Wednesday, March 8, 2017

IRRI empowers women to be bold and positive agents of change

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—No society, let alone an organization, has successfully overcome challenges and thrive without the contribution of women. For this reason, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) embraced the theme of this year's International Women's Day (IWD),  be bold for change, during the IRRI’s annual IWD celebration on 8 March.

“IWD is a celebration of economic, political, and social achievements of women,” said Dr. Ranjitha Puskur (photo, right),  lead of the Gender Research Program at IRRI. “We work in an organization that works not just towards a prosperous world but towards a just and equal world."

“Gender equality is in the interest of economies, societies, organizations,  men, women and,  children,” she added. “We cannot fully empower women unless we engage men and boys.”

Recent estimates by The World Economic Forum say that it will take another 170 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, according to Puskur. However, we can catalyse and accelerate change in our own spheres of control and influence and not have to wait 170 years. And we can do that irrespective of whether we are men or women, young or old."

The issues are complex. Family responsibilities are not the only factors that complicate things. For instance, women have a tendency to systematically underestimate their own abilities.

"Men attribute their success to themselves and women attribute it to other external factors,” explained Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook in a  recorded video message (TED Talk) shared during the IWD celebration. “If you asked men why they did a good job, they'll say, ‘I'm awesome, obviously, why are you even asking?’ If you ask women why they did a good job, they'll say, ‘someone helped them, they got lucky, or they worked really hard.”

She also cited the numbers: out of 190 heads of state, only 9 are women; of all the people in parliament around the world, 13% are women; in the corporate sector, women at the top reaches only 15-16%.  “Even in the nonprofit sector—a world many people like to think of as being led by more women—women at the top are only 20%,” Sandberg pointed out.

What does it truly mean to achieve a gender-equal workplace and how do we close the gender gap?

“My grandmother used to say that privilege is invisible to those who have it,” said Dr. George Kotch (photo, left), head of IRRI Plant Breeding.  “The other thing she told me is that God doesn't help those who don't help themselves. I think there's a call for empowerment because what we have within institutions, in a general comment, is that those who are privileged really do not know that they are privileged. What we have to do is create a brand that can break through that.”

“The IRRI brand, for example, is not only leadership but also in the way we work,” he said. “That's one of the things that IRRI will work to strive for, from a personal perspective, people need to be bold and rise and make noise. From an IRRI perspective, we have to make an example to everybody within the global rice community that the way we work here is different. There is a lot of responsibility not only in the science, but on the leadership on how things get better.”

“In the end, a gender-friendly, gender-balanced IRRI is the face we want to show to the world,” said Christine Croombes (photo, right), director of human resources services at IRRI. “Let us be the shining mirror in which our work can be reflected. We must look to the future and take positive steps to encourage equality for both genders and provide support for each other as and when we need it. In the spirit of IWD, we have to find it within ourselves to be bold for change.”


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