A new employee-led group, formed to support and celebrate women in science and research at CGIAR, was recently inaugurated. Women in Science and Research (WIRES) aims to create a safe, supportive space for women to explore opportunities and excel in their chosen areas.
WIRES is coordinated by volunteers from various CGIAR centers. Its mission: To increase the visibility of women research and science professionals by ensuring their voices are heard and contributions are recognized. At its inaugural webinar, people from across CGIAR joined in to listen to illustrious women scientists narrate their life experiences.
Dr Claudia Sadoff, CGIAR’s Executive Management Team Convener and Managing Director of Research Delivery and Impact, began by stating that even at fairly senior levels, often women needed to fight unconscious bias from others and lack of confidence from oneself. She reminded the women that in order to make the most of the space they achieve, they have to stay strong and constantly push forward and create opportunities not just for themselves but for those after them. However, she also stated that one needed to be true to oneself and exercise choice as per their values, not according to others’ expectations.
Ms Alice Ruhweza, CGIAR System Board Member and Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) champion, recalled an exciting all-women trip to Antarctica that she had been on, which opened horizons of abilities and possibilities for her. She encouraged women to “Be visible, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.” “Think about what you can contribute and how you can do that,” she said.
Dr Chin Yee Chan, Scientist at WorldFish, described the various challenges she faced as a young researcher when the laboratory that she worked at shut down. “I learnt not to give up,” she says, all through several such hardships. “Uncertainties are always there in research particularly in these challenging times, but it is important to take one step after another and just keep going.
Dr Sadoff stated that gender-related policies were in the process of being refreshed under the One CGIAR initiative, with a set of relevant goals to ensure an inclusive and diverse workplace.
Dr Safaa Kumari, ICARDA Plant Virologist who was acknowledged on BBC’s 100 Women 2020 list, recommended that organizations, at the time of recruitment, consider how best they can stand out as a gender champion, especially for women.
“Confidence, gratitude and a conscious effort towards a healthy research lifestyle,” were listed by Dr Chan as the key factors for a successful and productive research career. “While it is important to stay focused on set priorities, you should also develop hobbies to keep you healthy and happy,” she said.
Dr Neal Gutterson, CGIAR System Board Member and GDI champion, the sole male panelist, said, “Data shows that greater diversity brings better research results; it attracts innovative research findings. Our stakeholders are very diverse, so to ensure uptake and have impact of our innovation strategy we need diverse groups.”
When asked, “How will the Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Framework contribute to our new innovation strategy of CGIAR?” Dr Gutterson replied, “We have an ambitious strategy with an ambitious goal. To achieve it, it’s going to take all of us – from across the spectrum of diversity of gender, nationality, disciplines. If we have to deliver the aspirations of the smallholder farmers, we need different ways of thinking,” he said.
On the role of male colleagues in supporting an inclusive environment, Dr Alice Ruhweza said, “Gender equality is not a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue. Men play a critical role in it, because often they have the power and influence to make a difference. Most importantly, gender equality generally means better outcomes for science.”
A background about the creation of WIRES and the introduction to the webinar was given by Ms Agathe Diama, Head – Regional Information and Smart Food Coordinator, ICRISAT-WCA, who is also one of the founding members of WIRES and was the event’s facilitator.
“WIRES wishes to recognize excellent CGIAR women scientists and researchers, and profile them as role models for younger women. Here, women can get to know and support one another, across geographies and disciplines, across nationalities and age. It is also about helping individuals find support and inspiration from people they would not normally meet, and encourage staff to connect and participate, especially in learning and social events,” she said.
Ms Diama announced two upcoming WIRES events. The first event, a 12-hour marathon knowledge session, is scheduled on 11 February to observe International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Young women scientists and researchers from across CGIAR will be invited to talk about their work during the event. The second event will be organized on 8 March to observe International Women’s Day.