After 25 years in leadership roles within the biopharmaceutical and medical research sector, I decided to leave my comfort zone for a more uncertain, and more exciting path in start-ups.
My passion for STEMM (the sector encompassing science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) saw me launch both The Social Science, a marketing and communications consultancy specialising in digital content, and Women in STEMM Australia, a not-for-profit advocacy group.
Having worked in STEMM for more than two decades, I’m acutely aware of the lack of representation of women. Only around 16% of the country’s STEMM workforce are female.
My businesses are powered by my belief that Australia cannot reach its full innovation potential without women.
If a significant chunk of the STEMM-qualified workforce opts out mid-career or, even worse, fails to enter into it at all, we lose the incredible talent that goes with it.
I’ve made it a career goal to support and encourage young women to pursue education or work in this industry – something I was recognised for this year, winning the 2017 Telstra Victorian Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award.
The STEMM gender imbalance
I want to see Australia build a robust and innovative knowledge economy. To do this, we need to ensure the greatest science and technology minds are at the leadership table. Currently a significant segment of the community isn’t represented because of unconscious – and sometimes conscious – bias around gender and diversity.
STEMM ability isn’t gendered
Yet far more men accelerate through the leadership ranks, despite even representation in some undergrad STEMM degrees. For example, women hold 52% of undergraduate degrees in the Natural and Physical Sciences, yet only 17% of professors are women. Representation of women in other STEMM sectors is even worse; female university graduates are underrepresented at all levels in Physics (22% of all graduates), Engineering (14%), Mathematics (35%) and ICT (13%) resulting is a deeply troubling lack of senior female role models in those disciplines across industry and academia.
As health, wealth and the environment are becoming more technology-centric industries, STEMM careers are increasingly important. Yet, women will miss out on these exciting career opportunities if nothing is done to create a more gender-balanced workforce.
Not only should we encourage women to pursue STEMM studies, but we need to increase visibility and access to women who are ready to take up leadership opportunities.
Inspiring the younger generation
Seeing is believing when it comes to role models. When girls can see an inspiring woman who works in STEMM, they’re more likely to pursue their interest, through higher education, into that field.
Ruby Payne-Scott is one great example. Her story inspires me every day! A pioneer in radio astronomy, she is one of Australia’s great unsung scientific heroines. Every science student should know her story.
In her day, women were forced to leave STEMM roles if they married or became pregnant. So, Ruby married in secret, and continued to work for the CSIRO, but was forced to resign when she became pregnant.
Though she was unceremoniously booted from her chosen career path, Ruby later became an exceptional science teacher, laying the foundation for many outstanding female scientists in Australia. An early campaigner for women’s rights, Ruby helped shape the way forward for female scientists in Australia.
Sharing stories like these improves the visibility of women in STEMM, which is one of the easiest, most influential steps we can take to increase the uptake of STEMM for girls.
Inspiring science teachers are probably the greatest driver of students choosing STEMM subjects. Creating a female-friendly curriculum is essential. Studying chemistry and physics, I remember lab prac examples were geared toward typically male interests. Not to say that girls aren’t interested in Formula 1 racing cars and exploding things, but can you imagine the difference it could make to teenage girls if chemistry involved making mascara?
Lifting each other up
Championing other women is so important! I mentor some remarkable STEMM women and especially enjoy facilitating greater insight and access to professional networks in medtech, digital health and life sciences.
Networking is enormously powerful in accelerating careers and building innovation ecosystems. While women know this, many of us hold back from leveraging networks in the same way that men do.
I’m part of a large network of women who share a passion to ‘move the needle’ on representation of women in leadership, and an active blogger and speaker on gender equality in STEMM.
When businesses tell me no women applied for a particular role, or they can’t find female speakers for a conference, I see it as a personal challenge. I’m never stuck for someone to recommend. When asked for suggestions for boards, advisory committees or speaking opportunities, I promote inspiring STEMM women in my network as a priority. There’s no excuse these days for having panels, boards or committees that are overwhelmingly male.
Women in STEMM Australia, use our digital influence to contribute to the conversation, promoting visibility and accessibility for a diverse range of STEMM women by profiling them in a monthly blog. In doing this, we hope to inspire young women and girls to consider a STEMM career.
Men’s roles in promoting gender equity are often underestimated. However, I know and support many extraordinary men who are doing a wonderful job championing STEMM women. I’m so proud when I see these men speak in public about merit, diversity and scientific excellence. In those moments, I feel we’re not standing alone. These men are on the right side of history and we need their support to make change.
So, what can you do to encourage women in STEMM?
1. Champion and mentor inspiring STEMM women
2. Encourage girls to see the value and wonder of STEMM-centric careers and their role in Australia’s technology future
3. Speak up and express your support for women in STEMM
Nominating successful women to the Telstra Business Women’s Awards is a wonderful way of championing those who deserve recognition. You can nominate yourself or someone you know via: https://www.telstrabusinesswomensawards.com/