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#IWD: Be bold for STEM change

March 07, 2017
“Be bold for change”, the theme for 2017 International Women’s Day, is a strong current throughout GE, which earlier this year announced its plans to help bridge the STEM gender gap, with a goal to have 20,000 women in engineering and technical roles in the company by 2020.
GE economists Kimberly Chase and Marco Annunziata outlined the company’s business case for the goal in a white paper. “Unless we bring more women into technology and manufacturing, there will be a significant negative economic impact on the sector,” said chief economist Annunziata. “This is a problem for business to actively address.”

Equal representation of the sexes in all fields of endeavour adds up to greater strength, which is also why the United Nations decreed an annual UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, recognising and promoting the critical role women and girls play in science, technology and innovation.

GE APAC is addressing overall inclusiveness as a company priority, and in 2016, GE Australia was proud to receive certification from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency as one of 106 employers of choice.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, GE Reports presents some wise words from eleven of our favourite women in science, either about why they love what they do, or why it’s important to balance the gender scales in STEM, from elementary education all the way to the boardroom.

Dr Tara Martin, Research Group Leader, CSIRO

A marine geophysicist, Martin’s expertise is plate tectonics and Antarctic science. A scientist with CSIRO in Hobart, she also joins scientific voyages aboard the Marine National Facility’s flagship research vessel, Investigator.

“I have a BSc with honours in geophysics and a PhD in geophysics. Part of my job is to ensure that all of the data coming off the ship is in good condition, and I have a little free space to do some research. I have this nice circularity in that I’m also coming back to my first love, which is working with tectonics and Antarctic science.
I’ve just been on a research voyage in Antarctica on which 50% of the scientists on-board—including the lead scientists—were women, which gives me hope for female involvement in science in the future. It was a pretty awesome voyage!”

Anne McEntee

Anne McEntee, Vice President, Renewable Energy Services, GE Renewable Energy

“STEM translates into very interesting jobs in the workforce. Engineering roles and STEM roles are a licence to solve tough problems. Whether it’s leading the marketing group for an organisation to understand where wind turbines are going to go in around the world, or running our supply chain organisation and negotiating deals to buy all of our key components, as well as running all of our factories. When I look at STEM fields for women, there are so many opportunities.

Diversity of opinions is always really important, and women bring an openness, a wholistic thinking, and an ability to ask really great questions, and bring insights from very different perspectives. I encourage people to think about the diversity on their teams. Having everyone that’s like you is not always great, because you don’t have the idea generation. Women bring experiences, they learn how to solve very tough problems, multi-tasking, and being able to hunker down and find compromises that enable our organisations to move forward.”

Dr Marlene Kanga

Dr Marlene Kanga, president-elect, World Federation of Engineering Organisations

“I always say if you want to change the world, become an engineer, because engineers take science and they turn it to practical use. Nothing screams innovation more than engineering, so we definitely need more engineers. We need more young people to become engineers—men and women. Girls bring particular skills and insights to engineering and change the world in particular ways. It’s a very enabling career. It can take you all around the world, and it can also make a difference.”

Professor Sally Dunwoodie

Professor Sally Dunwoodie, Head, Embryology Laboratory, Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Division, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

“I love working in biomedical research. I started and head the Chain Reaction Program in Congenital Heart Disease Research. This is a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, computer scientists, geneticists, embryologists and molecular biologists, all working together to understand why babies are born with heart defects. In an average week in Australia 42 babies are born with a heart defect. Of those, 30 undergo surgery and four die; in 80% of cases, the cause in unknown. We are sequencing their genomes and sifting through 6 billion pieces of genetic code to find the answers. I feel so privileged to be able to have intellectual freedom, enjoy the thrill of the chase, and have the opportunity to find answers that can change people’s lives.  Read about Dunwoodie's findings identifying a major cause of miscarriages and multiple birth defects that could change the way all women prepare for pregnancy. 

Women are team players and effective managers. This skill set is becoming increasingly important as research becomes more and more collaborative and multidisciplinary.”

Beena Ammanath

Beena Ammanath, Vice President, Data & Analytics at GE Digital

“In elementary school, there are equal numbers of girls and boys coding, and interested in maths and science. It’s [later] that I can see the peer pressure ... that if you’re part of a coding club, you’re considered a nerd or a geek. And image is so important at that age … most girls start dropping out, unless you’re really adamant about it and don’t care. That’s where parents have to step in … and give girls that support so that they continue. We need to be able to change that model. How do you educate the whole population, so that girls aren’t labelled as nerdy as geeky because they’re part of a coding club. We have a lot of work to do, this is centuries worth of culture of the way women have been perceived … a lot of things need to change for us to see an equal number of men and women [in STEM careers]. Don’t think of the lack of women in tech as just a women’s problem, it needs to be everybody’s problem. We need more diversity in tech.”

Marita Cheng

Marita Cheng, former Young Australian of the Year, founder of Robogals and of Aubot, a telepresence robotics company

“The best thing about being an engineer is using science to solve real-world problems that have an impact on people’s day-to-day lives.  Making telepresence robots so that kids in hospital may go to school, or to keep an eye on elderly grandparents;  and making robot arms to care for people.  It’s mentally stimulating, while helping millions of people!”

Shaleesa Keye

Shaleesa Keye, repair engineer, GE Oil & Gas, Turbomachinery

“I’m a mechanical engineer with a major in materials engineering. I work for GE Oil & Gas Repair Engineering in Jandakot, but I report to a team in Florence. I’m part of the Offline Programming Team which was formed to develop and implement standard practices throughout the network using robot programming. Using robots for industrial processes, such as spraying engine components with thermal barrier coating, is safer and more efficient than doing them manually. The coating is sprayed via a stream of plasma which can get up to 16,000 degrees Celsius. I program the robot to direct this superheated spray to reach all surfaces of complex shapes in a tightly controlled manner. It’s allowed GE’s turbomachinery operations in Algeria to carry out the spraying of parts in house, rather than having to outsource the work. In the future this project could also be extended to encompass many other industrial applications.”

Dr Cathy Foley (left), Geoff Culbert and Leonie Walsh at the 2016 Digital Industrial Series

Dr Cathy Foley, deputy director and science director, Manufacturing Flagship, CSIRO

“One of the things that really concerns me is that, when Kylie Minogue was a mechanic in Neighbours, the number of girls doing motor mechanics shot up at TAFE, then when she became a pop star, it dropped down again. So that role model plus communications is really important. If you look at what’s on television at the moment, and what kids watch, The Big Bang Theory, Silicon Valley ... they’re not giving that story of what it’s really like. I can raise a laugh by saying ‘I work with a whole lot of Sheldons’ … it’s a bit scary … it’s something that creates this idea that it’s not for them, it’s for someone else to do.”

Mary Hackett

Mary Hackett, regional director, GE Oil & Gas

“I’ll tell you a funny story. I’m 16, and I was good at maths, so the likelihood was that I was going to go down the sciences route. My sister was already doing science at uni, and two of my brothers were doing engineering. But my sister’s point was, ‘Don’t just do science. Do engineering. Just reach for the stars. Make it something that really extends you.’ And then she said to me, ‘And 90% of the class is going to be boys.’ So at 16, that just ... sealed the deal.

I’m lucky—it was the best decision!

But I do say to women in engineering, ‘You don’t get a straight path through here. If you think you’re going to be immediately seen as a powerful engineer or a powerful professional, that may not happen. So sitting in the background, being a wallflower is not good enough. If you’re serious about a career you’ve got to craft it and make sure your ideas are heard. On the upside, you’ll be seen where others don’t get seen. As a woman, being that there are few in the industry, you get noticed.’”

Dr Leonie Walsh

Dr Leonie Walsh, owner and director of Productive Management Solutions, and former Lead Scientist, Victoria

“There is a huge focus on STEM and the importance of STEM subjects in jobs of the future … the challenge is how do you get girls engaged in and choosing those subjects. I spend a lot of my time educating parents, teachers and career advisors of what those jobs of the future will look like and what skills are going to be needed, so it’s the parents who are convincing the kids to stay inside and do their homework ... we have to be educating the teachers and parents better to understand the exciting careers out there with maths and science as a core."

Vicki Dove

Vicki Dove, Field Service Engineer, GE Healthcare Life Sciences

“I studied biomedical science and electronics and computer systems engineering at uni. So I went out as a biomedical engineer. I’ve worked in hospitals, looking after medical equipment and I’ve worked on the DaVinci robot as a field service engineer. I’ve moved around, to challenge myself and increase my skills, and working for GE Life Sciences gives me the opportunity to grow, but also something new and interesting to work on.

A lot of people don’t know about Life Sciences. It’s working on curing cancers, and looking at cures for Alzheimer’s, and other medications that are going to improve people’s lives.

I find it fascinating that we’re able to grow cells and extract proteins and test them to see how they react. The idea that someone has thought that up and made these machines to support the processes is fascinating in the first place, and when you start pulling the machines apart and seeing how they work, what they do to clean the cells, and what they do in order to grow them … I really enjoy working on the equipment and figuring out what’s wrong and getting it to work.  That’s the engineer in me, but if I didn’t have that physiology and science background, I wouldn’t fully understand exactly what the equipment I’m working on does.”