Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Future Women Leaders Conference. The two-day workshop, held on the 26–27 November 2015 at the university’s Clayton campus in Victoria, was attended by around 50 women engineers from across Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.
The workshop seeks to narrow the gender gap and improve gender diversity among engineering researchers, by providing support and practical information to female post-doctorates, lecturers and PhD candidates working in the engineering sector on how to manage the pressures faced by female academic engineers.
“The Future Women Leaders Conference is the first of its kind,” says Professor Ana Deletic, Associate Dean of Research at the Faculty of Engineering at Monash.
“The focus is on inspiring women in engineering to pursue an academic career, as well as providing opportunity for them to learn from the success of other female engineers.“
Gender diversity is still a major challenge for the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines in Australia. This is particularly true for engineering, where, according the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) report: A strategy for inclusiveness, well-being and diversity in the engineering workplace, women make up less than 12% of the workforce.
The majority of the workshop’s attendees are post-doctoral researchers seeking to transition to an academic position. This is a critical time in the life of female researcher engineers – at this point the gender gap widens significantly.
“We’re truly excited about this gathering – we see it as a fundamental step in increasing diversity in engineering,” says Professor Karen Hapgood, Head of Department for Chemical Engineering at Monash University and co-chair of the workshop with Deletic.
“The group is likely to form a peer mentoring network as a result of this event, which will provide valuable ongoing support for attendees. Engineering research is a highly competitive field, so this kind of support is particularly beneficial.”
The workshop, which featured inspirational stories from successful women engineers from across the country, including Monash Provost and Senior Vice-President Professor Edwina Cornish and Dr Leonie Walsh from The Office of the Lead Scientist in Victoria, sought to address the gender gap by providing valuable insights in to the challenges faced by women in engineering.
The networking element of the workshop, according to Deletic, was particularly valuable. “Many attendees had not met other people in their situation, and were eager to talk through the common challenges they face,” says Deletic.
Monash University, together with another 32 Australian institutions, is also taking part in the Science in Australia Gender Equity pilot. Launched on 16 September 2015, the pilot is an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering that seeks to improve gender equity practices, representation and retention in STEMM.
– Carl Williams