Celebrating Women’s History Month
March 8, 2021
March marks Women’s History Month. When I look at our agency, I am proud to work alongside so many great women leaders, including Deputy Administrators Heather Manzano and Delores Dean, several Field Directors and Deputy Directors, and quite a few leaders in Product Management, including Francie Tolle, Director of the Product Administration and Standards Division.
Francie’s division oversees crop insurance policy, underwriting and loss adjustment, and specialty crop coordination. Among other achievements, her team was instrumental in providing COVID-19 flexibilities for farmers, establishing cover crops as a good farming practice, and expanding programs to new counties.
I had a chance to ask her thoughts on women’s history, how far women have come in agricultural fields, and advice for other women interested in advancing in a career in agriculture.
Richard: What are your thoughts on Women’s History Month?
Francie: It’s always good to look back and recognize the impact women have made. The importance of women to agriculture is not new, but their roles were not always recognized at the farm level and certainly not at the professional level. Recognizing women that made a difference is important, at the same time, I think it is also important to recognize the men that believed women had a place in agriculture at all levels, and helped to get women where we are today. As with any profession, until there is recognition of the importance of including another demographic within the area, it is hard to make a change. I think recognition is key to ensure that women keep moving forward as leaders in all industries.
Richard: Concerning women in agriculture, have you seen any changes over your lifetime in the role women play as producers, in crop insurance, or other sectors?
Francie: Yes. More so than ever before. When I first came into the agriculture workforce there were very few women. Most meetings I attended included only a few other women. Women presenters at meetings were even more rare.
Things have changed a lot. One example I recall is when I was at FSA. We held over 60 meetings to explain the new ARC/PLC program after the 2014 Farm Bill. At one point, I realized all of us presenting were female – the specialist from the university, the branch chief from the state office, the RMA specialist, and myself. It was standing room only, and while the crowd was predominately male, female participation was more than I had ever seen.
In the crop insurance industry, there are many female leaders representing RMA, Approved Insurance Providers, and agents, that are instrumental in providing producers information to make risk management decisions. Today, more boards, cooperatives, and associations seek women leaders. Now is the time for women to insert themselves into the industry. There is definitely a place for them.
Francie Tolle, Director of the Product Administration and
Standards Division for the Risk Management Agency
Richard: To what would you credit your professional success?
Francie: I believe my personal life led to my professional success. My father was a farmer but always looked beyond just growing the crop. He was very open and interested to discuss trade, different marketing instruments, farm programs and new production methods with me. I was one of four daughters and he treated all of us as though we could do anything we set our mind to if we worked hard. Being female never came into the conversation. He raised us to be strong, as he respected our mother and encouraged all of us to not think of gender, but instead in terms of what we can do. In addition, I could not have been successful in my career without the support of my husband that has encouraged me every step of the way. In my professional life, I have been extremely fortunate to have supervisors through the years that didn’t look at gender, but capability.
Richard: What advice, if any, would you give to other women just starting their careers or who want to take themselves to the next level?
Francie: I would say you must be committed to the career you have chosen. By being committed, I mean that you must be committed to the customer your career serves, regardless if it’s agriculture or another field. To truly be successful, you must know everything you can about who you are serving. If it is production agriculture, you must know what goes into producing the crop, production methods, climate issues that producers face, as well as what the market is domestically and abroad. When you understand the aspects that impact the customer, you can look at the issues and concerns from more than one angle, which always leads to a better solution. As you become more knowledgeable, you will inevitably become more connected in the industry you serve and build networks. And those networks lead to the next level as you are recognized for your commitment and expertise. You will have the opportunity to do new things, and you can help others coming up in the industry as well.
I want to thank Francie for sharing some great insight and wonderful advice.
I encourage all of you to visit www.womenshistory.org for really interesting online exhibits and to learn the stories of women who transformed our nation. The site includes a Women’s History Month 2021 Resources Calendar.