Academy Fellows explain what diversity means to them

Too many people working in STEM-related careers look like me – male, white and, shall we say, of a certain age.

Too many women and members of minority groups are squeezed out of STEM careers by structural barriers and organisational culture.

Those barriers can include all-male executive teams, outdated opinions of women scientists and engineers, not taking into account that many women will pause their careers to have children or for other family reasons, or assuming women are not as serious about their careers.

It is fundamentally unfair. And it is a colossal waste of talent.

The good thing is that more and more people are determined to change the situation.

We at the Academy of Technology and Engineering are among them and I am proud to report that we have adopted a Diversity and Inclusion Policy.

On these pages, some of our Fellows share their thoughts on why diversity is important to them.

Now the challenge is to turn words into deeds. I’m confident we’re up to the task.

Dr Bruce Godfrey FTSE
Vice-President, Diversity

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Bronwyn Fox. Photo: Eamon Gallagher

The only way to create a high-performing team is to ensure diversity. Diversity of thought, diversity of disciplines, diversity of age and experience as well as gender and nationality.

The most productive, creative teams I’ve been part of have contained all of these many facets and have sparkled like a diamond as a result.

— Professor Bronwyn Fox FTSE, Director of Swinburne's Manufacturing Futures Research Institute

Growing up, the only engineer I knew was my mother and it was her passion for engineering that ultimately led me to become an engineer myself. It therefore came as a huge surprise to me when I discovered that as a woman my mother was a rarity in the professional engineering community.

It always strikes me that we are missing out on so many great ideas and perspectives that would come from having a truly diverse and representative engineering community.

Dr Lachlan Blackhall FTSE, Australian National University 

As a gay CEO, I know the importance of being able to bring my whole self to work. The more visible LGBT executives can be, the easier it becomes for others to feel safe and proud in being themselves.

And the more we can do to encourage diversity in all its forms, the better it is for business.

— Alan Joyce AC FTSE, CEO of Qantas

Early in my career, I found that one way of dodging sexist barriers was to sign correspondence as Dr M.L. Hartley – and if the recipient assumed I was a man, as they usually did, then it reflected on them, not me.

It’s a sign of progress that I could emerge from behind the initials to be Margaret. But no young woman establishing her career in STEM should ever have to play that kind of game again.

Dr Margaret Hartley FTSE, CEO of Applied

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Ravendra Naidu

I grew up in a Fijian farming village, where a career in STEM was a far-from-traditional path. I found myself at age 40 leading a research team in Australia. It didn’t occur to me that I was contributing to diversity in STEM.

Now I understand that one of my most important responsibilities was as a role model, making the path I travelled a little easier for others like me. For many years now, I have made a concerted effort to build a diverse team, in terms of both gender and cultural background. I have not done this to foster diversity for its own sake, but because I know that the more diverse our people, the stronger our STEM will be.

— Professor Ravendra Naidu FTSE, CEO of CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment

Diversity is the result of a melting pot of different backgrounds and ways of thinking come together.

If there’s only a single school of thought, it’s much harder to unlearn practices that are no longer relevant and STEM needs this to pioneer the future. Engineers are at risk if they lack diversity, as they need different perspectives to cover their blind spots and challenge their ideas to come up with fully-formed solutions.

Professor Rose Amal AC FAA FTSE, University of NSW

At a glance: The Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy

  • Our first priority will be to address the imbalance in gender in STEM. The Academy’s future diversity priorities include age, indigenous Australians and ethnicity in STEM.
  • Women should constitute 50 per cent of all new Fellows elected to the Academy by 2025.
  • The Academy’s awards, meetings and events will reflect gender diversity and promote inclusion.
  • The Academy will support programs that promote diversity and inclusion across schools, university and industry.
  • The Academy will promote the achievement of women in STEM.
  • The Academy’s recruitment and selection processes will be structured so that a diverse range of candidates is actively considered.
  • The Academy will be accountable by publicly and regularly reporting our performance statistics.

Read the policy in full.