For many of us staying connected is almost as important as breathing. Using a smartphone or tablet to check in with the office or family and friends is a given in our increasingly fast-paced technological society.
Having the right tools do this provides comfort and keeps our networks strong.
For women tackling satisfying but competitive STEM careers, staying connected when taking a career break is a key concern.
I was visiting a regional AECOM office recently, and I was chatting with a female staff member who had come into the office while on maternity leave to watch my presentation.
Our conversation covered a lot of ground, but it was her relief at being provided with a laptop while on leave that struck me. She wanted to stay connected and looped in with work while looking after her growing family.
Providing tools like a laptop or a work mobile is a very simple way of making sure that women remain plugged into the workplace when they aren’t physically there. While they may not want to connect every day, it does mean that they can continue a conversation around how their career will evolve when they come back into the workforce.
Not only this, it also allows women to be involved with what’s going on in the office, maintain control over their career planning, including performance and salary discussions.
We do need to get better at supporting women as life transitions take them on different pathways, and such initiatives have important implications for retaining women as they move through their STEM career.
While some women have communicated to me that they want to progress in terms of their own merit (and I am very confident that we do that), we also need to consciously intervene with strategies and solutions. After all, it is still not a level playing field – the numbers tell us that.
Recently a lot of the conversation has centred around ways of attracting more women into the STEM sector (and AECOM is committed to this, recently achieving a 50/50 gender intake in our graduate program), retaining them is also a key focus of our efforts.
All too often we see women drop out of the workforce because the framework isn’t there to support them, this is where mentoring comes in.
When women are at that critical juncture where it may seem too difficult to continue, connecting with other women who have had similar experiences and with whom they can share their concerns and benefit from their perspective is extremely important.
Personally, mentoring has shown me that many of the concerns of women undertaking STEM careers revolve around practical things like how to ask for a promotion or a salary increase, or how they can work more flexibly.
For me this is an important connection to have, as it gives me a perspective on how women are feeling, and I can bring that to the table at wider industry discussions, as a board member at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia or as a champion of change with Consult Australia.
On a more practical level, at AECOM we are equipping our managers with the skills to have conversations about career and flexible work – we are being very conscious in terms of planning for the future compositions of our teams.
By doing this we are increasing our connectivity, and supplementing it with technology and open conversations to help both our female and male staff as they move through different life stages. For women working in STEM, my advice is to take charge of your own career. You’ve got to treat it like a project, communicate your needs and back yourself.
Chief Executive Officer, AECOM, Australia and New Zealand
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