Flying the Flag for Diversity

We chatted to Flight Lieutenant Belinda Pavlovic ahead of our International Women’s Day events in March 2018.

What advice would you give to a young woman who is interested in pursuing a career in engineering?
My general advice is to be clever in how you prepare yourself for an engineering career. Understand any weaknesses (e.g.; academic/interpersonal/business) and work on them early. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and find a mentor whom you respect (mentors can be male or female!) For women specifically, don’t feel like you need to hide your femininity just because there will be more males than females. It is very easy to want to be ‘one of the boys’ but don’t do it just to fit in. Embrace your diversity, don’t hide from it.

How do you build a culture that fosters diversity within an organisation?
Talk openly about the diversity (or lack thereof) in your workplace and set the tone for what is expected. Especially for those in supervisory positions or positions of influence – Encourage attendance to diversity events for everyone. I’ve often asked my male colleagues to join me at women in engineering/leadership focused events because it’s important to have all perspectives present in forums. The whole point of diversity is to benefit from our differences – but yet we end up in a room full of women who all feel the same way. Change comes from exposing everyone to the issues that a minority group may suffer from.

The 2018 International Women’s Day theme is #PressForProgress which acknowledges that while society has made significant progress in regards to gender diversity, there is still plenty of work to do. What areas of gender diversity are most relevant today and how can we effectively address these issues as individuals and collectively?
I think the area that is most relevant today is the perception that women are now only being recruited/promoted in order to reach targets. Whilst there is an element of targeted recruiting and incentives, women are still having to prove themselves even though they’ve earned the job – often starting a role on the back foot and needing to defend their worth. As individuals, I think it’s important to challenge our unconscious biases and stereotypes and pay attention to actively changing our thought processes. As a collective this comes from education and understanding of the recruitment strategies. The recruitment process historically has been strongly biased towards men in the way it was designed, so we now are attempting to make alternative pathways to access the entire population.

We also need to provide a safe workplace and ensure that unacceptable behaviours are dealt with appropriately. The old way of thinking needs to be continually challenged.

How can women succeed in a male-dominated world like engineering?
The same way men do – work hard, challenge yourself and put yourself out there! It’s ok not to know everything, in fact knowing your weaknesses will help you. Seek out a mentor (or mentors) who will provide that kind of honest and constructive feedback. Then work on it!

How can events like International Women’s Day educate and empower more women?
These events empower women by making us realise we’re not as alone or isolated as we may feel in our immediate workplace. This provides other perspectives and tools to deal with issues you may face. I also think it’s important to bring the men along, so they see and hear first hand some of the issues that may not be discussed in the office.

How can both men and women achieve work life balance?
Set up realistic expectations and manage your time effectively. A work life balance is entirely in your power – for both men and women. Your priorities dictate where you find that line.