How to make the push for parity a reality

In November last year, the World Economic Forum published its latest Global Gender Gap Report which benchmarked 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity across a range of areas. It found that no country had closed the gap to date and, on current trends, it would take 217 years for gender parity to be reached across the countries on the list, a result worse than last year.

The organisers of this year’s International Women’s Day have cited these figures as the motivation for making this year’s theme #PressforProgress.

Professor Bronwyn Fox is Director of the Manufacturing Futures Research Institute at Swinburne University of Technology. She says the Institute is currently establishing an industry advisory committee and has close to equal representation on that committee.

“We have a number of really incredible, talented women, including our Chair, Dr Cathy Foley,” she says.

“But that is a little bit of an anomaly. I think women are still underrepresented in the manufacturing sector, but I can see this will change in the near future. There are some amazing people coming into the field; inspiring women who are really spearheading change in their organisations.”

Fox says it wasn’t a conscious decision applying quotas of women to the committee, more a case of taking people on their merits.

“We are always focussed on attracting the best talent that we can, while ensuring we have the diversity of thinking required to solve complex problems,” she says.

“If you can create a culture where women want to support and encourage other women and are tapping other women on the shoulder, then it definitely helps.”

Previously, she was Research Director at the Carbon Nexus facility at Deakin University in Geelong. She tells the story of how, during that time, she had a visitor from the United States who had invited Fox to a Women in Engineering lunch in the States on an earlier trip.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to invite her to a women in engineering event in return,” she explains.

“So I invited all the women in my group to lunch and realised that they made up half of my group, 15 women out of 30 people. It had never occurred to me that we actually had 50/50 representation in my research group.”

Because she hadn’t previously noticed the mix, she feels she can’t take credit for it, suggesting it was probably more a team effort.

“In my group there were some wonderfully talented and generous women, some international and some whom I’d taught undergraduate engineering at Deakin, and they became researcher leaders in their own right,” she says.

“They’d pulled through the next generation and then that had attracted yet another generation of women to come through. I think that’s the thing that really makes a difference, and that’s something that we can all consciously work on.”

When it comes to attracting more women into engineering, she says it has to come through leadership and education.

“I think that primary school education is really important, as is secondary education up to  year 10 where students are making career choices,” she says.

“I’ve seen that this is where inspiring teachers can make a difference. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, promoting science in schools, and I think that’s really important. I’m thrilled to be working with The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) who have developed the STELR program with our Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel as the architect “

Engineers Australia will be hosting three International Women’s Day events this year: in Melbourne on 7 March; in Brisbane on 8 March; and in Sydney on 9 March. The guest speaker will be Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon and judge/investor on Shark Tank.  Visit the other tabs on this site for more information.