I spoke to GE Australia to celebrate 2018 International Women’s Day, and discuss how I will #pressforprogress and challenge stereotypes and bias. You can find the podcast here, and listen to Kylie Walker (CEO STA and Chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO), Dr Ronika Power, (2017 Superstar of STEM & Lecturer in Bioarchaeology), Max York (CEO GE Australia), myself, and Joanne Woo (VP, Communications, GE Australia) speak about our individual actions this #IWD2018. Below you can find the transcript of my talk – and happy pressing for progress this day and every day that follows!
When you think of an engineer, who do you picture? Is it a really practical looking guy, holding some tools and potentially even wearing a hard hat? You probably didn’t picture me, with my curly hair and winged eyeliner, in a lab coat growing cells on a nanomaterial that mimics the structure of the brain.
My name is Francesca Maclean and I hold a PhD in tissue engineering, where I designed biomaterials to help the brain repair after injury. This International Women’s Day, I will press for progress and challenge stereotypes and bias, because one day I would love for people to not be surprised that I am an engineer. One day, I want little girls to know that they can be a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer, and for that to be the norm.
I started championing gender equity in STEM during my PhD – I realised that I was existing in a system that was designed to present barriers to women’s progress at every age and stage of our careers. In response to this realisation, I co-founded Fifty50, with Emily Campbell, which was named Engineers Australia’s Best Student Group in Gender Diversity for 2017. While I was completing my PhD at the Australian National University, Fifty50 was my vehicle for progress.
As a student-led organisation, we constantly challenge stereotypes and bias through championing gender equity in STEM amongst students and staff. We work to remove barriers to women’s progress by providing mentoring programs for first year STEM students, and a career development program that connects students with industry. We aim to make STEM career destinations accessible to everyone – regardless of gender. At Fifty50, we highlight the achievements of women in STEM because visible role models are key to women’s advancement in STEM. You can’t be what you can’t see. I have spent many years trying to be something I cannot see, and I want to change that for every woman coming after me.
Now that I am a Consultant working for Arup, an engineering firm, I make it my mission to foster an inclusive environment through inclusive language. I have developed a workshop titled “Inclusive language for an inclusive workplace” to get our teams talking about what language we do and don’t like. We need to have these conversations in an open and honest manner, so we can get the best out of each team we work with: if we aren’t consciously including, we are unconsciously excluding.
In everyday conversations, I challenge statements that limit women, because statements that limit women also limit men. Women are not bossy, we have leadership skills. We are not emotional, we are passionate. We are not aggressive, we are assertive. I call this language out because at the same time that I want my niece to be unapologetically confident about who she will grow up to be, I want my nephews to know that showing emotion is not a bad thing. I want them to know that being a girl is not an insult – because it most definitely is not.
I will continue to be a disruptive voice in my work and in my personal life, challenging stereotypes and bias because I want girls and boys to grow up in a world where they are equal, where gender does not determine their fate.