During the Seeds of Change conference, we approached several personalities from the ‘Gender in Agriculture’ crowd to interview them on their work, on their insights about the conference and their outlook on the next frontiers of our field of research. Find an overview of all conference related outputs here.
In this interview, we feature Andrew Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), one of the co-sponsors and co-hosts of the Seeds of Change Conference. Andrew kindly accepted to explain for us what is at stake with gender in agricultural research and how ACIAR has tackled its own ‘gender cultural change’ internally to be better geared for promoting gender in their sponsored programs.
What makes you excited about co-hosting this Seeds of Change conference?
ACIAR doesn’t host many international conferences in Australia so it is exciting in and of itself. Gender is one of the six objectives in our 10-year strategy and one where we have more terrain to cover. Attracting to Australia some of the best thinkers on this strategic theme is good!
What role does gender play in ACIAR (funded) programs now and where do you want it to be?
Thanks to our former Foreign Minister the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, 80% of our (Australian Aid funded) projects need to have a meaningful gender component. Gender is a strategic objective for us for very good reasons: when women and girls have equal access to power, resources and decision-making, more food is produced, it’s better distributed, income makes it back to the household for nutrition, education, health. You simply achieve your wider food security and poverty reduction objectives more effectively when women have an equal share. In the corporate sector, the data is very clear too: companies that have more than a third of women on their Board make better decisions and manage risk more wisely etc.
“Ignoring half the available talent of the workplace is simply not smart.”
Can you tell us more about the ACIAR gender strategy?
Our strategy looks externally and internally: we need to follow the principles we ask our partners to follow too. When I arrived around two and a half years ago, we had only one in 14 female program managers and 1 female executive out of six. Now seven out of 10 program managers and half our executives are women. Some might say that the pendulum has swung too far the other direction, but in my view it’s ok for a year or two after 36 years of imbalance to male dominance. All this sends strong signals to our partners that we take gender seriously and we expect them to do so too.
How do you champion gender equality in your capacity as CEO and why? Any concrete examples?
I sit on the gender committee and am a Male Champion of Change. I refuse to participate in manels (all-male panels). It happened on several occasions and the organizers gave the same excuses “there are no women in this field”, or “we don’t know any women in that position” and that is simply not good enough.
Now, having women in strategic positions at all levels is important, but not sufficient. We have trained our staff on unconscious bias, including senior men. We also provide specialist assistance for all researchers developing gender research in their proposals. We have adapted our project proposal templates, guidelines, the whole underlying system to make sure that it’s made easier for everyone to integrate gender into their research proposals and practice.
We want to avoid all kinds of excuses e.g. “I didn’t know how to do it”, “this is all too hard” etc. you need to join the dots and ensure you’ve got a whole system in place, with resources. Then it’s easier to have discussions with partners. And of course some disciplines and sectors are ahead of others in thinking about these issues.
But we still have a long way to go. Too many proposals we receive, including from CGIAR centers, seem to have gender written as a last minute add-on, or forced onto them because the template requires it, rather than out of intrinsic design. Too many proposals are simply counting the number of women rather than looking at structural drivers of inequality.
As a man, what do you think of your responsibility and opportunities vis-à-vis gender equality?
You look for opportunities to mentor younger colleagues (male and female) and try to make sure that in every recruitment and career there’s no unconscious bias. We have men and women on all selection panels, we think carefully about how we structure questions, and we look for flexible working arrangements for young parents (male and female). We try to ensure that senior managers are also role modeling this: they also work flexibly so they can pick up children from school etc. and we try to make that quite explicit.
What advice would you give young gender researchers in CGIAR and the whole system about ‘doing gender research’?
“Gender researchers need to get plugged in from the early planning stages of large multidisciplinary initiatives and to be seen as indispensable integrators, networkers, synthesizers.”
Be known for this, be proactive, think big and shake the tree! Don’t be satisfied with incremental improvements and running the little ‘gender shack’ at the back.
Find senior people in the system and exploit them ruthlessly. There is high level commitment for the CGIAR system to lift its gender game. Senior people need to give pathways for this. The gender community should be able to provide really strong suggestions on what can be done. Hopefully the upgraded CGIAR Gender Platform will have a critical mass of resources and expertise to give an influential voice to the gender discourse and work at the centre of the CG system.
But this means getting all the basics in place: e.g. getting better sex-disaggregated data otherwise the basis you build upon is shaky from the start. Gender scientists should be able to show how their work will lead to better results on all aspects: hunger, nutrition, livelihoods, yields etc. Gender is also a means to that end and we need to make that case again and again and again.