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Women working in STEM fields and trades

Last updated: 10/10/2016 10:58 PM
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Promoting women working in traditionally male-dominated science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) occupations and trades is an essential part of broadening girls and women's educational and career aspirations and pursuits.

Below are some of the women successfully pursuing careers in STEM and trades in Western Australia. 

Lorraine Hull

Lorraine HullLorraine Hull

Occupation

Carpenter and joiner / business owner

Industry

Building and Construction

Length of career

Eight years

Qualifications/Education history

Trade certificate + Diploma in Builder’s Registration + Cert IV in Art Events Management

Why did you pursue this occupation?

After working in an office for a few years and hating it, I decided I needed a change. I remembered liking woodwork in high school, applied for a pre-apprenticeship, was accepted and fell in love with carpentry on day one.

What are the benefits?

  • Extreme diversity in day to day jobs
  • Working with likeminded fun people (generally)
  • Freedom to expand and specialise

What are the challenges?

  • Quoting jobs, as every job is so different and diverse
  • Needing to constantly prove yourself to co-workers and the general public
  • Being a small business owner, the greatest challenge is finding enough hours in the day to do everything that’s required and maintain some form of sanity.

Job description/describe a typical day

I will usually check social media in the morning and respond to any emails I’ve missed the night before. Then I’ll head down to Fremantle where my workshop is, stopping at Bunnings, Masters and salvage yards along the way. Some days I’ll stop into a customer’s home on the way to look at a carpentry job they’re considering having done, measure it up and discuss job requirements. Once at the workshop I usually flutter around between multiple jobs, creating a trailing mass of mess and chaos. I’ll update/post to social media in the afternoon and nibble on some fruit to get me through the day. I usually leave the workshop around 6pm, head home and sit down for about two hours, invoicing, responding to emails, quoting etc. Eventually dinner then prepping for the next day and slipping into bed.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

I did an entrance statement for the Sunset Veranda festival at Scarborough Beach a few years ago. I collaborated with a local artist and we created this huge walk through art work of two ladies splashing in the water at a beach. It was really hard work, created within a ridiculous time frame and I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways?

Don’t let your gender deter you. If there’s something you enjoy or are passionate about then find a way to make it work for you and try to find a mentor or someone who is already doing what you’d like to.

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Cheryl Praeger

Cheryl PraegerCheryl Praeger

Occupation 

Mathematician

Industry 

Academia

Length of career 

43 years

Qualifications/Education history 

BSc, MSc (Queensland); MSc DPhil (Oxford); DSc (UWA)

Why did you pursue this occupation? 

I loved doing mathematics, and this career gave me the chance to keep on doing it: teaching and research.

What are the benefits?

  • Doing something I love
  • The thrill of discovery in research
  • The satisfaction of seeing students learn
  • Being able to forge professional friendships internationally
  • Keeping at the forefront of mathematical discovery world-wide.

What are the challenges?

  • Time-management
  • Keeping a reasonable balance between my work commitments and my personal life - it would be easy to work all the time   
  • As a woman there are too many calls on my time for committee work – all interesting, but difficult to keep at a manageable level.

Job description/describe a typical day 

No days are typical, it seems. Today I was preparing for travel tomorrow from the UK to meetings in Germany. I read and commented on the first few pages from my undergraduate research student, who is starting to write up his dissertation. I checked revisions of a paper almost accepted for publication, which is jointly written with colleagues in Germany and Ireland. I printed out for review a new draft chapter of a book I am writing with a colleague in Brazil.  I handled several pieces of business in my role as foreign secretary of the Australian Academy of Science. I commented on a research fellowship application being prepared by one of my postdoctoral research associates. I negotiated with two sets of
co-authors on which journals we should submit our almost-ready research papers to.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on? 

I love solving mathematical problems.  My most exciting research project was a collaborative one with two colleagues in the UK. We classified the ‘maximal factorisations of the finite almost simple groups.’ The first intensive/focused research effort was over a six week visit I made to Cambridge, where we worked non-stop to see if the whole problem could be solved. After that it was another five years before we completed and checked all details and our book was published – it is my most highly cited piece of work, and continues to be very heavily used by mathematicians globally even now, after 25 years.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways? 

If you are attracted by mathematics, or STEM more generally, then ‘go for it.’ Grasp every opportunity. Make sure you take the highest level maths and science courses you can at school to have the best preparation. It’s exciting to solve big problems, and a great joy to see young people succeed in maths and science.

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Yvonne Fahey

Yvonne FaheyYvonne Fahey

Occupation

Maintenance planner

Industry

Mining

Length of career

More than 20 years with a six year break raising family, then part-time for six years

Qualifications/Education history

Business Certificate, Quarry Managers Ticket, Shot Firer Ticket and currently undertaking a university degree

Why did you pursue this occupation?

The wide range of roles available in the mining industry was appealing.

What are the benefits?

I’m always learning and always motivated. It’s also financially rewarding.

What are the challenges?

  • Rising above stereotyping
  • Always having to prove yourself to male-dominated scrutiny.

Job description/describe a typical day

I’m currently on a secondment doing a business lead on a large project. A typical day at the moment includes meeting with project team members, discussing issues, reviewing contractor/vendor submissions, and generally ensuring the project is on schedule.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

Learning a totally new work environment, learning about diesel engines and hydraulics and all heavy mining equipment mechanics.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways?

Go for it! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and give things a go. Be brave, if it doesn’t work out at least you can never say you didn’t try. Seek out a mentor to give you advice and feedback.

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Margeaux Janenko

Margeaux JanenkoMargeaux Janenko

Occupation 

EEHA IRATA electrician

Industry  

Construction and oil and gas

Length of career  

Eight years

Qualifications/Education history 

Certificate III in Electrotechnology (Electrician); Cert IV in EEHA; IRATA Certification

Why did you pursue this occupation? 

Many things attracted me to my trade and continue to do so today.  From the challenges that come with a peculiar fault or installation, the diverse work fronts, the uncapped potential to study different disciplines and travel abroad, the self-empowerment and economic security, the ability to genuinely help people, to the hilarious dudes I get to work with every day – it ticks all the right boxes.

On another note, I also had all my course modules paid for by my employer while I was doing my apprenticeship which is generally the industry standard. It left me debt (HECS) free and immediately employable with an in-demand skill. Got a trade, got it made.

What are the benefits?

Personal empowerment, working outside and keeping physically fit, great money and equal pay, freedom to be your own boss, travel…the list goes on.

What are the challenges?

Sexism, misogyny, prejudice, bias, ill-conceived incapability, bullying and threats are, sadly, nothing uncommon for a woman entering a male dominated environment. Having said that, being a tradesperson in itself comes with its own form of challenges and discrimination. Our country seems to have a disappointing ingrained mentality that only people who don’t go to university and didn’t make the cut, take up trades. They are categorised as “fall back” careers.  Coming from a private school education and a white collar family, the amount of people who uninhibitedly laughed in my face when I told them I was going to be an electrician was quite astounding and disappointing. Hopefully through my success, both as a female and a tradie, the perspective of my critics has been positively altered.

Job description/describe a typical day

When the office is the $60 billion Gorgon Project on Barrow Island, there honestly isn’t a ‘typical day’ that I can pin point. My scope of work can range from fitting off intrinsically safe explosion proof lights and apparatus along the 2km jetty, to performing confined space inspections within different chambers of huge gas turbine generators, to building a stainless steel cable tray and running cables - all while suspended at various heights up on ropes. Every day is different, every day you learn something and that’s what I love.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

Definitely my current work on the Gorgon Project on Barrow Island. I live on a boat, docked to the side of a jetty, on an A-Class nature reserve island, in the middle of the Pilbara. My days at work are filled with whales, turtles, dolphins and sharks. I climb up, over, down, inside and underneath billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure, doing a trade I love, with a crew of guys that have become like my family. Three years ago, I could never have dreamed of doing what I do: I didn’t even know what I do existed!

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways? 

If you want to be empowered, skilled for life, financially independent, physically active and constantly challenged in your work, do it.

If you want to travel, have flexibility in your work hours, receive equal pay to your male co-workers and help people, do it.

You are more capable and powerful than our society will every lead you to believe. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is so worth it.

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Ming Johanson

Ming JohansonMing Johanson

Occupation

Social nerd

Industry

Digital literacy and digital marketing

Length of career

Five years

Qualifications/Education history

  • Studied in film and television, dropped out in my last year to pursue a career in sales and marketing
  • Worked my way up into a business manager role in Telstra retail (under Vitagroup)
  • Launched my business in 2011, which began as a tech training company and evolved into a digital marketing agency
  • Recently accepted onto the Branch Executive Committee of the Australian Computer Society

Why did you pursue this occupation?

Primarily the freedom and flexibility in creating a culture that I crave in business.

What are the benefits?

The lessons you learn when you run your own business are enormous: to be financially sustainable is one thing and then to grow your business and maintain that level of financial stability is another thing.
Constantly learning new things about data and technology is exciting.

What are the challenges?

Dealing with bad cultural norms and beliefs that come from other businesses that team members might have worked at or experienced in their home, where they weren’t trusted in their roles or where gender was a subject of limitation in their roles.
Creating a business that thrives on change and chaos in technology or systems (this is also a benefit as it makes us extremely adaptive).
Job description/ describe a typical day

Morning meeting with client
- Checking on outcomes and KPI’s

Team meeting (business)
- Culture check in, organisational tensions, task allocation, personal development with team daily.

Personal one-on-one meeting with team
- Different space to business, digital disconnect from devices, walk and talk to discuss any personal issues they might be carrying around in their head, come up with three solutions for any problems.

Client one-on-one coaching/mentoring sessions
- Teaching business owners or marketing managers about digital marketing tools, setting outcomes, keeping them accountable.

ACS (Australian Computer Society) commitments encouraging women in tech.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

Usually the projects that have failed as we learn the most from them.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways?

Be hungry for knowledge. Ten years ago the role I currently have didn’t exist. We have more tools and are more connected now than ever in the whole history of humanity.

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Dr Kari Pitts

Dr Kari PittsDr Kari Pitts

Occupation

Forensic chemist

Industry

State Government

Length of career

Ten plus years

Qualifications/Education history

Bachelor of Science, Honours (First Class), Curtin University
Master of Forensic Science
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), UWA
Current - Master of Philosophy (geology)

Why did you pursue this occupation?

Liked chemistry but wanted to do something a little different.

What are the benefits?

Assisting the justice system, specialising in trace evidence from crimes.

What are the challenges?

Emotional side of job can be difficult.

Job description/describe a typical day

Usually undertake lab work processing evidence, case type-dependant instrumental analysis, writing reports for release to police and lawyers and sometimes attending court as an expert in trials.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

I have worked many cases and get satisfaction from knowing that I have done the best I can with the evidence present. There have been a few cases where evidence has been unusual or important in prosecution though.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways?

Ensure that if you want to go into ‘forensics’ that you get a good base knowledge in the general specialty to start with. You need a strong chemistry background to qualify as an expert chemist.

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Dr Gemma Anderson

Dr Gemma AndersonDr Gemma Anderson

Occupation

Astrophysicist
Industry
Science

Length of career

12 years

Qualifications/Education history

Bachelor of Science (University of Western Australia), First class honours in Astrophysics (Australian National University), Doctor of Philosophy (University of Sydney)

Why did you pursue this occupation?

The universe is an extraordinary place. Using research grade telescopes we can observe out to the very furthest reaches of the universe, study the first galaxies forming, watch as some stars are born and others die in powerful explosions forming black holes. I am passionate about observing these phenomena in the hopes of taking humanity a step closer to unravelling the mysteries of the universe.

What are the benefits?

As a researcher I am constantly expanding the knowledge of human kind as I explore new and different astronomical phenomena. It is exciting to learn and see new things that no one else has seen before. In order to do this I use astronomical data collected by the world’s best telescopes and astronomical facilities. As a researcher you also get to travel the world to visit collaborators and present your results to other astronomers at conferences. I have been on trips to exotic and interesting places such as the Canary Islands, Sicily, London, and have even attended a conference held in a castle in Bavaria!

What are the challenges?

Being at the forefront of scientific discovery can be challenging. While it is exciting to explore the unknown, it can sometimes be difficult to interpret what you have found. You are also often competing against other groups working on similar research so you need to publish your results fast.
Being a researcher also has many other responsibilities such as teaching, supervising research students, acting on scientific committees, boards and societies, and outreaching science to the wider community. These are all very important and enriching aspects of being a scientist so it is important to have good time management skills.

Job description/describe a typical day

I explore the explosive or “transient” universe using international radio telescopes. Such extreme events result from the death of distant massive stars, forming black holes and the densest stars known. On a typical day I will analyse and study astronomical images and data collected by telescopes around the world. This is highly computational and requires good computing and programming skills. I will then perform modelling and statistical analyses on the results from these observations and hopefully discover something new and interesting about an astronomical object. I then need to write up and publish these results in a scientific journal so that other astronomers can use my findings in their own future research endeavours.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on?

I work on radio telescopes that are capable of robotically triggering on exploding stars as soon as they are detected by satellites in space. The most interesting physics and phenomena occurring within a few minutes following the explosion.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways?

Make sure to study hard at physics and maths at both school and university, and start developing your programming skills as early as possible. Many people enter into astronomy with different study backgrounds including physics, maths, engineering and computing. Don’t be put off by how few women pursue these areas of study. They are exciting and interesting fields and society is quickly learning that women have an important role to play in scientific discovery.

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Alexandra Atkins

Alexandra AtkinsAlexandra Atkins

Occupation 

Mining engineer/ geologist/ risk manager

Industry 

Energy and resources

Length of career 

25 plus years

Qualifications/Education history 

  • Bachelor of Engineering (Mineral Exploration & Mining Geology) (2A Hons), WA School of Mines, Curtin University, 1990
  • First Class Mine Managers Certificate of Competency, WA & Queensland, 1998
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Mining), University of Queensland, 1994
  • Diploma, Australian Institute of Company Directors, 2013   
  • MBA (Finance), Australian Institute of Business, 2015

Why did you pursue this occupation? 

Starting out in Kalgoorlie, I saw underground gold mining (especially airleg mining) as very romantic (OK, I’m a nerd). But over the years, my motivation to stay in mining was to make mining more socially responsible and to thumb my nose at people who told me that “women don’t belong underground” or “women should not manage mines”. It turned out to be pure rebellion against the norm. In hindsight, I was a disruptor. I could also see there was room for improvement in the mining industry, so rather than being a (hypocritical) commentator on the sidelines, I chose to make a difference by influencing for good from the inside.  The benefits were seeing the difference I could make, which included:   

  • keeping people safe at work
  • looking after the environment
  • standing up for the interests of the broader public
  • ensuring mining practices are optimal so that precious (finite) resources are not wasted
  • contributing to the supply of strategic minerals and to the GDP of the Australian economy
  • busting myths (women can’t do a “man’s job”)
  • experiencing many great places, people, problems and cultures broadened my mind.

What are the challenges?

As a young woman the challenges were more around having my voice heard (being a gentle woman with a different perspective in an aggressive male crowd) and in keeping pace with my male peers’ careers. As a more mature woman, the issues revolved around my ability to work in mining and raise my kids. Sometimes I had to take career off-ramps, re-skill and upskill believing the ‘meritocracy’ argument and undertaking ongoing education. These days the challenge is in ‘positioning’ - staying ahead of change and maintaining a skill set in need.

Job description/describe a typical day 

I work at Deloitte in Risk Advisory on projects of great variability such as: External Audits, Valuations, Regulatory Reviews, Strategic Risk Frameworks and Internal Audits for Board Assurance. I also get to play in the innovation space which is pretty cool! A typical day would see me dropping my daughter at primary school at 7.45am and my son at high school at 8.00am then travel into the city ready to start at the office by 8.45am. Then the day would be flat-strap right up to 5.30-6.00pm when I leave to head home to my kids who are in the care of my parents after school. Some nights I go to networking events or committee meetings (for my professional society) and I don’t get home until 8.00pm. So my parents’ support is very important to the happy functioning of my family.

What’s the most interesting/satisfying project you’ve worked on? 

The most interesting job I’ve worked on at Deloitte so far was a review of a government department and the cost-recovery levy they impose on industry. This was instigated by a government Minister after receiving complaints from industry, so it was potentially controversial. The work involved a deep knowledge of the industry, the government department and of the bigger picture on a national scale. It required diverse stakeholder engagement and analysis of a lot of confidential data. We undertook the project in a neutral, facts-based manner to minimise controversy. The findings will help the government improve its effectiveness and will help industry understand the difficult balancing act the government has to play.

Your tips/advice for women interested in pursuing similar education and career pathways? 

I recently gave a speech which you might find interesting. My tips from this speech are summarised below:

  1. As you journey through your life, you will find out what your values are. Take note of them. You’ll need to be true to your values if you are to be your authentic self. To be truly happy, you must live authentically
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships, networking and your personal brand
  3. Be positive - think of solutions for problems
  4. Network strategically - recruit your future sponsors
  5. Play to your strengths - that way you will shine
  6. Embrace uncertainty - think like a start-up
  7. Never give up
  8. Build your confidence - take measured risks and persevere after failures (hopefully they are small failures). When an opportunity presents itself, grab it and embrace your fear.

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