Guest Speaker Interviews
Lisa Harvey-Smith, Award-winning Astrophysicist and Author, Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador
What will it take for true equality to be reached in STEM leadership?
It will take a fundamental shift away from the model of the ‘ideal worker’ – always available, has no other commitments and is welded to the 9 to 5 – to a model of truly flexible work that takes into account people’s different health circumstances, personal commitments and working styles. I think we will see more senior leaders in job share positions and a far greater use of remote communication technologies to cut down travel, which will enable people of all genders to balance their commitments better, and facilitate greater workforce participation for people with disability or chronic disease. And due to demographic shifts and skills shortages, leaders will have to work a lot harder to ensure that workplaces are attractive to the increasingly rarefied pool of appropriately-skilled talent.
How can current and emerging women in STEM leadership support this?
Whatever your position in an organisation, it is possible to demonstrate leadership in how you treat people, and the processes that you uphold and perpetuate (e.g. recruitment, awards, mentoring, promotion, pay and conditions). We need a dramatic shift in mindset about what it means to run a workplace, and deliberate strategies to implement changes to policy and practice that have been modelled in organisations around the world. There are many tools and communities of practice that you can access online, from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to Science in Australia Gender Equity and Chief Executive Women, to name just a few.
As the Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador, what steps are you taking to influence change?
My team is conducting research to understand the mechanisms that embed inequity in the Australian research sector, for example in the way we allocate grant funding, and advising policymakers and leaders in the sector to create change. We are developing tools and resources for STEM businesses and organisations to help them design and implement workplace change initiatives that will be highly effective at removing barriers to participation. And we are demanding more from organisations, by building a national evaluation portal for STEM equity programs (https://womeninstem.org.au/latest-news/stem-equity-evaluation-portal-consultation/) to be launched later this year – which will encourage a culture of evaluation, so that we can share what is working and what is not.
Dr Sue Barrell AO, Former Chief Scientist & Current Honorary Affiliate, Bureau of Meteorology
How important are role models for women on the path to becoming leaders in STEM?
There’s a saying that ‘you can’t be it if you can’t see it’ and this is very true. Role models don’t just show you that success is possible, they show you that it is perfectly normal to aspire to a leadership role yourself and they can be a go-to source for mentorship and advice.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Whatever you aspire to, believe in yourself and give it a go – if it works, terrific; if it doesn’t, take the learnings and try again.
What are your top 3 tips for emerging women leaders in STEM?
- Believe in yourself – if you don’t, no one will.
- There’s no such thing as luck – it’s all about being prepared for opportunities as they arise (or as you make them arise!)
- Diversity is key – surround yourself with different voices, perspectives, life experiences, genders etc and listen and learn from them.
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