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Women in STEM roles ‘feel like frauds’

Byron Connolly | June 20, 2017
Imposter syndrome, cognitive bias during hiring, and lack of interest possible reasons for drop in women in STEM roles.

“Why is the number of women in Australia who are choosing STEM careers falling?" It’s a common question and one that the tech industry doesn’t seem to be able to answer too well.

Lucy Lloyd, co-founder and CEO at startup, Mentorloop and a speaker at this year’s Women in Tech event in Sydney offered up a few reasons. Lloyd suspects it’s a combination of ‘imposter syndrome’ or feeling like a fraud, cognitive bias in the hiring process, and dropping out of the pipeline early through lack of interest in STEM.

“One of my girlfriends who trained as an engineer is training at the moment as a nurse because she wants to spend more time with her kids and have a more flexible career,” Lloyd told the audience on Wednesday.

“I wonder if there’s a flexibility component to that and those kinds of jobs are requiring as they do potentially long hours, they’re still quite old school organisations that aren’t making space for women to feel like they are completely welcome,” Lloyd said.

Indeed, a mere 16 per cent of STEM-qualified people are women, according to a March 2016 report by the Australian Government’s Office of the Chief Scientist.

Further, only 12 per cent of STEM graduates earning in the top income bracket ($104,000 or above) are women, compared to 32 per cent men.

An audience member at the event offered a different opinion, arguing that the question of why the number of women studying STEM subjects is falling is actually being framed incorrectly.

“Women aren’t falling out [of STEM], I think that men are failing to keep up with the way the world is going,” she said to cheers from the audience. “There’s nothing wrong with women; I think the choices they make and the quality of life they want, they expect a higher standard that is currently provided in organisations,” she said.

She argued that for organisations to be disruptive and successful, they need ‘cultural productivity.’ This comes from addressing the human aspects [of the work environment], she said.

“I don’t think women are falling off, they are just making better choices.”


Glass ceiling remains

Regardless of their choices, women are still coming up against a ‘glass ceiling’, according to a panel at the Women in Tech conference. Beth Patterson, chief legal and technology officer at law firm, Allens; Julie Chivers, head of global IT capability at Lendlease; and Angela Goodsir, chief technology and systems officer at Multi Channel Network all agreed that it still exists.

Lend Lease’s Chivers said that the women she works with tend to undersell themselves in “pretty much every circumstance.”


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