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International Women’s Day 2022

8 March 2022

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was #BreakTheBias. And this 8th of March, we’ve all been challenged to confront our own gender assumptions that limit and harm ourselves and other people.

While across RISE we strive to live the principles of gender equality on a daily basis for both our communities and our teams, this day presents an opportunity to reflect more deeply on what that means in practice, and how our circumstances and opportunities are shaped by our gendered upbringing.

At the heart of the RISE experiment is a desire to set things right and do things differently and better, and to embrace the opportunity presented by recognising inequality and imbalance in whatever form it is found.

Meet some of the incredible women on RISE driving change, and who, on International Women’s Day, share their observations of gender inequality and potential solutions to break biases.

Fitriyanty Awaluddin, RISE Indonesia Coordinator

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face working in program management of large, complex development programs?

In my opinion, the significant challenges faced by women working in broad and complex development programs stem from related internal and external factors. Internally, it’s about self-confidence and courage to take your place in a work environment that is dominated by men. Adequate knowledge and skills will strengthen someone's confidence to compete for particular positions and participate in a development program. Many women with good educational backgrounds are not confident to seize strategic opportunities and get involved in a program.

Family considerations are another internal factor. Society still views the realm of women as being in the family, trapping them not to take part in work outside the home (public areas). Even if they take it outside the home, their roles should balance between family and career. They even tend to secure their domestic tasks before taking part in the public sphere. Participating in development programs demands a professional side. Career development and looking after a family are two equally important things for a woman.

Meanwhile, the opportunity to develop themselves to occupy strategic positions is open to women and men. There are parts of the job that are not “female-friendly”. Unwitting bias will occur by choosing men over women. For example, there are a lot of work support tools that require mobilization and energy in carrying out the main work. It may not be a problem for men, but women need the help of men to carry these tools. If done repeatedly for a long time, it will cause the female staff to be "overwhelmed". Opportunities that are open from organizations / companies for female employees to play a broader role need to be supported by policies that take into account the specific needs of women.

In some cases, the absence of female employees at work because of family conditions (for example children or husbands sick, attending school meetings for children, accompanying parents to the hospital, etc.) On the other hand, there are targets to be achieved by the organization / company. The absence of one or two staff will affect the achievement targets. The question arises, how much can a workplace policy in favor of women understand? Is the 'explanation' given fair enough to others?

What can we do to break those barriers for women's participation?

Career development opportunities should take into account various characteristics, so that women can contribute and gain positive experiences in work.

An inclusive work culture is also important – to promote more women is to have a culture of “aware inclusion” – building people's desire, insight and capacity to make decisions.

How do you think perspectives on women’s participation can be changed?

Changing someone’s perspective is not easy. However, it is not impossible to do. Everyone has their own perspective and opinion which is shaped by their experience. Invite someone to discuss their perspective and what makes up that perspective. If you know someone who has a different perspective, have a chat and exchange opinions. These conversations allow you to understand the other person's point of view and become a source of information that can change perspectives.

Geminingsih Nastiti, RISE Indonesia Build Project ManagerGeminingsih Nastiti

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face in working in construction management?

As a woman, sometimes a challenge of working in the construction world is not the people around you who sometimes underestimate the role of women as leaders (especially in the construction world). But the terrain is tough when you have to look for springs on a mountain or in a forest and there are no private facilities. When needed, sometimes women even have to stay at people's houses at night or leave their families for a few days because of work, and sometimes cross the island alone by fishing boats just to collect data, this is a real challenge, that is adjusting roles in work.

What can we do to break those barriers for women's participation?

For some women, these obstacles are meaningless, but it is better if the application of role adjustment is applied in every work environment, such as limiting work and work outside of working hours, adjusting the right job roles for women / men, creating a security system, or even may be able to create a gender Standard Operating Procedure (SoP).

How do you think perspectives on women’s participation can be changed?

It's hard to change a person's point of view unless the person wants to change his or her own point of view. But there are some things that can help, such as giving direct examples, explaining verbally or visually, and sometimes drinking a cup of coffee together and telling stories to each other is a sure-fire way to get to know each other and know a person's character (this is part of observing or assessing a person's gestures).

Mere Naulumatua, RISE Fiji Engagement Specialist (Urban Planning)

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face working in urban planning?

Urban planning continues to be planned around motorised vehicles. Women's ideas and contribution towards solutions are rarely considered in the urban planning arena, particularly when it comes to design and layout of public spaces for example street furniture, shady parklets and safe crossing areas.

What would the world look like if we could break that bias?

Urban spaces, here in the islands, would be navigable for women and their children, especially for rural women who need to travel into urban centres to do business. Women would feel safe to let their children walk to the park or library or movies, while they sell goods in the market.
The world would be more nurturing and a pleasant place to be.

Can you tell us about a time when you changed someone's perspective?

One time, I helped a local council harness the views of women when designing a new road. Yes, it meant shorter walking distance from one end of town to the other. While boys welcomed the new road because it was close to their rugby field, the reason the ladies were not so thrilled about the new road was because after 6pm the area was very dark with not many users. Through discussions, the town planners agreed that street lights be placed at strategic locations, and that the zoning of the area encourages the setting up businesses which operated after 5pm, like taxi bases, mini marts etc. All good all around!

Meagan Volau, RISE Fiji Computer-aided Design (CAD) Manager

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face in careers of community design and engineering?

One of the biggest challenges faced by women particularly in the engineering field is the (unspoken out loud) misconception that women are inferior to men. I’ve had the opportunity of working with incredible men who are a credit to their profession in this field, and I am truly thankful for those experiences. But I have also worked with men who leave a lot to be desired but make up for that with their inferiority complex towards the women working alongside them.

Qualified, driven women have to work twice as hard in this predominantly male field, only to receive half the recognition, which then leads to our ideas and / or opinions not being valued or taken as seriously as men’s. I feel that is one of the biggest challenges we face.

What can we do to break those barriers for women's participation?

Consistency, communication and commitment. Consistency in producing exceptional work – that includes paying attention to detail, and preparing for the seen and unseen events that may deter your progress. Also, responding to queries in a timely manner; unfortunately, the mistakes of women echo louder than that of men’s in this field.

Communicating well with not just men, but other women in the same profession is important. Women must also lift women up; women encouraging other women in this field is very common here, and something I myself have benefitted from and am thankful for.

Committing to your tasks and committing to deadlines is also important: committing to your project as a whole and wanting to see it succeed.

Can you tell us about a time when you changed someone's perspective?

I'm not all too sure that I have changed anyone's perspective on women in the engineering field. Like I said, it's not acknowledged out loud, so no man will ever come up to me and say, "My, you've made me a believer of women being able to hack it in this field". All I can hope for is that my work outputs and the fact that I am constantly engaged to take on new responsibilities and tasks because of the confidence that my superiors / peers have in me, speaks for itself.

Kerrie Burge, RISE Project Manager, Indonesia Build

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face working in urban planning?

Women have the skills and capabilities to lead; to lead high-performing teams and manage complex projects. They can be competent leaders, negotiators, problem solvers and technical experts!

There is a wealth of knowledge and research demonstrating that ‘more feminine’ personality traits can make great leaders. So why is the world not filled with female leaders, and why have we been asking ourselves this question for decades?

Is it that we, as a society, select for confidence, not competence and at the end of the day this impacts far more women than it does men?

Maybe women need to be more confident? Should they ‘lean in’ more? Acting outside of descriptive gender stereotypes does not necessarily solve the problem. And, is it even realistic to say that we can have it all?

The biggest challenge women face is that so many biases are so subtle, and so deeply entrenched, that we don’t even know that we’re reinforcing them. Breaking these biases takes effort and hard work from all of us – we must really think about our everyday decisions and actions, and how that might be reinforcing biases. It takes active commitment – and maybe that’s why the wheels seem to turn so slowly on this issue.

What would the world look like if we could break that bias?

I think we are a long way from truly breaking the big biases, but at least in some places, like at Monash University and in RISE, we are talking about it. That’s a good thing.

Can you tell us about a time when you changed someone's perspective?

These days I focus on the constructive things I can do to break the bias. How can I throw down the ladder for other women in my field, and in my team? How can I support them to get more exposure? How can I make sure their job title is something that is meaningful on their CV? And (most importantly) how can I make sure their competence counts when it matters most?

Emily Darlison, RISE Senior Professional Designer

What is one of the biggest challenges or biases that women face in their careers in engineering and community design?

One of the biggest challenges is a deep societal mistrust of women to capably undertake a high level of responsibility. This has stemmed from an historic narrative that women are emotional, and whimsical, and therefore less trustworthy in positions of leadership. In fact, it is more than women, it is the feminine – which we all have elements of – and in contrast, masculinity instils confidence. In engineering, an industry tied to higher education (which excluded women for so long) and physical labour, women are new additions, and so is the challenge to masculinity.

Society tends to reward people who show dominant masculine traits – often women succeed through leading and exuding their masculine traits, which retains patriarchal structures under the guise of gender equality. To be trusted with leadership and responsibility as women displaying feminine and masculine is the greatest challenge.

What can we do to break those barriers for women’s participation?

We need to give women chances, and to genuinely do this we need to remove opinion from some of it. Look around, and if the selection board is male or male-dominated, then take time to actively question whether the analysis of a woman and her performance is being influenced by bias. Make a check-list before. Put things in place that take the opinion out of it, because it has been shown over and over again that we are not capable of overcoming our bias through awareness alone. We also need to educate ourselves. Ask yourself: do you know what masculine and feminine refer to? Why do we reward people who display predominantly masculine traits?

How do you think perspectives on women’s participation can be changed?

I only think I may have changed people’s opinion on gender. But less so on femininity, because I have usually channelled more masculine traits when faced with the pursuit of a promotion or new opportunity. I cannot think of a specific example, though I do think that relationship-building is one aspect that has been recognised as important in some respects. Though this can also fall to the traps of outcomes and timelines.