Looking at the current statistics for gender equality makes for a pretty disheartening read.
Across the board, Australian women are taking home on average $251.20 less than men each week, retiring with $113,660 less in superannuation than men. Therefore on average, women need to work an extra 65 days a year in order to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.
Salary gaps aside, females continue to be largely underrepresented in almost all stages of the career pipeline. A particular area of growing concern is within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) industries where, according to a 2016 report by Australia's Chief Scientist, women make up just 16 per cent of all jobs.
With 75 per cent of all jobs estimated to require STEM skills by 2026 (Australia has created 40,000 ICT jobs in Australia in the last two years alone), upping the sector's female employee number is a must.
Thankfully, Australia has some incredible women already stepping up to the gender equality challenge, promoting a positive change in the way STEM careers are represented and offering girls and young women inspiring role models to look up to for advice.
Meet the women levelling the playing field:
Dayle Stevens: General Manager in Information Systems and Technology for AGL
Dayle Stevens is passionate about increasing the number of women in STEM, and is involved in initiatives to help them gain experience and confidence in these exciting areas. A qualified accountant with a passion for technology, Stevens recognises that many females feel intimidated or lack confidence when it comes to pursuing STEM careers. "You don't need to know how to code to get started," she says. "Technology is about communication and problem solving. You can learn to code as you go, it changes so fast that you are always learning anyway."
Actively involved in two initiatives for women and girls; the Girl Geek Academy (GGA) and Robogals, Stevens believes there are pathways for women into technology, regardless of their background. "I've been an active supporter of GGA from the start," she says. "It's a global movement that aims to teach one million women and girls technology skills by 2025, to get more women comfortable with technology and doing things like building more of the Internet."
Dayle Stevens has worked with AGL since February, and says the company's values and level of transformation align with her own. "AGL has really good participation rates of women in technology, but we want to do more," she says. "The company participates in many events aimed at school children, such as the Big Day In and Go Girl Go for IT, where our people share their technology knowledge and experience. AGL takes its responsibility to future generations seriously."
Muireann Irish: Associate Professor of Psychology at the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney
Inspired by her own grandmother's experience of Alzheimer's disease, Associate Professor Muireann Irish specialises in exploring memory changes in dementia. She has an impressive 75 publications under her belt and has raised more than $2.5 million in competitive funding, her work winning her many prestigious awards including 2017 L'Oréal-UNESCO International Rising Talent Award and the 2016 NSW Premier's Prize for Early Career Researcher of the Year.
On top of it all, Irish is committed to fighting for a future that includes more female scientists. As one of the 30 Superstars of STEM — a Science & Technology Australia initiative aimed at promoting the visibility of female scientists in the industry — Irish is a role model for girls and young women around the country, raising her hand to talk openly about the realities of a science career.
"I think it's important to realise that we can all play an active role in shaping our careers," Irish says. "Women tend to be particularly risk-averse but some of my riskiest projects have been my greatest successes, so I always advise women to step outside their comfort zone and to take risks."
Nicole Brown: Structural engineer and former CEO of Robogals
Despite both her father and grandfather being engineers, Nicole Brown never contemplated engineering as a career choice for herself. It was only due to a careers aptitude test Brown took weeks before choosing her VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) subjects that made engineering seem like a feasible option.
After completing a Bachelor of Science (Civil Systems) at the University of Melbourne, Brown took the role of CEO at Robogals — an organisation that aims to increase female participation in engineering, science and technology by running free-of-charge workshops — in 2013 at the age of 21.
"The problem is a lack of adequate role models to demonstrate what engineering is about," she says. "I think the biggest responsibility we have is challenging society's expectation of what kinds of careers people can pursue."
During her time as CEO, Brown expanded Robogals into New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Canada, and collaborated with companies such as SpaceX and Google. Currently working as a structural engineer, Brown's advice to other young women is simple: "Have confidence in your own abilities."
Dr Jillian Kenny: Founding Director of Machinam and Co-Founder of The Power of Engineering
Another of STEM's Superstars, Dr Jillian Kenny established two social enterprises aimed at introducing non-traditional entrants into the STEM field. As Founding Director of Machinam, Kenny developed high school mathematics resources to help students link their learnings to real life scenarios through engaging resources available to use within classrooms and at home.
In 2012, Kenny co-founded another empowering initiative, The Power of Engineering, along with Felicity Briody in collaboration with Engineers Australia, Queensland University of Technology and AECOM. Aiming to inspire the next generation of engineers and unlock the power of young changemakers, the organisation delivers free events and workshops to year nine and ten students.
With only a little more than 14 per cent of all Australian engineer graduates female, we couldn't be more behind Kenny and her incredible initiatives.
Dr Tien Huynh: Senior lecturer at RMIT University
Dr Tien Huynh has held a longstanding passion for environmental sustainability. Immigrating to Australia from Vietnam as a child refugee during the Vietnam War, Huynh spoke no English, her only possessions the clothes on her back.
After completing postdoctoral research overseas in Evolutionary Phylogenetics and Conservation Biology, Huynh returned to Australia to focus on her postdoctoral research in Cancer, Tissue Repair, Neuropharmacology and Drug Discovery Technologies. As the co-founder of Centre for Health and Biological Innovations Lab at RMIT, Huynh has established projects for endangered and medicinal plants, environmental sustainability and agricultural upcycling.
When she's not busy lecturing, Dr Tien Huynh mentors female Asian students and academics to inspire greatness and overcome challenges in life and careers.
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Australian Women's WeeklyFeb 14, 2019