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Spotlight on International Women’s Day 2024 – Charlie Dodd, Farm Manager and Agriculture tutor

We are celebrating International Women’s Day 2024 by shining a light on some of our incredible female staff. Meet Charlie Dodd – Farm Manager and Agriculture Tutor at Merrist Wood College

Hi Charlie. Tell us a bit about yourself

I am the Farm Lead at Merrist Wood College, my job involves managing the livestock on the farm. This includes 150 breeding ewes with lambs at foot, 30 goats, a range of poultry, donkeys, llama, alpaca and pig.

Whilst doing this I also teach both our Agriculture and Animal Management students the day to day husbandry on the farm. I feel like I’ve been farming forever but the truth of the matter is at the age of 10, whilst buying our Christmas tree at a local garden centre, I saw a mobile farm and completely fell in love with the country way of life. I then started volunteering on the farm in the January and continued volunteering at weekends until I got my first weekend job there.

I worked throughout my GCSE’s every moment I had and also whilst studying at Sparsholt College. Once I finished college I started at Plymouth University and absolutely hated being in a dark, dingy classroom every day, I dropped out in the October and then joined Merrist Wood College as a late enroller to study the BSC Animal Behaviour and Welfare. Whilst doing this I also became farm manager at the local farm park and was working full time whilst studying.

I look back and wonder how on earth I managed to do it, but I guess caffeine was my friend back then! Once I finished my degree the then Farm Manager at the college handed his notice in about a month before I finished studying, so it made sense I apply for it and I guess, as they say, the rest is history.

What is your proudest achievement whilst working at Activate Learning?

Whilst working for Activate Learning, I have achieved so many things which I am beyond proud of. I guess the thing I’m most proud of is getting Merrist Wood College its rare breed accreditation as an educational facility.

We were the first education setting to be granted this under their new framework and it took a lot of effort to get us there. I think it is very important to support our British breeds of livestock, you often hear of people supporting animals such as the giant panda or rhino, but few people know that there are actually more breeds of livestock that are rarer than those and so supporting them is of vital importance.

Another thing I am extremely proud of is inspiring our learners to seek further education in Agriculture. Since starting the college, we now have young women who are studying degrees in Agriculture and who personally thank me for showing them that they too can follow this as a career. I love hearing back how they are finding their course and what they go onto when they finish.

How have Activate Learning supported you in your individual circumstances at work?

Through my own social media channels, I was approached by the team at ITV Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh to bring animals onto the show. They have enjoyed supporting the college and showcasing the work we do with rare breeds animals. It’s allowed me to meet some extra celebrities which, as a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan, meeting Darcey Bussell and talking to her about cows has been a highlight and without Activate Learning this wouldn’t have been possible!

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

When you think of a farmer even in 2024, you still think of the old man with his flat cap and chequered shirt – but this is simply not the case. There is still bias towards women in the agricultural industry and whilst it is often brushed under the carpet, I think it is so important to realise that women are just as capable. On International Womens Day there is a big shout out for other female farmers to showcase the amazing work that they are doing and show that women can, and should be, farming.

Can you share a story or example of a woman who has inspired you and why?

This year I have been inspired by my colleague Latisha Howard, as an ex student she covered some of what the farm life has to offer, however then went down the route of zoo and reptile as a career choice. The past year has reintroduced her to farmlife and she has taken everything in her stride, whilst I believe every day is a school day she has embraced the career choice and as a result will be out at any time of day helping to assist the animals in labour where required. She is keen to learn and approaches every new skill with the determination to master it. Im proud to call her a colleague for her pure determination and grit. Even more so the fact I’ve inspired her to buy her own flock of sheep too.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

After I finished my GCSE’s, I felt like I had to follow what I thought was the normal route of my school peers, as a result I started college studying subjects I really didn’t enjoy. If I could give younger me any advice it would be its ok to be different and stand out from the crowd. I’m so pleased I had a supportive family who told me I could go do something different. I know I am in the career which is right for me, and I just think thank goodness I don’t have to look at 4plain white walls every day sitting at a computer screen. I now get to help bring life into the world whilst inspiring the next generation to follow in my footsteps.

What is the most important message you would give to young women thinking about careers?

Be brave! Just go for it, it’s boring standing in a crowd and being a sheep why not give something new a try and become extraordinary! Over my years, if something hasn’t felt right the likelihood is its not, as a career I think it’s so important to follow a path in something you are passionate about. After all, if your work is something you enjoy then you never truly have to work a day in your life.

How can we encourage young girls to pursue careers and interests that are traditionally underrepresented?

The farming industry is still a male led industry however the tides are changing, I think by having more and more female farmers representing the industry through social media it is showing that it is possible. Some of the largest social media accounts representing farming now come from females, whether is be through tiktok or Instagram. I know that for us at Merrist Wood we are encouraging our learners to follow these female farmers to show the positive role models these ladies are, I hope that by showing more and more young girls that females are accepted within the industry, more will pursue these careers.

How can we encourage more women to pursue leadership roles?

It is an amazing time to be a female, more and more women are leading companies and showing that we are a force to be reckoned with. With companies offering courses specifically forwomen in leadership roles, the tides are changing – and as Beyonce put it…. Who run the world….Girls!!

Why do you think diversity is important in the workplace?

Diversity is such an important thing to have in the workplace, as individuals we all bring different things and have unique qualities. By having diversity in the workplace I believe we are inspiring our students to have a role model that they identify with and who can inspire them into thinking anything is possible.