AGRICULTURE

Yissel Barajas

Yissel Barajas, chief human resources officer, Reiter Affiliated Companies

Chief human resources officer
Reiter Affiliated Companies of Oxnard, the world’s largest fresh multi-berry producer

Tell us about your education and the various successes and hurdles you experienced as a professional.

My parents are immigrants from Mexico and worked in agriculture to support our family, and as the oldest of four siblings I was the first to attend a university. Although they could not guide me on the pathways to obtaining a higher education, my parents did always encourage me to pursue my educational goals. I attended UCLA and received a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a Master’s Degree in urban planning. As a result of my personal background, my career has always been focused on giving back to the community and in my current position in agriculture I focus on creating a respectful and fulfilling work environment for all employees.

Why did you decide to get into ag work and what are hurdles for women in particular to advance in that industry?

My early career was in affordable housing and when the chance to transition into agriculture knocked at my door, I realized this would be a dynamic opportunity with great potential to leverage my personal and professional experience. I decided to work for Reiter Affiliated Companies because my personal values aligned with the company’s values, and we share a desire to implement innovative labor strategies which positively impact the lives of farmworkers and their families.

Historically a male dominated industry, we are experiencing an increase of women entering agriculture at all levels. Female employees are contributing to the success of the industry and play an important role within the work environment as key leaders who signify an example to fellow co-workers. Women represent approximately 50 percent of our workforce and many have critical leadership positions in the operations of a farm. Nonetheless, barriers to success for women include lack of quality, affordable child care, lack of reliable transportation and limited number of role models.

What are some of the pivotal points in your career?

There have been two pivotal points in my career. The first was when I entered the affordable housing development industry because I was able to provide housing for low-income families. Quality affordable housing is the basis for stability and quality of life. The second pivotal moment in my career was when I started working in agriculture, as it provided me the ability to directly impact the well-being of farmworker families throughout Ventura County.

What concerns you about women trying to advance in ag work? What are some of the progressive moves for women?

Often, women shy away from agriculture due to perceived barriers of entry. However, I would encourage all women to seize opportunities to join the industry. Innovation and technology advancements in agriculture are providing exciting and challenging opportunities that allow women to pursue a fulfilling career in agriculture.

What are hurdles in particular for Latina women?

One’s perspective is related to their life experiences, and their outlook is unique to each person based on their upbringing, culture and environment. As a working mother, I have to juggle the duties of being a mother, a daughter and a demanding career. As a Latina trying to set an example, I have high expectations in each area. I always have in my mind that I am not where I am only for me; I am here for my daughter, for my mother and for other Latina women who are cheering me on.

What message do you have for women who want to advance in the ag field?

Whether your passion is to feed the world or innovate farming technology, agriculture offers a wide range of career options. I encourage women to explore opportunities in farming and live your passion. As women continue to make contributions to the sustainability of agriculture in our county, they are helping to open pathways for the next generation.

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