Girls Leadership Project hosts 'Women in STEM'

Esperance Senior High School's Girls Leadership Project members alongside 'Women in STEM' forum speakers professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, agronomist Holly Meiklejohn and boilermaker Tenique Adams. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Esperance Senior High School's Girls Leadership Project members alongside 'Women in STEM' forum speakers professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, agronomist Holly Meiklejohn and boilermaker Tenique Adams. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Australia's first Women in STEM ambassador has spoken to Esperance Senior High School students about her career in astronomy as part of the 'Women in STEM forum' on Tuesday, July 2.

The event was run and organised by members of the school's Girls Leadership Project, a program which focuses on addressing health, wellbeing, leadership and resilience with young women.

As part of the event, STEM ambassador and astrophysicist professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, as well as local agronomist Holly Meiklejohn and boilermaker Tenique Adams, took to the stage as guest speakers.

According to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, male students are twice as likely to aspire to be involved in a STEM-related career than their female counterparts.

The federal government launched the women in STEM strategy in April in a bid to tackle gender inequity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Stopping in Esperance as part of her 'pathways to STEM equity' tour, Professor Harvey-Smith discussed her career in astronomy, her experience being a leader and driving gender equity in STEM education and careers.

"After 15 years of conducting research into the mysteries of the universe and developing some of the world's most technologically advanced astrophysical observatories I am now taking on a new challenge: to help smash barriers to inclusion in STEM and to create a stronger, more inclusive STEM sector fit to drive Australia's economic success in the coming decades," she said.

"It is understood that just 16 per cent of STEM qualified people are female.

"We're trying to encourage women to build their confidence so that they can take their rightful place in those leadership positions.

"People are breaking into STEM, so we need to get workplaces right.

"Having taken on positions of leadership, I know that leadership isn't about asserting your authority, it's about helping others make the best of themselves.

"Assertive leaders with compassion, that lead with enormous integrity, that's the leader I aspire to be."

"It's about listening, learning and bringing others forward."

Mrs Meiklejohn spoke at length about her career as an agronomist and the challenges of the industry.

"There are plenty of passionate people in the the industry and many are very generous with their time and knowledge," she said.

"In terms of the challenges for women in the industry, it would be naive of me to suggest there wasn't some level of inequality in the industry.

"As women, we're often too critical of our abilities. I even questioned my value in agriculture when I resigned and pursued work on the farm and having a family.

"You can pause your career, have kids, and pick it back up again. In that time, you've just become really good at multitasking."

Mrs Meiklejohn said having a degree in science had been empowering and had opened many doors for both her and those around her.

"Having a degree in science is empowering, and having a degree in agriculture opens many doors, many of my friends have gone into several different science pathways," she said.

"Currently, there is an ever-growing environmental push from the public to reduce our carbon footprint and implement environmentally friendly practices and many of these issues will be addressed by those working in STEM.

"Having a career in STEM gives you security in the workplace and will empower you in all facets of your life."

Boilermaker Tenique Adams said she was drawn to the industry for her desire to fix things and find out how they work.

Despite having encountered hardship on her career journey, Ms Adams said she remained motivated for her children.

"I've always had an interest in fixing things and finding out how they work," she said.

"I did a pre-apprenticeship course and then I did an apprenticeship in boilermaking.

"During this time, I've always been the only girl in my class and my workforce as well.

"Despite a personal tragedy during this time, a mining company offered me an opportunity to finish my trade and my family and friends supported me to do that.

"My motivation is my kids, as I would like them to believe they could do anything they set their minds to.

"My advice would be to take opportunities when they come up, even if it's not exactly what you has planned."

Members of the Girls Leadership Project extended thanks to the guest speakers and to those that attended the forum.