Why we need to push for more female leadership in STEM

Women are still underrepresented in many STEM disciplines, especially in positions of leadership and seniority, and we need this to change; firstly to advance diversity and inclusion in our industry, and just as importantly, to reap the benefits that female leadership brings.
Lakshmi Easuwaran · 22 September 2023 · 4 minute read

Women in leadership positions in STEM bring undoubted value.

While there are sometimes gender-driven differences in how men and women approach  decision-making, it is important to realise that differences can be subtle and are often influenced by a variety of factors including culture, upbringing, expectations as well as personal experiences. With a range of issues to face in STEM, it makes good sense to engage in a variety of problem-solving techniques. This approach is powerful, in surfacing new insights, alternative solutions and a far more thorough response to issues faced.

The power of diverse leadership

I think we can all recognise how social dynamics change when any group of people is not all the same. In my own experience, leadership teams comprising a balance of women and men tend to act with a higher level of emotional intelligence than leadership teams with low diversity.

I’ve also seen more balanced leadership teams result in more inclusive policies and practices, which means the workplace is more welcoming and supportive for everyone. One example I’ve witnessed is female leaders influencing the creation of a family-friendly work environment that enables a better work-life balance for parents. Anyone who’s juggling work and parenting responsibilities knows what a difference something like that can make.

Gender diversity at leadership level encourages diversity in STEM overall

Women will be more likely to engage with STEM if they feel there is a prospect for growth and promotion. That’s why gender diversity at the leadership level can play a significant role in addressing and overcoming our current diversity challenges. When you demonstrate female representation at the top, you connect better with female talent because they see the opportunities for a successful future in STEM. This includes students at the beginning of their careers.

I’ve also seen female leaders act as powerful sponsors and mentors for aspiring STEM professionals. I personally mentor many female colleagues as part of ‘paying it forward’ and I know that being coached by women in leadership positions is inspiring and encouraging for them.

Heard of these women in STEM who are changing the world?

The unique perspectives and abilities of female leaders are highly advantageous to our sector as a whole. While many women around the world are already making an impact in STEM, it’s crucial that we work together as an industry to empower many more. The next generation of women will be far more attracted to STEM careers if they have a lot of visible female examples to inspire them.

A few women stand out in my mind when I think about the impact of females in STEM.

The "Missile Woman of India," Dr. Tessy Thomas, is a scientist and project director for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). She was an essential contributor to the creation of India's first indigenous ballistic missile defence system. Dr. Thomas' expertise in missile technology has improved India's defence capacities and established it as a significant player in the aerospace and defence industries. 

Then there is Dr Fiona Wood, the Australian plastic surgeon and researcher whose trailblazing work creating ‘spray-on skin’ for burn victims has greatly enhanced the prognosis for patients by promoting quicker healing and minimising scarring. Dr. Wood’s work has had a significant influence in the fields of burn medicine and wound healing all over the world. 

And did you know that the Chief Technology Officer of OpenAI, the business behind ChatGPT, is a woman named Mira Murati? Or that Telstra's very own Chief Information Security Officer for Asia Pacific is a woman? Charged with safeguarding our own network as well as our customers’ networks against online threats, our CISO is a shining example of an inspiring leader.

Feeling inspired to build a future in STEM? Head over to our careers site for open roles at Telstra right now.

By Lakshmi Easuwaran

Software Engineering Delivery and Operations CoE Lead

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