Among the top 50 CEOs in Australia, only 3 are women and female participation in the STEM workforce remains as low as 20%. But a change to the status quo could be on the horizon, with programs such as Australian internship program APR.Intern leading the way in boosting opportunities for women in STEM. On 15 September, APRI.Intern celebrated some of Australia’s outstanding women in STEM with the STEMfest Webinar: Women Changing Australia.
Held at KPMG’s Melbourne Office and live-streamed around the country, the webinar featured women at the forefront of Australian businesses and put the spotlight on their contributions to Aussie innovation.
90% of coding is done by men – let’s make a change
Keynote speaker Dr Catriona Wallace wowed the crowd with her no-holds-barred address about navigating success in a traditionally male workplace. Catriona is the Founder and Executive Director of artificial intelligence fintech company Flamingo Ai, which develops machine learning-based “brains” that augment human employees. Flamingo Ai is only the second female-led business ever to list on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).
Catriona experienced some shocking sexism on her way to the top. One investor offered to inject $1 million into the business, but only on the condition that then-CEO Catriona remove her nose-ring (she responded by getting an even bigger one!).
Catriona addressed the issue of how harnessing female perspectives is essential in the tech-driven future workforce. “Ninety per cent of coding and engineering is [currently] done by men,” she said. “A lack of diversity poses a real risk of data bias being hard coded into the machines and algorithms that will run our lives, as individuals, organisations, governments and communities.”
Catriona and webinar panelists – from companies such as KPMG, Cochlear and Toyota Australia – added their names to the Women in STEM Pledge (#WiSTEM Pledge) to open opportunities for women in STEM.
“As a leader in technology I feel a strong obligation to forge pathways for women – that’s one of the reasons I founded Flamingo Ai,” explained Catriona. “I’ve led a technology company that holds gender and diversity at its heart and used my voice to educate the market on the importance of the role of women, equity and diversity in the sector.”
More internships, more opportunities
The industry leaders pledged to seek out and provide jobs for women in tech, from internships to full-time opportunities.
APR.Intern is currently Australia’s only all-sector, not-for-profit postgrad research internship program, run by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI). Professor Tim Brown, AMSI president, explained why connecting PhD students with industry is so important, pointing out that only 43% of PhD students enter industry.
However, with about 30% of Australia’s top CEOs STEM-qualified, it’s clear that STEM grads have the skills and drive to make it big in business. Here’s how you can get involved.
Want to be a future CEO or industry leader?
If you’re a postgrad student wanting to learn more about APR.Intern opportunities, hop onto APR.Intern’s site.You could make a huge impact on major industry challenges, like Uni of Melbourne PhD student Jessi Henneken, who carried out crop-saving research for the Centre for AgriBioscience.
Basant Ebaid made her mark with an APR.Intern placement at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre and now has a role at Austin Health, which runs the largest translational cancer research centre in Australia. “Nurturing future talent will defy gender stereotypes and drive diversity to support innovation,” she said at the STEMfest event. Catriona summed it up with her final message to the crowd: “Be bold, courageous and kickass.”
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.