Tag Archives: gender equality

staying connected

Manifesting conscious connection

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.

Lara Poloni 

Chief Executive Officer, AECOM, Australia and New Zealand 

Read next: Innovating Australia – Australia’s top thinkers describe their vision for the future of innovation.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

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gender

How to balance gender in STEM

Sobering statistics on gender disparity were released by the Office of the Chief Scientist in early 2016 as part of a report on STEM-based employment. These followed the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) announcement of a $13 million investment to encourage women to choose and stick with STEM careers. So, what are the issues for men and women entering STEM graduate pathways today and how can you change the game?

The rate of increase in female STEM-qualified graduates is outstripping that of males by 6 per cent. Overall, however, women make up just 16% of STEM-qualified people, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.

Recognising that more needs to be done, a cohort of exceptional female and male leaders in academia and industry is developing two strategic approaches that will receive the bulk of the new NISA funding. These are the industry-led Male Champions of Change initiative, and the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, run the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

SAGE was founded by Professors Nalini Joshi and Brian Schmidt (a Nobel laureate) with a view to creating an Australian pilot of UK program the Athena SWAN Charter. Established in 2005, Athena SWAN was described by the British House of Commons as the “most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity”.

Since September 2015, 32 organisations have signed up for Australia’s SAGE pilot, which takes a data analysis approach to affect change. Organisations gather information such as the number of women and men hired, trained and promoted across various employment categories. They then analyse these figures to uncover any underlying gender inequality issues, explains Dr Susan Pond, a SAGE program leader and adjunct professor in engineering and information technologies at the University of Sydney. Finally, participating organisations develop a sustainable four-year action plan to resolve the diversity issues that emerge from the analyses.

Women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and institutes, and there are almost three times as many male than female STEM graduates in the highest income bracket ($104K and above). The Australia’s STEM Workforce report found this wealth gap is not accounted for by the percentage of women with children, or by the higher proportion of females working part-time.

There are, however, some opportunities revealed by the report. While only 13% of engineering graduates are female, 35% of employees with engineering degrees are female, so a larger proportion of women engineers are finding jobs. Across all sectors, however, employment prospects for STEM-qualified women are worse than for non-STEM qualified women – a situation that’s reversed for men.

Part of the problem is that graduates view academic careers as the only outcome of a STEM degree – they aren’t being exposed to careers in industry and the corporate sector, says Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, a senior research leader at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and co-founder of Women in Science Australia.

“There are so many compounding issues in the academic environment: it’s hypercompetitive, you have to be an elite athlete throughout your entire career,” she says. “This impacts women more because they are often the primary caregivers.”

An increased focus on diversity in STEM skills taught at schools, however, is changing the way women relate to careers in the field, Marguerite says.

“There are opportunities for women because, with diversified training, we can realise there is a broad spectrum of careers. A PhD is an opportunity to hone your skills towards these careers.”

In the workforce, more flexible work arrangements and greater technical connectivity are improving conditions for women at the early-career level but, as Marguerite points out, there is still a bottleneck at the top.

“I’m still justifying my career breaks to this day,” she says. “It’s something that travels throughout your entire career – and this needs to change.”

Part of the issue is the way we measure success, as well as gender disparity, on career and grant application review panels – and this won’t change overnight.

“How we define merit may be different if there are more women in the room,” Marguerite adds. “There will be a more diverse range of ideas. Collaborations and engagement with the public may be valued more, as well as your ability to be an advocate and be a role model to other women in STEM. Paired with essential high-quality research, it could provide a broader lens.”

-Heather Catchpole

This article was first published on Postgraduate Futures on 29 May 2016. Read the original article here.

engineering music video

Engineering music video inspires girls

Featured video above: NERVO’s engineering music video aims to get girls switched onto careers in engineering. 

Eight top universities – led by the University of New South Wales – have launched a song and music video by Australia’s twin-sister DJ duo NERVO to highlight engineering as an attractive career for young women.

NERVO, made up of 29-year-old singer-songwriters and sound engineers Miriam Nervo and Olivia Nervo, launched the video clip for People Grinnin’ worldwide on Friday 15 July.

In the futuristic video clip, a group of female engineers create android versions of NERVO in a high-tech lab, using glass touchscreens and a range of other technologies that rely on engineering, highlighting how it is embedded in every facet of modern life.

The song and video clip are part of Made By Me, a national collaboration between UNSW, the University of Wollongong, the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide together with Engineers Australia, which launched on the same day across the country.

It aims to challenge stereotypes and shows how engineering is relevant to many aspects of our lives, in an effort to to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering. Although a rewarding and varied discipline, it has for decades suffered gender disparity and chronic skills shortage.

NERVO, the Melbourne-born electronic dance music duo, pack dancefloors from Ibiza to India and, according to Forbes,  are one of the world’s highest-earning acts in the male-dominated genre. They said the Made by Me project immediately appealed to them.

“When we did engineering, we were the only girls in the class. So when we were approached to get behind this project it just made sense,” they said.

“We loved the chance to show the world that there is engineering in every aspect of our lives,” they said. “We’re sound engineers, but our whole show is only made possible through expert engineering:  the makeup we wear, the lights and the stage we perform on.”

“Engineering makes it all possible, including the music that we make.”

Alexandra Bannigan, UNSW Women in Engineering Manager and Made By Me spokesperson, said the project highlights the varied careers of engineers, and the ways in which engineers can make a real difference in the world. 

“When people think engineering, they often picture construction sites and hard hats, and that perception puts a lot of people off,” she said. “Engineering is more than  that, and this campaign shows how engineering is actually a really diverse and creative career option that offers strong employment prospects in an otherwise tough job market.”

She noted that the partner universities, which often compete for the best students, see the issue as important enough to work together.

“We normally compete for students with rival universities, but this is such an important issue that we’re working together to break down those perceptions,” she said.

Made By Me includes online advertising across desktop and mobiles, a strong social media push, a website telling engineering stories behind the video, links to career sites, as well as the song and video, to be released by Sony globally on the same day. Developed by advertising agency Whybin/TBWA, the campaign endeavours to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering.

“We needed to find a way to meet teenagers on home turf and surprise them with an insight into engineering that would open their minds to its possibilities,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering. “This is what led to the idea of producing an interactive music video, sprinkled with gems of information to pique the audience’s interest in engineering.”

UNSW has recently accelerated efforts to attract more women into engineering, more than tripling attendance at its annual Women in Engineering Camp, in which 90 bright young women in Years 11 and 12 came to UNSW from around Australia for a week this year to explore engineering as a career and visiting major companies like Google, Resmed and Sydney Water. It has also tripled the number of Women in Engineering scholarships to 15, valued at more than $150,000 annually.

Hoffman, who became Dean of Engineering in 2015, has set a goal to raise female representation among students, staff and researchers to 30% by 2020. Currently, 23% of UNSW engineering students are female (versus the Australian average of 17%), which is up from 21% in 2015. In industry, only about 13% of engineers are female, a ratio that has been growing slowly for decades.

“Engineering has one of the highest starting salaries, and the average starting salary for engineering graduates has been actually higher for women than for men,” said Hoffman. “Name another profession where that’s happening.”

Australia is frantically short of engineers: for more than a decade, the country has annually imported more than double the number who graduate from Australian universities.

Some 18,000 engineering positions need to be filled annually, and almost 6,000 come from engineering students who graduate from universities in Australia, of whom the largest proportion come from UNSW in Sydney, which has by far the country’s biggest engineering faculty. The other 12,000 engineers arrive in Australia to take up jobs – 25% on temporary work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages.

“Demand from industry has completely outstripped supply, and that demand doubled in the past decade,” said Hoffman. “In a knowledge driven economy, the best innovation comes from diverse teams who bring together different perspectives. This isn’t just about plugging the chronic skills gap – it’s also a social good to bring diversity to our technical workforce, which will help stimulate more innovation. We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.”

UNSW has also created a new national award, the Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer, to highlight the significant contributions to Australia made by female engineers.

This information was first shared by the University of New South Wales on 14 July 2016. Read the original article here.

discovery

Thrill of discovery

The thrill of discovery is what biochemist Marilyn Anderson relishes in her work. “It’s a feeling you can’t even imagine: when you’re the first person to solve a problem,” she says.

Anderson is a Professor of Biochemistry at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and the Chief Science Officer of Hexima, a biotechnology company embedded in LIMS. Anderson co-founded Hexima in 1998 following her discovery of naturally occurring insecticidal and antifungal molecules in the reproductive parts of plants.

The team at Hexima are exploiting these molecules to develop genetically modified crops that are protected from insect predation and fungal infections – a game changer for agriculture. Research in this area is ongoing, as insects are developing resistance to the commonly used BT toxin, an insecticide produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, and new insecticidal genes are needed. “It’s a huge market,” says Anderson.

“We will not be able to feed and clothe humanity if we don’t have insect and fungal-resistant plants.”

Anderson did a BSc (Hons) at the University of Melbourne and then completed her PhD in biochemistry at La Trobe University. Her enthusiasm for this field is clear: “I’m still knocked over by just how amazing biology is, and how things have evolved to work”.

After graduating, Anderson was drawn to “the revolution of the time – the beginning of gene cloning and molecular biology”. She moved to the USA and worked on diabetes at the University of Miami before transferring to Cold Spring Harbor to conduct cancer research. “We were paving the way. It was extremely exciting because while I was at Cold Spring Harbor the first oncogenes, or cancer-causing genes, were discovered,” she says.

Expertise in molecular biology was internationally sought after at the time and was the crux of much interdisciplinary research. In 1982 Anderson was offered a job with Laureate Professor Adrienne Clarke AC at the Plant Cell Biology Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. “That was a big switch for me,” says Anderson. “I’d been working on cancer and this was a botany school.” Together, Anderson and Clarke were able to discover the gene that prevents self-pollination, or inbreeding, in flowering plants.

Now a leader in the scientific community, Anderson is not only a director at Hexima; she is also on the La Trobe University Council and was inducted into the 2014 Victorian Honour Roll for Women for her scientific achievements.

Gender equality and supporting women in science are two things Anderson is passionate about. “There’s a lot of work to be done just to give women equal opportunity,” she says. “There are many talented female scientists here at Hexima, and I enjoy mentoring women and helping them through the early stages of their career.”

Anderson conducts workshops with secondary students that focus on women in science, and she’s part of Supporting Women in Science (SWIS), a new association at La Trobe that gives guidance to female postgraduate researchers in STEM.

“This is a proactive program to direct universities to pay more attention to gender diversity.”


Anderson will be speaking at Women in Science, an event hosted by La Trobe University for Melbourne Knowledge Week in May 2016. The panel discussion will centre on the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. The MC will be science journalist Robyn Williams. Panel speakers will also include NHMRC Biomedical Fellow of the Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre, Misty Jenkins; Head of La Trobe’s School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Wenny Rahayu; and nanotechnology research assistant and nominee for Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Award in 2015, Elana Montagner. For more information and to register for the event, head to www.latrobe.edu.au/womeninscience.


Cherese Sonkkila

gender equality and innovation

Gender equality and innovation

Australia needs to be more innovative in our approach to gender equity. It’s time to do things differently and be bolder in our commitment to diversity.

During my training as a medical researcher, women represented more than 50% of my undergraduate class and almost 75% of my PhD peer group. But the pipeline approach has failed; putting 50% of women into the science system at a junior level has not seen 50% of women in senior leadership pop out the other end. And it’s been this way for more than 20 years.

In 2016 men continue to hold the majority of Australia’s top leadership positions in science, research, innovation and business. The next generation will always be different, but we cannot place the burden of gender equity on those who follow us. We need to lead from the top and from the front, creating a pull-through effect that draws women through the pipeline and enables them to lead.

Insist on inclusiveness

Equity is everyone’s issue, and we need to insist on inclusiveness. Speak up about all male conference panels, research grant teams, boards and committees – especially if you’re involved in them. Call it when you see it, and provide a pathway to change; reach out with the names of women who could participate and promote conscious consideration of diversity.


“Innovation is a people-driven process that thrives on diverse thinking and views. To build a strong, resilient and successful innovation ecosystem, Australia needs to harness the talents of both men and women.”


If it matters, measure it

Everyone is accountable for equity. Scientists and managers alike know you need to measure what matters in order to understand it. Organisations should collect data and report on all aspects of gender equity in the workplace, and be open and transparent in sharing that information.

Look out as well as in

A lack of women in leadership is not unique to the science and research sector. We need to investigate and consider programs and policies that have had impact in other industries. There is no silver bullet solution or single way to address all of the challenges around diversity. We need to do all that we can to support women at all career stages, and at all places along the pipeline.

Innovation is a people-driven process that thrives on diverse thinking and views. To build a strong, resilient and successful innovation ecosystem, Australia needs to harness the talents of both men and women. Diverse teams make better decisions, and to innovate during times of transformation, Australia will need all hands on deck – an inclusive ecosystem that values and promotes women.

Dr Krystal Evans

Chief Executive Officer of the BioMelbourne Network

Learn more: Click here to see a timeline of gender equality in Australian education and the workplace put together by Open Colleges

Read next: Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia on innovation in Western Australia.

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