I joined the Upper House of NSW Parliament as a Greens MP in 2013 and am responsible for many portfolios including transport, the environment, status of women, young people, animal welfare and multiculturalism.
Following a 25-year career in Civil and Environmental Engineering, my journey into politics was pretty organic. I studied engineering, a male dominated profession, in Pakistan to make the point that women can and should be free to choose any line of study and work. It is this same sense of social justice that led me to the Greens and politics.
Life is full of challenges for most of us. My biggest was migrating to Australia and starting life from scratch in a field that has very few women working in it. While I have had many wonderful opportunities to work as a structural, water and environmental engineer in consulting, local government and as an academic, it wasn’t always easy and the support from family, friends, colleagues and mentors has allowed me to do this.
I’ve been lucky especially to get advice from some of my incredible teachers whose care, resilience and practice of just getting on and doing things that needed to be done has motivated me to live up to those standards in all areas of my life.
The many complex problems we face today need innovative solutions. Engineers and scientists are well-placed to respond as they are trained to be problem solvers and creative thinkers and these skills can be used equally in any role. But there is much work to be done so more women can study and pursue careers in STEM which are still heavily male dominated. Both structural changes and cultural changes are needed to address this gender inequality.
Flexible work practices, parental leave and targets to increase gender diversity in the workforce and leadership positions are a must. These are deliberate strategies to change organisational cultures to ensure they are inclusive, welcome women and are free of overt and covert sexism.
Of course, going down a path that is not well trodden is always daunting, but can be equally rewarding. So ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway!’
Mehreen’s path to becoming the first Muslim woman elected to Parliament in Australia
>> Started a Bachelor Civil and Environmental Engineering in Pakistan
>> Worked as a structural, water and environmental engineer in consulting, local government and as an academic
>> Upper House of NSW Parliament as a Greens MP in 2013, responsible for many portfolios including transport, the environment, status of women, young people, animal welfare and multiculturalism.