STEM Advocate & Consultant
What is the big picture goal or purpose at your company?
At Arup, we aim for our work to ‘shape a better world’. My purpose is to create diversity & inclusive environments – and to be a catalyst for change in universities & industry.
When did you get switched on to STEM, and how?
I was always good at maths and physics, but also good at english and legal studies – I could have done anything but sort of fell into engineering. I say this because I think it is important for young people to be ok with not knowing exactly what they do, but it also highlights that my industry needs to do a lot more work so that students do know that engineering is a choice and can make more informed decisions about their education and career.
What is the coolest, strangest, best, most meaningful, most ambitious or favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
Founding Fifty50 at ANU to promote gender equity in STEM – in the middle of my PhD! I grew this organisation with my co-founder from the grass roots and now we have had industry partners such as EY, Commbank, Defence, Arup, and the ACT Government/YWCA. In 2017 we were named Engineers Australia’s best student group in gender diversity.
What’s been your biggest fail on this journey?
Being removed from an elite undergraduate research program because I didn’t have the grades – a huge blow to my ego at 20 years old, but it tested and refined my resilience – and actually worked out really well because I finished with first class honours! I have honed my reflective skills to ensure my failures are smaller and always move me forward.
What do you know about STEM now that you didn’t know at school?
It’s not just lab work or building bridges. For me it is using technical skills so I can understand a wide variety of problems, and using my EQ, communication, interpersonal skills to solve them in a pretty different way.
What are some of the most exciting career opportunities that you see emerging in STEM?
The integration of STEM in everyday life – have a look at how every company has a digital transformation strategy! Engineering is an always-evolving industry, but of course I am biased.
Why do we need more women working in STEM?
Engineers solve problems, and we need diverse teams/thought to solve them in the most innovative and creative ways – and that diversity includes gender. We shouldn’t have the participation of 50% of our population in any industry compromised because of the systemic bias we have built into our culture, systems, and processes.
What is your advice to young women who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM?
I would actually put that back on parents, teachers, and people in STEM – it is on us to show young women what you can do in STEM, because they have received a lifetime of messaging about women in STEM that is not necessarily positive. We need to make sure we contextualise STEM career destinations and provide a diversity of female role models at a range of stages in their careers.
What’s your own dream job, biggest future goal?
I am of the generation that will have a portfolio career, so I don’t have one job in mind! My overarching goal is in whatever I do, to ensure that I create diverse & inclusive environments where everyone can succeed – and hopefully end up somewhere where I can change whole systems (CEO perhaps…)
What is something interesting or surprising about you that not many people know about?
This is such a hard question! People are always surprised that I was born in Katherine and grew up in Darwin, does that count?
Francesca’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and materials systems)/Science (Chemistry), ANU
>>> PhD (Tissue Engineering), ANU
>>> Consultant, Arup (Advisory Services)
>>> Engineer in Residence, Swinburne Engineering Practice Academy
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.