13 Jul Promoting gender equality and inclusivity with EDC in Bangkok
Innovate ME intern, Kira Scheffelmeier, shares experiences from her first month in Thailand
Through YCI’s Innovate ME international youth internship program, funded with support from Global Affairs Canada, I was given the opportunity to work with Education Development Center (EDC) in Bangkok on the USAID Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET) project. The project aims to increase youth employability and close the gap between the skills new graduates have and the skills emerging and high growth industries in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Accounting and Tourism (STEM+AT) need and look for when hiring. One area of this project that I am most excited about is USAID COMET’s focus on promoting STEM education for girls and women as these fields are typically male-dominated.
As a woman, my experience is that it can be difficult to push certain thoughts out of your mind when entering a new workplace. Thoughts like, “will I be taken as seriously and given the same level of responsibility as my male intern counterpart?” However, upon arriving at the EDC office in Bangkok, their commitment to equality and inclusivity not only at the project level but at all levels was clear. Any semblance of those doubts dissolved immediately. The office is made up of around 70% female staff and includes employees with a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. It has an open and laid-back atmosphere that encourages communication. Prakash, a fellow Innovate ME intern, and I quickly felt welcomed and integrated into the office, and we’re grateful to be working with such incredible people in this supportive, inclusive workspace. That’s why I would like to take this opportunity to highlight this positive experience working in an environment where staff members are treated with respect and everyone is working toward the common goal of improving education and promoting the inclusion and empowerment of women. Through EDC Bangkok, a positive cycle of progress and development is being created.
To get a holistic view, I discussed with my colleagues what they feel makes EDC Bangkok such a constructive workplace, not only for female professionals but for all staff. Within my first few days at the office, I found myself having engaging conversations on feminism and women in the workplace with Thaniya Theungsan (Roong), EDC Bangkok’s Communications Specialist. We sat down to further examine some of the challenges facing women in the workplace in Thailand, as well as those faced by the project to promote STEM education for women.
Roong: “In Thailand, people don’t openly and outright say that gender equality is an issue, but it is, even if it’s more subtle. Especially in this region. I think the cultural norm is for women to be seen as very submissive, accommodating, quiet and introverted, and sort of in a supporting role for men. But, in reality, you see that there are more and more women in managerial or leadership roles and the trend is shifting. There’s still a lot of work to do, though.”
Kira: “Well you can definitely see women in managerial roles here in the EDC Bangkok office. I have to say though, in many ways, it really feels like gender isn’t something that is considered at all in the office. It seems like it offers a really strong example of how workplaces could be. Can you tell me anything about your own experience working here?”
Roong: “With EDC in general, over my six years of experience here, I’ve found that usually it is around 80% female staff. It doesn’t feel like there is a difference, though. Whereas in other offices, in my experience, if the staff is 80% male, there might be a difference in terms of inclusivity, but not here. And there shouldn’t be. We’re all just people with ideas and we’re implementers. Another great thing about this office is there are so many different kinds of female role models. There are single female professionals, single moms, and young working moms all trying to thrive in their careers. Also, there are very senior women who have had both experiences of being first single and then entering motherhood and finding a work-life balance. It’s great to hear from everyone’s perspective and see that there’s more than one way to be a working female professional. It’s just life, but it’s really no different from a man’s career path.”
When talking about empowering women in the workplace, it is important to note the vital importance of men in leadership roles who are allies to women as equals and support their success. EDC Bangkok is proud to say it has someone who is exactly that as its Chief of Party, Michael Calvano. Michael combines extensive experience working overseas with an ability to connect with each staff member personally (and a commitment to taking the time to do so) to lead a team that is happy and does their jobs well. He explained to me how to create this working environment.
Michael: “There are several factors that impact the way we operate in this office and the inclusiveness that is sort of endemic. First of all, EDC has traditionally been very inclusive in terms of the people that are hired. EDC really focuses on quality, quality staff. I always tell people that I like working with EDC because we have a lot of really smart people, regardless of the personal lifestyle, or any kind of variation like gender or age. So, I’ve learned that you always have to go for the best.
This project has to be creative because we’re small and we don’t have a large budget, so we had to be very careful and selective about the people that we hired. We did spend a lot of time and effort interviewing and really trying to find the best person for the job, again, whoever that may be. This office has people with very different lifestyles, older folks and younger folks. And gender is not a factor, we hire the best. Then beyond that, once you get the best people, we try and delegate a lot because we have a small staff, and we are horizontal, not vertical, so we have to respect their capacity to take responsibility and to implement. Of course, where they may need some help we provide that kind of support, and they are not afraid to ask for it. The important thing is that we give people a chance and let them gain the appropriate level of experience in order to do their job the best they can. We treat everybody equally, we give everybody the same opportunities, and we treat everyone with the same kind of professional respect that we know they deserve because we know we’ve hired the best.
Once you do get the best staff you can get, and you provide that kind of balanced respect across the board, then everybody feels that they can contribute to the maximum, and we celebrate that here. We have established, with our performance, a reputation for being very good at what we do with a minimal amount of resources. Also, because we’re small and there’s a lot to do, sometimes people can get stressed. So we try to provide balance in terms of being serious about the professional responsibilities but also having some fun. Because that’s also important, and it’s worked out very well.”
He ended his statement with a simple shrug as if to say ‘this isn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary, it just makes sense’. Indeed, it does. It’s the most effective and equal way to do things, and EDC Bangkok has proven that it works.
Kira Scheffelmeier is one of YCI’s first Innovate ME interns working in Thailand with EDC Bangkok as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Political Science from the University of Toronto and is passionate about the transformative power of education as an agent of development as well as female empowerment.
Want to intern overseas, develop your career and make a difference? Apply for YCI’s Innovate ME international youth internship program today.