Women in Crop Science Coffee

Last month, CEAT staff Alex and Pia attended the Women in Crop Science (WiCS) Coffee event at CSIRO. The WiCS initiative is the brainchild of CEAT fellow Alison Bentley who brought it to Australia while visiting ANU from her base in Mexico. It aims to create further opportunities for promoting and developing the visibility of women as role models in the crop science community. By building a stronger network, WiCS seeks to ensure greater inclusion in the future.

Following an introduction from CSIRO Acting Science Director for the Agriculture & Food business unit, Jen Taylor, the event featured presentations from Jess Hyles, who is CSIRO Group Leader, Cotton Biotechnology, and Alison, who both spoke about their careers and experience as women in crop science. ANU plant scientist Caitlin Byrt was also a part of organising the event, but was unable to attend in person – we look forward to hearing from her next time.

Jess Hyles’ graph of the amount of time she’s had male or female managers in her 20 years at CSIRO

As well as her research work at CSIRO, Jess recently completed her PhD and is an advocate for Inclusion & Diversity at CSIRO, promoting opportunities for women and other diverse groups. Jess’ experience at CSIRO has been a positive one, with managers who enabled her to work part time when she had young children and then supported her while she worked on her PhD. However, after 20 years in the organisation, Jess has only had one female line manager – and for just two months! The graphic Jess shared (at right) is a stark reminder of how far we still have to go in achieving more diversity in our workplaces, particularly in leadership positions.

After many years in the industry, including work abroad, Alison is well versed in the gender imbalance in roles in agricultural industries and science. In her current role as Director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) she is the first female director; six men preceded her, and their portraits hang over the desk in her office as a constant reminder of the barriers women in crop science have faced and continue to come up against. Alison’s presentation began with the quote “I no longer accept the things I cannot change. I change the things I cannot accept”.  Her career to date, and support for other women in science, both through directly employing them and by establishing the WiCS movement, shows her commitment to positive change.

Jess and Alison’s presentations were inspiring and set the scene for stimulating discussions among attendees over the morning. The discussions focused on three key questions:

  1. How can we better support career development for underrepresented groups?
  2. How do we collectively address non-inclusive behaviours?
  3. How do we address gender bias in the awards and funding area?

The event was an engaging and effective way to start a discussion among our CSIRO and ANU colleagues about gender equity in science. CEAT is excited to host the next Women in Crop Science Coffee later this year – keep an eye on our newsletter for details.

What you can do to support the WiCS initiative

  • Check out the Women in Crop Science website
  • If you’re a woman in crop science, join the 244 people from 36 countries who are already a part of the WiCS Directory
  • Organise a #GlobalWiCScoffee event in your organisation or local area by getting in touch with [email protected]
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