of his eye. 

I exited the booth and walked alongside this gentleman, giving him an opportunity to engage away from the booth if he chose. And he did. 

After we were out of sight of the booth, he turned to me with a radiant smile and said, “I am so happy PrideVMC exists. I had no idea. I walk by the booth every day because it gives me hope and courage. I am an associate veterinarian in a very conservative practice. I am also a gay man who has not yet come out at work. I love my job and am afraid; however I am almost ready to share with my team. When I do ... I’m going to become an out and proud member of PrideVMC. Thank you for existing.” 

We hugged and promised to stay connected. How cool is that? That’s why I do what I do. 

What one thing are you going to do to activate your allyship? Decide now and commit. Perhaps your next “one thing” is exploring a resource in this magazine by the end of the month. Or perhaps you will share one idea or resource with your students by the end of next week. Pick one thing and do it. Likely that will lead to one more thing in a positive loop thus propelling you on your journey to activating your allyship.

Also in this section:

KC by the Numbers - List of KC ratings & rankings

Brand Toolkit - Icons and logos for KCADC and its initiatives

Photo Library - Stock images of the KC region

Video Library - Video content for KCADC and its initiatives 

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