Last updated November 29, 2019 at 9:06 am
If we want to maximise Australia’s potential in STEM, we need to make sure we’re including the best people available.
Why This Matters: Let’s get back to being the clever country.
Australia is a wonderfully diverse country, and yet women and people from other cultures face barriers in Australia’s STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) workforce.
30 of Australia’s top researchers and STEMM identities come together to tell their stories of why it’s important for the country to ensure that diversity stands proud in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine in Australia. Through these stories and experiences, we find what we can do to make STEMM more accepting and accommodating.
With a quarter of its population born overseas, Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. Inclusion and diversity are core of the identity and spirit of Australian society and its contemporary culture.
However, this social diversity is not reflected in the composition of the country’s STEMM workforce, which is currently still predominately the male gender. For a seemingly egalitarian nation, Australia’s STEMM workforce statistics are starkly contrasting.
The advantage of diversity is that we ensure we get all the possible brains, backgrounds and experiences working on the problems important to the country – if we want to succeed, we need to make sure everyone can take part, and feels part.
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Astha Singh: Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine STEMM skills play a critically important role in facing the greatest challenges and solving some of the biggest problems. But our current workforce doesn’t represent the true Australian Diversity which means we are not fully supporting our best and brightest and that’s why we need to talk about ‘Diversity in STEMM’.
Dilan Seckiner: Diversity in STEMM is very important.
Vanessa Pirotta: Diversity in STEMM is incredibly important and I’m so proud to be one of those diverse women in science, here in Australia. My father is Maltese and Mum is Italian and I represent the small minority of scientists trying to show the world that Diversity is Important.
Astha Singh: But why Diversity is so important?
Alan Duffy: Diversity matters is science, if we want to get the best ideas we have to have the best minds.
Rachael Murray: And if we don’t have that diversity, we’ll just keep on thinking along the same lines over and over again and perhaps not do the best we could do.
Alan Duffy: But it’s more than that, if you want to work in an environment that’s inspiring, that’s welcoming you going to have better ideas shared and you just going to have a better time. Diversity in science matters because we get the best ideas, but because we can also have the best experience. And that is something we all benefit from.
Hasti Hayati: I believe that coming from any different culture, you are biased to think about a problem in a specific way.
Mikaela Jade: It’s so important to have diversity in STEMM particularly I feel by including the First Nation’s voice. We have over eighty thousand years of science experiments and so much knowledge about the connection between people and country.
Karl Kruszelnicki: The advantage of diversity in STEMM is simply that instead of getting 5 or 10 or 20 percent of all the brains available to work on the problem, you get all the 100 percent, what’s not to like?
Yee Lian Chew: Because teams that are made of people who come from different backgrounds, diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, training, experiences, language, disabilities, all of these people bring something new and creative to solve a scientific question in a really innovative way.
Preeti Bajaj: Foundational skills of STEMM are critical to the 21st century and I’m delighted to think about diversity as an ecosystem of talent, capital, and actually knowledge and research capability coming from all over the world. In fact, propelling that is the possibility that Australia has today.
Astha Singh: Here are some perspectives on why gender diversity is important.
Lila Landowski: I’m often hearing narratives that men need to be the equaliser that they need to be supporting women in the workplace and promoting gender equality and diversity. But in saying that, we are missing fifty percent of the population. Women need to support other women, we all have a role in challenging bias and championing for one another just as much as the next person does.
Mehreen Faruqi: I studied civil engineering precisely to make the point that women can and should be free to choose any line of work and study. It was a male dominated profession in Pakistan and there were also very few women in engineering in Australia. Our common bond as women in STEMM means we share a natural tenacity, intellectual capacity and creativity that’s solely needed to solve the big challenges like climate crisis and inequality. I love my work as a civil and environmental engineer on hydel power projects, water use and recycling, waste reduction and much more – but it wasn’t all easy!
Astha Singh: So, are women in STEMM initiatives enough?
Sanam Mustafa: Although much effort is made to rectify the gender imbalance, other minority groups are often forgotten or placed in a too difficult basket. This is especially true when intersectionality is considered.
Megan Cherry: As we promote women in STEMM here in Australia, it is important that we also consider the role of intersectionality within these efforts.
Astha Singh: Diversity means understanding that each individual is different and unique and recognising those differences.
Johanna Howes: Here at Science Space we encourage presenters from different cultural backgrounds, different languages, and different nationalities. We even have somebody on staff who speaks Australian Sign language.
Dilan Seckiner: I’m quite proud to be a part of our Centre for Forensic Science at UTS, where we are incredibly diverse.
Alice Motion: But currently the people who work in STEMM don’t truly represent the societies and communities in which we live. And that’s a real problem. Not least because it means that we are missing out on lots of exceptional talent.
Leanne Connelly: The reason I think that we lack diversity in our industries is because women and people from diverse backgrounds are constantly being subtly told that they are inexperienced, that they haven’t got enough, that they need to do more and it is just not true.
Sharon Quah: To think on an intersectional approach to understand to what is happening here in academia, to understand in-equalities in academia, it is first to acknowledge that we all live in multiple worlds, that we all have multiple situations, complex situations that we navigate every day.
Astha Singh: Here are some challenges that STEMM professionals face and have shared with us.
Paola Magni: Sometimes at the crime scene, I was the youngest person, in an environment of just men, and yes I was a young girl at the crime scene. So it was pretty difficult for the older men to believe in my job.
Jyotsana Batra: I think I would have to have worked hard, almost double than everybody else would have worked who is from the place. We don’t have that big network, you have to build it kind of from scratch because you have entered a new country.
Noushin Nasiri: Cultural difference was a challenge for the first couple years. I was studying in English, working in English which was not my first language. So language barrier was a big challenge for at least 2-3 years.
Hossein Tavassoli: New environment, new people, new language, new culture, new accent, everything was new and I was kind of worried of that.
Melody Ding: As a female minority researcher I find myself spending a lot of time trying to convince myself, trying to validate myself to others.
Muthu Vellayappan: Coming to a new country and working a scientist has been challenging for me. Barriers I have faced are culture, language and the use of local lingo.
Yee Lian Chew: As a woman of East-Asian descent, and I look pretty young for my age and for my level of training, I’m so often asked, whose PhD student are you? Or whose honours student are you? Or whose post-doc are you? And now that I have my own lab, I just kind of laugh it off and I’m like – oh well, I’m in my own lab now, I have my own group.
David Chisanga: Ultimately at the end of the day what should be of importance to everyone is the science that we are all out to do.
Mehreen Faruqi: Deliberate action must be taken, to dismantle structural and cultural barriers to gender inequality. We need flexible work practises without bias, equal pay, affirmative action for diversity and Universities and workplaces that are free from overt and covert sexism.
Charishma Kaliyanda: For those of us who are from a diverse background, who are part of the minority in STEMM fields: We have a huge role to play in making sure that we not only improve the diversity in STEMM fields but we also maintain the levels of diversity going into the future. And, we ensure that we get the best possible outcomes for our respective fields as best as possible.
Leanne Connelly: When you bring someone from a minority, someone who has faced true adversity, in their background into your team, you bring a level of support, strength and commitment that you just cannot get in any other way.
Riddhi Gupta: We need to imagine what life is like to people who are not us and I think that this helps us become better human beings, it increased out empathy, but it also helps us to have the kind of honest dialogue, we need to really have the difficult technical conversations when we are producing or collaborating on research projects.
Leanne Connelly: I want to see more women in STEMM, more women in entrepreneurship, more women of colour in STEMM and more women in leadership roles in these areas.
Miriam Sotes: I want to see women from all countries coming forward to work in the energy sector.
Onisha Patel: It actually takes special strength and character to give that trust, to empower someone, who does not fit in your conformity. And this is what is missing at leadership levels because we do not see enough of this diversity.
Riddhi Gupta: I think it would be great if we didn’t make assumptions about a scientist’s competence or position of influence without actually meeting them, and getting to know them well. I also think we should use our ability to ask questions, and understand the technical detail about research.
Sanam Mustafa: I strongly believe however that negative cultures can be counteracted by positive actions. It is time to bring change and we can do this together by ensuring there are visible role models representing minorities in all aspects of STEMM.
Yee Lian Chew: It shows an implicit bias that people don’t think that research leaders or people who have senior positions in STEMM could possibly look like me. In future I would hope that increased diversity at STEMM leadership levels would mean that in the future, people who look like me would not get that question anymore. At least not on the first class!
Muneera Bano: In order to make sure that we are advancing science in the direction that helps us to build a society for the future that is not just fair but also represents every one regardless of their race, gender and identity.
Astha Singh: And what does the future look like?
Vanessa Pirotta: I hope that I encourage you and many others to be diverse and to embrace diversity here in Australia and throughout the world.
Megan Cherry: As we prepare the next generation in STEMM, it is imperative that we be more intentional in our recruitment processes that we think outside the box and that we be more open minded.
Riddhi Gupta: In twenty years’ time, I think that diversity in the science community is inevitable. The world is getting smaller and we are definitely already breaking the boundaries with who we collaborate and I think that this kind of trend is inevitable so I’m really looking forward to the future.
Sanaz Mahdavi: Because STEMM is all about making the world a better place.
Preeti Bajaj: We are a country with people from diverse nations and we are at the critical juncture where we can bring people, capital and research capability from all over the world in this one melting pot called Australia, and create a tech sector, that can create the best jobs available in the 21st century.
Astha Singh: So let’s be more open and inclusive, and let’s create a STEMM community that is the strongest.