Review of “Women in Leadership” webinar by Blake Morgan
The women’s day webinar by Blake Morgan hosted 2 eminent speakers working in the STEM (=science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field, enumerating struggles of women in STEM, their journey and how important women leadership is in our era.
The first speaker, Sarah James, a dynamic engineer and energetic author, innovator, shared her journey in the STEM field. She is now a principal part at Jacobs with over 20 years’ of delivery excellence and experience in Analytics, AI, IoT, Spatial and Data and their use within technology and engineering. Her inspiring story is not only a confidence booster, but also a testimony, that women are strong and can conquer anything.
Born in an accommodating and encouraging household, Sarah describes, that her father played a major role in giving her an unbiased upbringing, with no gender stereotyping. Shoot for the moon, you will land among the stars, her father would say to her. She started exploring the field of technology as early as the 1990s, until her father and sister pushed her to go to the university. The curriculum in the university, she describes, could not keep her hooked. Her energy levels were soaring high and thus wanted to do more.
Before she formally graduated, she started working with Hawaii US Geo-info services. Soon she found herself in Sydney assessing data. Ironically, 20+ years later the company became Jacobs, which she is a part of now. First 10 years mentored by different people, which she describes to have moulded her personality, intrigued her intelligence and pushed her to do better. She later moved to Perth, where she applied to work at small companies, that rejected her, as she was made for better things. She was referred to larger consulting firms, where she shouldered diverse roles. She says, saying “yes” to multiple things is something, she’s picked up from there – you never know, what you will miss,with every rejection you make, and urge everyone to look at positives from every opportunity.
Eventually, she met her husband, but did not consent to marry him without her own residence permit. She emphasizes on her will to be on her own and not getting into a relationship, where she would be dependent. She described, that the lowest point in her life was, when she delivered her first daughter but found herself with a broken leg. At testing times, she emphasizes the importance of picking yourself up. These adverse circumstances didn’t stop her from learning. She read books, watched science and kept feeding her inquisitive mind. Eventually, she started working part time and travelled extensively. She tried her hands on developing technology in challenging environments over 40-degree temperatures, no toilets and not many women around. She led with integrity and belief.
However, she quit her job due to safety concerns and started to write since 2017. When her ideologies aligned with Jacobs, she joined them. People started to believe in her and contributed to her work: damns, farms rehabilitated. Alongside the many things she does, she helps at the Autism society with software skills. Under blizzard circumstances she found out, that she was mildly autistic too. This has not stopped her. She owes her high energy levels to autism, which has made her standout in every group. It is not a downside, it´s her strength! This is truely an exciting story of a women, who has led her life with grit, passion and believed in herself, every time the storm hit her. She is indeed an inspiration to all of us.
The second speaker in the webinar was Matt Guille, alongside his colleague Ania Noble. 20 years ago, Matt established Xenopus Resource Centre. The research institute leads biological research in the UK. Their latest groundbreaking research is on genes of tadpoles. The DNA analysis of these tadpoles, analyzing their brain and heart cells, helps to identify rare genetic disorders. Their research has enabled to find out the mutation in many children with genetic disorders. Among the many, 2 sisters, were presented with a gene difficulty. The gene studies in tadpoles helped to clarify the problem in these girls. Numerous such cases have been proved to be identified using their research.
Matt describes, that his team involved in this research, were women in majority. 50% of the leadership group are women. Going further on this, Matt described, how women pursuing biology has changed over the years. Although the gender ratio in the field of biology have been balanced, historically fewer women have occupied senior positions, owing to their family commitments. The pyramid of research in biology finds more women at the base of the pyramid. Research grants now consider the number of hours worked by a researcher, which means that women, taking time to help their family, are missing out of these opportunities, which makes the system slightly inequal. Some programs like Athena Swan aim at abolishing these inequalities and Matt vouched, that the journey is in the right direction.
Bolstering the thoughts of Matt, Anja described her journey in the field of biology, which surely wasn’t as smooth. She describes, that her urge to pursue PhD was her driving force despite all the adversities that came her way. She got pregnant during her first year of PhD, which meant giving extra hours to her child in addition to her studies. She describes, that it was a herculean task, but it paid off, when her work was recognized. She later was forced to move to the UK because of husband, where she met Matt, who offered her a job. With kids, she did not have enough money to meet her expenses. But things changed with time, and she finds herself in a better place now. She emphasizes, that being well organized, one can manage both work and family, because once children grow up and are on their own, you will feel the void and it may will be a little too late to pursue your dreams.
Women are increasingly well qualified: statistics say, that more women than men graduate from universities in Europe. However, many women don’t feel as free in their choice of jobs or do not get the same job opportunities as men. This is often due to their responsibilities as a parent or as a career of family relatives. For the same reason, women are more likely than men working in part-time jobs, hindering their growth in the leadership ladder. In addition, gender stereotypes in all spheres of life influence people’s choices of work they do and how they can combine it with private life. A number of factors cause this disparity. But women in all domains constantly are breaking stereotypes and emerging successful. Two such women have shared their journey, which will inspire many more to take STEM as a career and lead from the front.