Bayer-Microsoft-IICA discussion: “The digital inclusion of rural women and youth is an irreversible process”
San Jose, 10 September 2020 (IICA). Ensuring the digital inclusion of rural women and youth is the correct path to accelerate the adoption of good practices in rural areas and to achieve the sustainable production that will fuel development. To do so will necessitate innovative and sustainable actions and contributions, as a matter of urgency.
These were some of the main conclusions arising out of “The role of women in the new technological scenarios” – a virtual discussion with Natasha Santos, Vice-President of Bayer AG and Mariana Castro, Vice-President of Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Latin America, which was led by the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero.
Santos felt that spurring the sustainable production of food, through initiatives and projects focusing on the use and adoption of good agricultural practices, would contribute significantly to driving the development of farmers and sustainable production, in line with the comprehensive approach of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
She commented that, “We recognize that urgent action is needed and, as leaders in the fields of nutrition and health, we want to make substantial contributions and develop new, collaborative solutions, as a driving force for agricultural sustainability and innovation in the region”.
By way of example, she mentioned initiatives that Bayer had introduced, ranging from the development of automated seed treatments systems to a field surveillance system using unmanned aerial systems or drones.
“Our efforts in this direction continue. However, I believe that it is important to recognize that digital transformation involves people and not just technology”, she said, while emphasizing the leadership role of women.
For example, Santos pointed out that, “In Brazil, two out of every ten agribusiness leaders are women”. Moreover, “In 2018, almost 19% of farms were managed by women; this figure rises to 39% if you include women who ran businesses with their partners or relatives.
She also indicated that in Brazil, almost 1.8 million women hold leadership positions in agriculture, 87% of whom have a higher education degree and 58% have more than 10 years of experience in the agroindustry sector.
Santos did lament the fact, however, that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in companies internationally, citing a report that shows that women account for only 16.9% of positions on company boards. “If this level of progress remains stable, it will take more than three decades to achieve gender parity in board-level positions. Therefore, joint efforts will be required to address the cultural barriers that prevent many women from reaching senior leadership positions. If we do not implement a transparent internal policy to foster women’s representation and to increase their recruitment and professional development, it is unlikely that we will change that pattern at the necessary speed”, she remarked, reinforcing the idea that integration fosters increased creativity and innovation in companies.
“It is a win-win situation. More than 31% percent of the management staff of the overall Bayer group are women, which means that we have increased the proportion of women at the management level by more than 10% in one decade, but we still have a far way to go”.
From the Microsoft perspective, Mariana Castro stressed that data has indicated that reducing the labor and salary gap between men and women also reduces poverty.
Castro commented that, “In Latin America, the increase in the number of women in paid positions between 2000 and 2010 led to a 30% reduction in overall poverty, as well as a reduction in income inequality. We are certain that, in order to bridge the gender gap, we must improve digital connectivity”.
The company launched the Women at Microsoft initiative to attract, retain and develop the skills of women around the world. The Vice-President of Sales, Marketing and Operations of its Latin American division remarked that, “As we transition towards the new normal, I think that agriculture is beginning to acknowledge the efficiency, precision and convenience afforded by digital transformation.
Although disappointed at the continued low presence of women in leadership positions in companies worldwide, Santos celebrated advances in the inclusion of both women and youth.
“I believe the issue of youth is interrelated”, she said. “Empowering women in agriculture can have a tremendous positive impact on communities, including youth. We need to provide the young generation with professional development opportunities, in order to achieve drastic improvements with respect to their levels of empowerment.
She advised that Bayer had created project platforms to fuel this change, for example the Youth Summit that was held last year in Brazil. The biennial event brought together 100 youth leaders from around the world to network, engage in discussions and strengthen their project development skills.
“The ultimate goal is to prepare them to undertake concrete actions to address one of humanity’s most pressing issues: how to feed a hungry planet using fewer natural resources. IICA played a key role in that Summit, by suggesting young leaders from across the region who could participate”, she explained, pointing out that IICA was also among the organizations selected to mentor the young Latin American leaders.
“Amidst the current crisis, it is more important than ever to gain access to new skills, and when we talk about how to create greater equality, we must realize that it is more important than ever to generate skills and to ensure that in generating skills, we also provide equal opportunities to different sectors of the society and economy”, emphasized Castro, who is in charge of driving commercial strategies and objectives and artificial intelligence for Microsoft Latin America.
She stressed the need for training, as a means of fueling digital transformation, particularly in the region. “We have to consider how we will translate developments in artificial intelligence into tools, products and services that organizations and society in general can truly utilize. We must work together with institutions from different sectors to drive the region’s digital development”, she insisted, referring to the training platform developed by Microsoft and IICA, as just one initiative in which the technological giant had invested to provide internet access to various rural areas.
Castro recalled that, “With IICA, in particular, we signed a digital education partnership some years ago, in order to use Microsoft’s technological platform to address innovation needs in the agriculture sector and the agricultural ecosystem”.
She explained that the region has several free and readily accessible Microsoft platforms, such as Microsoft Learn, which provides access to different skills, as well the DigiGirlz program, which targets high school girls to talk to them about how technology can jumpstart their careers. “More than 4.5 million people have participated in these conversations”, she revealed.
“We are certain that technological advancements really do transform every aspect of our lives and society, and that it is essential that we provide women, youth and different parts of society with equal opportunities. Development and skills are also a big part of that”.
Manuel Otero, for his part, stressed the need to accelerate progress towards gender, youth and digital inclusion.
In closing, IICA’s Director General maintained that, “Cultural changes to drive inclusion are already underway, but we must step on the gas and avoid any setbacks, ensuring that progress achieved will be irreversible. There is overwhelming evidence of the tremendous economic impact of inclusion, especially in rural areas, where the agriculture sector has traditionally been considered an activity that can only be carried out by men.
Institutional Communication Division.