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The five things to know about carving a successful career in STEM

Our Career Files series shares secrets from women who’ve climbed (or sidestepped) the ladder, smashed ceilings and, most importantly, carved out careers that make them fly out of bed on a Monday morning (OK, maybe not fly, but at least not moan and put their head under the doona).

Sponsored by our friends at CSL, we recently brought together a cracking panel of clever women who love what they do and are committed campaigners for women in STEM. Kylie Walker, CEO of Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Dr Sarah Pearce, acting chief scientist, CSIRO and Dr Andrea Douglas, senior vice president, Organisation Transformation and External Affairs, CSL joined us to share their most valuable advice for those keen to follow in their footsteps.

1. Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes

Historically when we think about leadership, archaic visions of assertive, middle-aged white men come to mind. These women in STEM want you to know that leadership looks different on everyone, and so it should. “It took me a while to get comfortable with my style of leadership,” said Dr Sarah Pearce, “I had to learn that not everyone’s leadership is the same.”

“I lead like a coach,” said Dr Andrea Douglas, “I look to see what my people need from me.”

2. Hiring managers look for passion

Here’s your hot tip to get hired in the STEM industry (you’re welcome). Hiring managers are looking for people who are passionate about their work and display their energy and drive. “When hiring I look for people with continued curiosity and a willingness to learn,” said Dr Andrea Douglas. “Ask yourself, what drives me? What gives me energy?”

“Look broadly at all opportunities and see what fits your interest,” added Dr Sarah Pearce. If the role has piqued your interest, your passion for the role will come naturally.

3. Have mentors in your corner

“Personally, I am big fan of having a board of personal directors,” said Kylie Walker. “Have a range of people in your life as mentors for both personal and career decisions, they will support you through all growth”.

4. Diverse voices matter

 As the industry continues to develop, so too does the need to have diverse voices and opinions involved to create products for all people. “We need good role modelling, high public visibility, and structural changes,” said Kylie Walker.

“People are uncertain about what a career in science looks like,” added Dr Sarah Pearce, “so we need to create a culture and structure to attract many different types of people.”

5. Ask for help

It wouldn’t be an honest chat amongst women if the old work life balance discussion didn’t arise. “Always ask for help,” said Dr Andrea Douglas, “you are a whole person, and all employers should know this”.

“When you ask for what you need, you might be surprised by how flexible people are willing to be” continued Kylie Walker, “I sometimes do things at odd hours and then take Mondays off to spend with my four-year-old. Do what you need to do”.

Want to hear from more inspiring women in STEM? Catch up on our chat with CSL’s Priya Dinkar on diversity, resilience, and adaptability. 

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