Tag Archives: STEM careers

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.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on corporate culture using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

Balancing career and family

People imagine all kinds of life experiences when they ponder what a career in the Royal Australian Navy might offer. Only a small portion of them could ever imagine the range of opportunities available to STEM qualified professionals. The chance to work with cutting edge technologies is not limited to life in the field. Critical work in support of missions occurs everyday in many different environments. The Navy is facilitated by technical and logistics businesses behind the scenes that are amongst the most proficient operations in the world. Careers in the Navy are attracting more and more women each year.

My early career as a woman in the Navy

My 27-year career has not been without challenges. As one of the first female naval officers ever to serve on an Australian warship, the challenges were many and varied.

In the early days, I was a novelty; something foreign in a traditionally male-only environment. There was a need to change peoples’ paradigms of thought about an employee’s suitability, competence and worthiness to lead others.

Through circumstance and rapidly changing policies, I unwittingly become a trailblazer; part of a change that, it would be fair to say, could not be fully understood and meticulously planned before execution.

From those early days when I first took up residence in a cramped three-berth cabin, I learnt as I went – and so did the Navy. In challenging circumstances, away from home for long periods, isolated from my support networks, I made things work. I learned many lessons the hard way, but in the process helped design a better Navy for those who would follow.

Married with children

One of the greatest emotional challenges I faced while serving at sea came after I was married and had children. It was a huge personal struggle even contemplating the idea of leaving my family. There were many times I thought I should leave. I was torn.

When I had first joined the Navy, females were able to choose whether or not they went to sea. But with changing policy it soon became apparent that sea service would be mandatory if I had any chance of progressing through the ranks and receiving the technically challenging and professionally rewarding roles I aspired to. I also really enjoyed my work and was driven to progress.

In the end it was a compromise. I slowed my career during my children’s formative years, and the love and support of my fantastic husband and extended family made balancing career and family manageable, despite remaining difficult on an emotional level.

Balancing career and family

I know many women – and men for that matter – struggle with choices involving balancing career and family and I think the best way to support people is to be honest and truly acknowledge how difficult it often is.

For me, it meant compartmentalising the challenging periods of separation and recognising the sacrifices as short-term compared with a much longer career of professional satisfaction.

These decisions come with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what support networks people have, their level of personal resilience and their own assessment of the opportunity cost. It will never be the same for everyone.

Can women have it all?

One thing I know for sure is that almost anything is possible and for those wondering whether a woman can have it all; I would say yes. But I would also counsel that the pursuit of one desire is almost always at the expense of another. The idea is to be reflective, understand what the risks are, assess what value you place on all aspects of your life and make decisions that work for your circumstances. Always remember that success can take many forms.

With flexible work arrangements, community support programs and different career paths that better cater for the needs of families, many options have been developed during my career. I am glad to have been one of the women who informed these enhancements through experience.

Reflecting on my own career, I feel incredibly privileged to have had so many diverse opportunities for learning and growth. From leading technical teams in operational roles, my career journey has evolved and morphed across a wide range of disciplines. STEM professionals today can expect challenge, growth, diversification and adventure at every stage of what can only be described as an amazingly rewarding career.

Captain Mona Shindy

Directing Staff, Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies, Australian Defence College

Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, 2015 

Read next: CEO of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Professor Aidan Byrne discusses women in physics and the ARC’s commitment to women in research careers.

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.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on balancing career and family using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

Smashing the glass ceiling

“Science Meets Business” – this is a beautiful thing. It does not get better than that for me, having trained as a scientist and worked for more than 30 years in business, including the past 27 years with Dow, one of the world’s leading science and technology companies.  At Dow we are proud of our mission to combine chemistry, physics and biology to create what is essential for human progress. As our ever growing population faces pressing challenges, we believe that innovation will be the key to addressing the needs of the future.

Implicit in this vision is that graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are readily available to drive innovation and progress humanity and, just as importantly, that the graduate pool reflects the diversity of our society in all its dimensions.

Over recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the imbalance of women in STEM.  This has culminated in an impressive $13 million of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) funding being earmarked to support women in STEM careers including support for SAGE, Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity in STEM.

Changing corporate culture

There is a real need for this concerted effort to address gender inequity. According to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, women make up only 16% of Australia’s STEM Workforce.

The good news is that in recent years, a lot has been done to address the gender inequality issues.  We have a strong combination of social awareness, government policy and financial investment, corporate and business buy-in and social consciousness of the issue.

I have recently met a number of female board directors who have openly acknowledged that their appointment is due to the Victorian governments spilling of agency boards and establishing a 50% gender quota requirement. This is one example of real and substantial change.

Across the globe, Dow has over 1,600 employee volunteers, known as STEM Ambassadors, who are helping to bring STEM subjects to life in the classroom, and serving as role models of a diverse STEM workforce.

In partnership with the Women in Business Summit hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), Dow has also taken a leadership role to improve STEM career development opportunities for women.  We are progressing slowly, but steadily, with women constituting nearly 60% of new Australian and New Zealand hires at Dow in 2016.

With the $13 million NISA investment and the changing corporate culture, now is the perfect opportunity for young women to seek and develop a career in STEM.

Innovation in general will be the driving force of commercial success, economic growth and national development. A large part of this will come from R&D and innovation in STEM fields.

If the majority of future jobs are yet to be imagined, then women in particular are in a perfect position to seize the opportunity of creating these positions.

The management glass ceiling might exist today, but if the jobs are yet to be invented, then then we have a chance of shattering that ceiling in the future.

Tony Frencham

Managing Director & Regional President, Australia and New Zealand, Dow Chemical Company

Read next: CEO of AECOM Australia and New Zealand Lara Poloni explains why it’s important for women to stay connected with the workplace during a career break.

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.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on corporate culture using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

Career breaks in STEM

Taking career breaks from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) jobs can give you an opportunity to re-engage with the workforce in new ways, say industry leaders.

Maintaining support networks, using transferable skills from postgraduate study and setting effective productivity goals are all essential skills in regaining career credibility after time away from work, say highly ranked women leaders at the national Women in STEM summit in Sydney.

Megan Baldwin, CEO and Managing Director of Opthea Ltd, a biotech company specialising in the factors leading to eye diseases, says it’s also important to realise that no one will judge you if you are going to walk out of the office at 5.30 or 6 at night instead of 8pm.

“You will be judged on how well you do your work. There are always a million things on your calendar. And it’s important to build your network, but you also need to learn to say ‘no’ if it’s not directly relevant to you.”

Deborah Rathjen, CEO and Managing Director of drug discovery and development company Bionomic Ltd says there’s lots of opportunity to come back and re-engage with your work after career breaks or shifts, and these are opportunities that can benefit an organisation.

“There are so many paths to having a productive life and a productive career.”

For example, in moving from academia to biotech, the skills she learnt as a postdoc science student, such as networking, were really important, she says.

“If you are on short term contracts with endless grant writing, that kind of grind is quite intense. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Maintaining your networks and maintaining your supporters during this time is really important,” she says.

Taking career breaks in STEM

Career breaks can be anything from family leave to academic sabbaticals or time spent in another industry, all increasingly diverse pathways that are particular true for women working in STEM, the summit heard.

“It costs a lot of money to recruit and train people,” says Rathjen. “If people then resign because the company is inflexible there is lost time and productivity in that. It’s about having links into the community so you can find replacements for short term contracts but also creating the environment so that people feel like they have the ability to return to work.”

IP Australia, the national patent office which employs 400 scientists and engineers, creates this environment through developing flexibility as a “mainstream way of working”.

“Young people who have come to us from the private sector really value flexible time, the ability to take career breaks such as leave without pay, or even taking time off to work in startups,” says Patricia Kelly, Director General of IP Australia. “Developing methods for young people to work in mobile ways makes the workforce more attractive,” she says.

Alison Stone, Deputy Director General of Land and Natural Resources at the NSW Department of Primary Industries says that some people love 9-5 hours, while others “literally work 7 days a week”.

“But everyone has hours dedicated to their family. For me it’s about keeping to your routine, whatever that is.

“Even though I’ve been in government for 30 years I worked in the private sector also. I’ve found that you often have to re-establish who you are.

“One of the tricks I’ve established is to think about how you’d like to come back to work. In those career break experiences, whether that’s having a child or a sabbatical, it’s an opportunity to come back with a defined objective.”

Leadership in women

“Collaborative leadership is critical,” says Rathjen, who heads a company of 140 staff at Bionomics Ltd. “Your business will wither if you don’t collaborate with academia, and industry. A lot of these skills you learn as a postgraduate. Networking and developing links in Australia and overseas was a big opportunity for me that I took into leadership and that progressed me through my career.”

Megan Baldwin from Opthea Ltd adds that the other key message is to recognise that everyone comes from a different perspective.

“You do need to assert yourself though and you need to be comfortable in those shoes. You need to be true to how you want to lead, but also be authoritative.

“But everyone comes with their own life experience and their own priorities and you need to be attuned to that also.”

“One of the best pieces of advice I had was to take time for ‘thinking’,” says Rathjen. “That’s been a life saver for me. Whether that’s strategy or realising I haven’t touched based on a particular project, it’s about freeing up your mind to look at the big picture.”

– Heather Catchpole

Preparing graduates for the future of work

A new future of work is looming – one that is driven by the rapid pace of technological development and new approaches for interacting with colleagues and customers. In this future, STEM graduates are in higher demand than ever. They will find their place at the forefront of emerging industries – virtualisation, creative intelligence, robotics, data science are just to name a few – where they will co-exist with peers from a wealth of other disciplines.

As educators, we know the increasing importance of STEM skills in a world in which almost 40% of jobs that exist today are likely to disappear in the next 10–15 years. We know that today’s graduates will have 20–30 jobs over the course of their working lives. How can we prepare these graduates to respond to existing workforce needs, and perhaps more crucially, to workforce needs in industries that don’t yet exist?

First, we must fundamentally rethink the skills people will need, and how we support them acquiring these skills. Many of these will be numeracy and digital skills, such as those involved in data analytics and coding. Others will be sense-making skills that will enable people to absorb a wide variety of information to inform decision-making in a changing and complex environment.  The future workforce will also rely on very sophisticated interaction skills to facilitate collaboration in virtual, real and cross-cultural contexts.

The enterprises of tomorrow will not only need a greater prevalence of multifaceted digital and STEM capacity, but they will need more “boundary crossing” and creative problem solving skills in our STEM graduates. Underpinning this is an almost ubiquitous level of numeracy and digital literacy that does not currently exist in society.

There are many things universities can do to optimise the opportunities available to our STEM graduates, to ensure our graduates are agile, future-focused, committed to innovation and responsive to ongoing shifts in industry. To begin with, we can support the development of well-rounded STEM graduates, to more systematically emphasise the critical importance of cross-disciplinary training.

The ability of students to take their discipline expertise in science and engineering and apply it across a vast range of questions, jobs and sectors has always existed, but we need to be more deliberate about this into the future. We can embed collaborative, entrepreneurial, critical thinking and interpersonal skills at the core of all our courses. We can deliver educational experiences that champion student-led modes of learning, and treat students like professionals from the moment they commence their university careers. We can emphasise internships, work placements and volunteer opportunities that give students a taste of the world outside the classroom – be this in businesses, R&D laboratories or start-ups. We can involve industry more deeply in our assessment processes.

We can also provide development opportunities both on and off campus that encourage students to place their STEM skills in a wealth of exciting new contexts, from entrepreneurship programs to workshops in design thinking, and combined STEM/creative intelligence degrees. This has the added advantage of providing more visibly attractive opportunities for STEM graduates, increasing those Australians choosing STEM careers.

Similarly for non-STEM graduates, as well as much of the above, embedding contextual numeracy and increased data literacy into our courses will be vital.

If our aim is to create a generation of graduates who will lead the development of new and emerging sectors, and who will carve out competitive advantages for Australia, then we must focus on preparing them for the brave new world ahead. Let’s equip them to become creators, innovators and global thinkers with the capacity to untangle the wicked problems inherent in the future of work.

Attila Brungs

Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Technology, Sydney

Read next: Innes WilloxCEO of the Australian Industry Group, highlights the huge demand for STEM skills in today’s workforce and discusses why it’s paramount for students to gain industry experience while studying.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.