In this brand-new series of interviews, titled Breaking Barriers, HRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
An agronomist engineer by education, this edition's interviewee is Pamela Gonzalez, Head of Asia Group, Asia Pacific at Syngenta.
This D&I champion has held various leadership roles in her two decades at Syngenta across Latin America and Asia Pacific, including sales and marketing roles in Chile, Latin America North, and now in APAC, based in Singapore as Head of Asia Group. In this conversation with Aditi Sharma Kalra, she tells us why D&I needs to be integrated into hiring practices, and how Syngenta is incorporating gender-blind hiring practices.
Read on for the interview:
Q What did you dream of becoming as a little girl? What attracted you to study to become an agronomist engineer?
Between the ages of five and six, I wanted to be an artist because I loved art and painting. But over time, I started to realise that I had a real passion for appreciating nature. At an early age, I started being interested in animals, plants and insects. I was always amazed and curious about nature. I joined the girl guides to enjoy more opportunities to be outdoors, which further reinforced my love for nature. To this day I still feel a deep connection with the nature that surrounds me.
But what got me started on this path was my aunt – she was an agronomist engineer and used to teach at a university in Chile. I used to work with her in the field over the summer for my pocket money, in seeds production, and I realised how much I loved this connection to nature and the living systems. That’s what led me to become an agronomist.
Q The starting point for several D&I issues is often recruitment. In your opinion, why does D&I need to be integrated into hiring practices?
A company is only as successful as the people it hires. In a region as diverse as APAC, it’s important that our employees reflect this diversity and bring with them different experiences, perspectives, different backgrounds, and skills.
By hiring a diverse pool of talents, we can ensure that Syngenta APAC will boost its ability to innovate and create the best solutions for farmers, the environment and the region’s food supply.
Q From your experience, what is the empowering role of women in science in male-dominated industries such as agriculture?
There are so many challenges to address in agriculture, that science can help to solve, and we need different minds to contribute to them. By ensuring diversity and equal representation of both genders, we will be able to benefit from their different perspectives and different ways to approach these challenges, creating more innovative solutions across STEM.
Being a woman, they understand the challenges that other women experience. Women are more likely to work in agriculture and this is a trend not just in APAC, but across the globe as well. Thus, it’s important that we have a greater representation of women in STEM for the agriculture industry to drive the development of solutions or projects that directly address the challenges that farmers face.
It’s important to also ensure that we support these women beyond research-based jobs. This includes initiating programmes to help them achieve leadership positions so they can shape company policies that benefit women and encourage more female representation in STEM roles within agriculture.
Q Could you give us specific examples of how Syngenta is setting practices that champion breaking biases for women in STEM?
Last year, we organised an APAC-wide D&I webinar hosted by our leadership team on identifying and challenging personal unconscious biases.
We practise gender-blind hiring practices to ensure that we are reaching the broadest and most diverse range of applicants possible. We do this through gender-neutral job descriptions through an augmented writing tool called Textio, which helps the hiring team identify various biases in our job postings and job descriptions.
We also have a diverse interview panel consisting of leaders from various backgrounds. This helps us ensure that we have a selection committee that can get a well-rounded view of the candidate.
In addition, we launched a women leadership programme to increase the representation of women in senior management across all Syngenta offices. In 2020, the proportion of female employees in senior management roles across all Syngenta offices increased to 20% and we’re confident that this will continue to rise as we launch initiatives that support the women in Syngenta. In fact, Syngenta APAC has the ambition to double the representation of women in commercial roles by 2023.
Q If you could grab breakfast with three women who inspire you the most, who would they be and why?
I get inspired by many women I meet in my daily life, especially authentic ones. You always have a lot to learn from other women's experiences.
If I must select three for my breakfast:
- I love to read about Dr Jennifer Doudna being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry due to her work in DNA editing, which could potentially help to address different challenges in agriculture and food production in the future.
- Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand PM – Her leadership style and authentic voice resonate with my own values. I love the way she describes how important it is to be compassionate and empathetic to be a strong leader.
- Michelle Obama – She is open, smart, and charismatic, and she fights for the rights of girls and women to have a more equal world. I am reading her book Becoming and it is inspiring to see how she has broken stereotypes and biases and is still so humble.
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