Monash’s alumni band together to celebrate ‘Women in STEMM’

“Changing by doing”, “providing mentorship” and “calling out inappropriate behaviour” were among key messages from a panel of leading STEMM alumni at Monash University’s STEMM Faculties International Women’s Day celebration held on Thursday 5 March 2020.

The event welcomed back members from the Monash alumni community to share their stories of success and struggle, while bringing to light the ongoing challenges women face in STEMM.

Reflecting on their personal and professional experiences, the panel spoke about the importance of updating school curriculum to support and encourage interest in STEMM, particularly among young females.

Head of Gynaecology at Monash Health, Deputy Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Monash University, Monash IVF clinician and Monash Medical alumna, Professor Beverley Vollenhoven said while there are several women in Medicine, there are very few in leadership roles.

“I think it relates to the imposter syndrome. Men will apply for promotions well before women, because we have to be 120% sure we fit the criteria.”

Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2019 and a face of female leadership, Professor Vollenhoven places great importance on providing mentorship to other women in her field.

Panellist Ami Pasricha, a Monash Electrical Engineering graduate who was amongst the 15% of females in her cohort, now works as a Solution Owner in Mobility & IoT at Telstra.  She was also the former CEO at Robogals Global from 2017 to 2019.

Ami believes exposure combined with real-life application is the key to getting more female students engaged and excited to continue with STEMM education and careers.

“The application of technology and the difference it makes to people’s lives is what fascinates me”.

As an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEMM, Ami is leading by example, breaking down barriers and stereotypes, despite her experiences of sometimes being the only female in a room full of males.

The panel referenced strategic initiatives like the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, as well as the opportunity to lead by example and educate Australia’s youth.

However, they also spoke to the importance of changing the mindset of men in corporate settings, especially when it comes to career advancement, promotion and job-sharing.

“Having flexibility in a workplace is really important. It offers a pathway for women to have a choice,” Ami said.

The panel emphasised the need for flexibility to enable women to successfully combine a career with motherhood and the importance of sharing parenting roles with spouses.

Project Manager at Evolution Business Systems and IT alumna, Udarie Kodituwakku also spoke of being a female in an under-represented industry, where you may feel added pressure to succeed. She was grateful for her early experiences in small businesses which offered her a safe environment to experiment, fail and grow.

Science and Education alumna and now Lecturer at Monash’s Faculty of Education, Dr Jennifer Mansfield, skilfully facilitated the panel discussion and was able to contribute insights from her varied career as both a scientist and educator.

The event host and MC was Professor Maria Garcia De La Banda from Monash’s Faculty of IT and Chair of STEMM Women Academic Network Group.

Despite great progress, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in STEMM. This event helped to provide a platform for important discussions while recognising there is more work to be done.

Our featured panellists have been and are continuing to be pivotal in changing attitudes towards females in STEMM and encouraging others going forward. They are raising awareness of the under-representation of women in STEMM and encouraging more women to pursue STEMM education, careers and leadership positions. Importantly they are also demonstrating that success is possible.

Watch the full panel discussion.

Article written by Alexandra Weymouth