Author - Pamela Connellan
It’s National STEM Day today and to celebrate this day, our content partner site Women Love Tech talked to thirteen women who work in STEM and asked them why women leaders are needed to disrupt traditional industries and how they are achieving this in their own working roles.
We know there is still evidence of subconscious gender bias when it comes to hiring women in the areas of STEM. A recent study from the University of Melbourne showed evidence of this and while this problem seems to fly under the radar of most companies, a growing number of IT and business professionals are now willing to change this situation. As well, global research conducted by Anaconda showed 31% of the respondents consider the social impact of bias the leading concern to be tackled in the STEM sector.
So take a look here at what these women have to say… Emma Ou, ANZ Country Lead for ASUS
"It’s absolutely vital that female leaders are visible in industries that are traditionally male dominant. I think it is important to inspire the next generation and show them what can be achieved for ambitious and talented women within STEM. Let them know that gender is not a barrier!
A diverse leadership team is important for difference in thought and creativity, to challenge the status quo and more evenly reflect a customer base. Companies within STEM should be implementing initiatives to inspire female leaders and help them rise to leadership positions, if they have the desire and potential.
It’s important that organisations look seriously into diversity within their ranks and actually possess a forward-thinking approach and mindset in order to have a longstanding and effective change. There’s definitely been development within our industry but more can certainly be done.
"At ASUS, we have women who have taken up leadership roles and this is a testimony to the effort we have made to establish a diverse workforce within Australia.”
Caitlin Riordan, VP Client Success & Services for Cheetah Digital
“In my experience, women disrupt and drive transformation through building authentic relationships and connections throughout an organisation, empowering the people in the organisation to own and be the change. The need for culture change to support a transformation journey is often a heavy lift, so what better than a leader who brings authenticity, care and people connection to the vision to bring culture along the same path? In a post-pandemic era, organisations are more focused on human-centred decisions than ever.
We need more leaders, of all genders, who see the vision, and nurture the people along the transformation journey.”
Sharon Williams, Taurus Marketing CEO
‘’I feel very fortunate, as a woman, to have worked with Technology disruptors for over 30 years across three continents and the joy of working in Tech is always being on the cutting edge of what’s coming next. From taking brands to market such as the first programming language to use English language sentences instead of code on the IBM AS400, to beta testing MS Dynamics, outsourcing data processing to data centres, moving to cloud technology, the rise of handheld devices, and now launching digital currency solutions. I think creativity, practicality and empathy are great traits to add into the Tech mix. I’ve seen much change and it’s been a great privilege to define the narratives, build the brands and educate the market on these new initiatives.
While the industry has been historically male dominated through the years, I’ve also worked with some extraordinary women.
"I am so lucky to have had a career in Tech and when work doesn’t feel like work, you know you are in the right career. Ever changing, ever dynamic and still so much to learn.’’
.Laura Keily, Founder and Managing Director of Immediation
“Since entering the legal profession in 1998, I’ve seen our justice system become increasingly inaccessible for people and businesses across Australia, with overburdened courts, high costs and archaic processes leading many to forfeit their right to resolve a dispute altogether. I knew technology and a new way of thinking could help address these issues, so I founded online dispute resolution platform Immediation in 2019 — not just to provide greater capacity, capability and control to the profession, but ultimately, to turn the tide on a change-averse and traditional industry and make justice more accessible to all.
Driving digital disruption in a highly traditional, male-dominated industry isn’t for the faint-hearted, but seeing the impact Immediation is having on the profession and society at large makes it all worthwhile. As a female entrepreneur in an ecosystem where only 22.3 per cent of startups are founded by women, there is the added significance of showing prospective female entrepreneurs that it can be done.
I firmly believe that by surrounding yourself with other female leaders and with a whole lot of grit and resilience, you can make a systemic change.
"As we continue to lead the transition of the law online, I am proud to open the door for the next generation of female leaders.”
“Diversity of skills, talent and perspectives is critical for innovation. Disruption first starts with women and allies supporting each other, and nurturing passion for this industry. We should not let our background, experience or gender define us. There are truly exciting things going on with AI, data analytics and business intelligence, so it’s important that women leverage a STEM education, because it offers the right knowledge and skills to drive future leadership and change, as well as inspire future innovators.
My advice is to continue to be passionate and fearless in your pursuit– don’t get discouraged if you’re the only woman in the room. Reach out to other leaders in the industry and seek out a mentor. I believe education and continued learning for women is critical to ensure ongoing innovation in technology. Keeping skills sharp and relevant will strengthen your confidence, and increase your credibility to continue to pave the way for driving change.
"Throughout my career, I made bold career decisions, and now, I feel like I ended up in the perfect role. Don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Christine Christian AO, Chair of Immediation
“In my career over the past 35 years, I’ve been fortunate to be at the helm of supporting reform when it comes to adapting deep structural change, and have witnessed firsthand the impact female leaders have had on teams as they’ve taken their place at the table. While there is still a way to go, we’re increasingly seeing the positive impact women in key management positions have in business, with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency finding a greater level of productivity, company performance and profitability.
More and more, women in leadership positions are disrupting traditional industries with innovative ideas, and are looking at technology to build these solutions. Recently, I joined the legaltech platform, Immediation, as Chair, alongside a predominantly female board. I joined as I saw a clear example of innovation disrupting an extremely traditional industry, with founder and Managing Director Laura Keily utilising her experience and leveraging technology to increase access to justice for all. In my role, I’m excited to support Laura and her team through the next phase of growth to create greater access to justice.”
Jessa Jakovljevic, Head of Design at 86400
“Disrupting and innovating industries means solving problems differently and coming up with solutions no one has ever thought of before. It’s easier to do that when you have many different types of people in a room providing different perspectives and exchanging different life experiences.
Women make up 51% of the Australian population, and within that, you have a plethora of varying backgrounds, ethnicities, thoughts, ideas and working styles. When you add those voices into the conversation, the potential to come up with innovative solutions are endless. The more women leaders there are, the more our products and services can truly represent the Australian market.
"Another reason why it’s incredibly important to have female leaders is to provide new women in the industry with mentorship and leadership. They can give you skills, advice and experience that is specific to being a woman in a potentially male dominated industry. Having inspirational women to look up to in my own career has helped shape how I work, influence and come up with and communicate ideas.”
Silvia Pfeifer, CEO at Coviu
“At the dawn of the computing revolution, it was women who dominated software programming. Women were the first computer programmers before it was linked to engineering and became a male dominated field. Being a successful woman in technology, and specifically with a background in software engineering, is to reclaim a space that was originally female-led.
While studying Business Management and Computer Science at the University of Mannheim in Germany, women made up 40 per cent of students on this course but this number sadly dropped to below 15 per cent just a few years later. In my career, I’ve worked at Mozilla on HTML5 video accessibility, at Google on Google Chrome and YouTube, and at CSIRO on telehealth before co-founding Coviu, which uses WebRTC technology to provide video telehealth consults in an accessible way.
Women make up half our population but are a minority in software engineering. We need a more complete representation of human needs in software engineering so technology is developed for everybody. This ultimately also requires us to make software engineering part of the school curriculum. With software a part of every profession, learning code should be seen as important as learning traditional basics like mathematics. Empowering everybody with knowledge is the best way to ensure everybody can contribute to the development of better technology.
"The future is about technology and women need a strong voice in this. I’ve not let the voices of others influence the confidence I have in my work, but rather embrace the challenges head on. My hope is that more women feel empowered to take leading roles in technology. Ultimately, our future relies on it.”
“Entrepreneurship has always had a gender issue. In the past 20 years, the number of women-led businesses has increased by just 3 per cent. Yet, businesses founded by women deliver twice the revenue per dollar invested than those founded by men. Women-owned companies make better investments – that’s a fact and put simply, Australia’s COVID-19 recovering plan relies on getting more women into entrepreneurship. Reports show our global GDP will increase by $5 trillion and in Australia, this will grow by up to 10 per cent if we get more women launching businesses.
Whilst incredible Aussie female founders like Melanie Perkins at Canva have made giant leaps in recent years, women entrepreneurs continue to face major hurdles and challenges that their male counterparts simply don’t when launching businesses both in Australia and especially overseas. That’s why we set up UNSW’s New Wave program – to find the next Melanie Perkins and support at least 500 more women entrepreneurs by 2025.
"Ideally, we’d like to 10x that figure though as we endeavour to level the startup playing field and empower more women to solve real-world problems – problems that are often deprioritised as a result of the male-dominated industry.”
“Having worked in Australia and San Francisco, I found women commonly leave the tech industry because it can be a toxic environment, riddled with pay gaps and a lack of opportunity, often due to a lack of diverse leadership. At a more senior level, women are taken less seriously as entrepreneurs, and are expected to prove their worth where their male counterparts may not.
If we are serious about disrupting traditional industries, it’s not just about hiring more female leaders. We need to increase funding to under-represented minorities (not just women) for STEM programs through scholarships and outreach. Corporations should also publish their leadership and salary statistics, including a comparison of pay across gender/race for roles at the same level, and be rewarded for hiring diversely.
We’ve come a long way in recent years but there is still great room to improve. I’m proud that :Different is committed to pushing the tech industry forward by hiring diversely and creating equitable workforces. The TechCouncil of Australia, where I hold a board role, is also firmly committed to achieving this.”
Forough Khandan, Head of Product Development at EMVision
“Women account for just over 50 per cent of the population in Australia, yet make up a much smaller portion of leadership positions. This rings particularly true in the health and medical sectors and even more so for technical leadership roles such as the head of engineering and head of product. “Australia’s health and medical sectors are constantly evolving but the pace of innovation could be accelerated through greater diversity – including gender, ethnicity, background and experience. There’s plenty of evidence to show that gender diversity drives results and innovation so we should be calling for greater participation, encouragement and enablement of women in STEM to drive the future we want to see.
“Having moved from Iran in 2010, I’ve worked my way up from systems engineer to head of program management at Nanosonics (ASX:NAN) and now head of new product development at EMVision (ASX:EMV). When I joined the company, the product development team in Sydney was just a handful of people, now it’s over 20. I truly believe my own diversity and the diversity of the team has played an important role in enabling us to create a culture of innovation, and ultimately, develop a first of its kind product, set to transform earlier diagnosis and care for stroke.”
Dr. Elizabeth Berryman, Founder and Director of psychological health & safety platform, chnnl
“Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM leadership positions despite proving they are capable, effective, and powerful, even when balancing family lives. I spent over a decade working as a Medical Doctor and during my time, noticed workplace bullying and burnout was a huge issue across almost every industry. I quickly became wildly passionate about supporting people’s mental wellbeing in the workplace through digital tools and made the daunting decision to leave my career and enter a traditionally male-dominated sector to launch a technology startup — all while pregnant with my first child.
At chnnl, we are passionate about helping businesses across all industries, from education to healthcare to mining, to create a psychologically safe workplace and high performing teams. Our AI-powered platform enables companies to truly engage and listen to their people by gathering anonymous employee feedback and delivering it to the boardroom for immediate insight and action in both directions.
Employees are increasingly seeking psychological safety and championing empathetic leadership over hierarchical structures. As a mother myself, I strongly believe women can have both a career and a family and that female leadership must be accelerated, particularly in the technology sector. This is ingrained in both chnnl’s purpose and structure, as we work to close the gap between mental health and business leadership while providing a flexible and supportive work environment to ensure equal opportunity and psychological safety.”
Ruby Kolesky, Co-CEO for employee feedback startup, Joyous
“Employees don’t want to work for a company that’s mostly male, and working for a company with female leadership is becoming increasingly important to candidates. Having women in leadership roles ensures ongoing attraction, and even more importantly, care and retention of female talent.
In my experience, there is not nearly enough focus on ensuring women, particularly those who go on to become parents (like me) get promoted on the same timeline as their male counterparts and don’t fall behind. I was set back after having two kids, two years apart — when I returned to work, my male colleagues had been promoted and received pay increases and other benefits — I missed out.
In a male-dominated industry where women make up just 29% of Australia’s tech sector and 25% of New Zealand’s, at Joyous, we are deliberate about diversity. We aim for a 50/50 male/female split and our Product and Engineering teams have surpassed that goal. We’ve achieved this by hiring women early in their career or from other industries, and by supporting and mentoring women into more senior roles — I am the perfect example of that.
Our deep desire to build something of real consequence and our mission to make life better for people at work is reflected in our values and manifested through inventive and new initiatives that push the boundaries of traditional thinking, including Joyous’ collective leadership approach — the CEO role is shared by three — industry-leading parental and health policies, and a broad capability mindset.
We foster a culture where women can thrive and tailor policies to ensure they’re able to succeed. We created and open-sourced a parental journey policy that ensures parents are well supported and never disadvantaged which companies have adopted and I hope others will too.
"Next year we have plans to raise awareness about opportunities within the technology sector and create a comprehensive pathway to make it easier for new entrants to navigate.”
Melissa Christy, Head of Lending at 86 400
“The mortgage industry is traditionally very male-dominated and has been ripe for disruption for some time now. After working in financial services for over 20 years I’ve gradually seen more women pursue careers in the industry, though I know there are still so many more opportunities out there for women in this field, especially when it comes to senior leadership roles.
Having some incredible female mentors and bosses in the early days really encouraged me to pursue a career in this industry and is something I encourage with my teams at 86 400 today. As the Head of Lending at 86 400, I’ve had the privilege of creating the first 100% digital home loan for brokers and most recently consumers too. Our team has innovated in every way possible and created one of the fastest application processes in the market. 86 400 is home to some of the best and brightest female talent in the industry and I’m so proud to be part of an environment that is empowering women to reach their full potential and drive much-needed industry change.”
Thank you to our content partner site Women Love Tech for this comprehensive report