August 29, 2019
#GettingToEqual with STEM
By: Alice Ames

How much does the business arena value a woman’s touch? After leaving academia, Dr Alice Ames realised the many reasons why the world needs more #WomenInSTEM.

My grandfather was an engineer. From a very young age, I used to spend my holidays with him in the country. He’d answer my questions about the machinery in his workshop and tell me stories about the river systems and the local ecology. It made me see science as a way to understand how the world worked.

I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity. I want to know why things are the way they are – and how to change the world for the better.

My undergraduate degree was in Biotechnology and Innovation
I found the science fascinating and I loved the challenge to think differently. I discovered that, while I liked working in a lab, I was more interested in how science intersected with society. For example, new technologies have ethical and legal implications – they impact people’s lives. As part of my PhD, I researched decision pathways for women considering genetic screening.

When you qualify in STEM your academic options are research and teaching. I didn’t want to be a professor and I'd taken my research career to the level of Research Program Manager. But I missed innovation. I wanted to get away from that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mindset.

Working at the lab

I realised a more exciting career pathways might be waiting for me in the world of business. But how could I get there?

The very day I decided I need to make a lateral career move, an email arrived in my inbox from one of my mentors. It was a job ad for a role at Accenture with a note: “You should apply for this!” On my own, I’d never have considered a job like that because I didn’t think I matched the criteria.

This ‘tap on the shoulder’ was the impetus I needed. With the help of another mentor, I created a different kind of CV. I don’t like to talk myself up, but they made me articulate my achievements and translated my academic speak and essay approach into pithy, private sector talk.

And that’s how I came to work at Accenture.

The Accenture Research ANZ team lunch, front L-R Rahul Agrawal and James Hogarth, back L-R Koteswara Ivaturi, Alice Ames and Kosmo Karantonis

I’m continuously learning something new.
It’s been fantastic to go into an organisation that’s using leading edge technologies and experimenting with different ways of working. Where part of my job is to challenge the status quo!

I definitely encourage people in STEM to think laterally about how to use their skills. Advances in technology mean more companies need STEM skills and diverse backgrounds. There are really exciting opportunities to steer your career in new directions.

One of my first assignments at Accenture was to work on a study about gender equality in STEM for Male Champions of Change. At one level, the study findings resonated with me. They suggested that, while men tend to be motivated by earnings potential, women are motivated by solving problems. That’s me in a nutshell. I come to work every day to use my science and my curiosity to solve problems for people.

But other findings didn’t reflect my experience. I came out of a female-dominated field with a strong female leader. So, I was horrified to discover that two-thirds of the women in the study felt their voices were devalued – and more than half are considering leaving the field.

How can we encourage more women to stay in STEM roles?
We need to keep women in STEM so their valuable skills can contribute to research and innovation.

The findings made me reflect on the structural changes we need to achieve gender equity in STEM. For organisations, flexble working and ‘family friendly’ environments are a basic human right. It’s about making sure female voices are heard and tapping more women on the shoulder to suggest they go for promotions and make different career moves.

I hope we can get to a place where everyone – women and men – can follow their passions at work. Where everyone is equally supported to succeed in their STEM careers.

With (left) Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist and (right) Bob Easton, Accenture Australia and New Zealand's Chairman and Senior Managing Director at the report launch event, where leaders came together to accelerate progress towards achieving a respectful and inclusive environment.

Find out more by reading the report Alice has been working on. Learn why it's so important to work towards gender equality in STEM, and the impact it can have on our national innovation potential.

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