Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert spoke to David Koch on The Startup Daily about female participation and diversity and STEM.
Here to tell us more about the Government’s plan to increase female participation and diversity in STEM, science and technology sectors is Misha Schubert. Misha, good to have you aboard. It was a terrific announcement by Ed Husic the other day with a focus on this area – tell us how it’s going to work.
Lovely to see you in the chair Kochie! Fantastic – it looks good on you! And you’re right, this is a really exciting thing, to hear the Federal Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic talk with such passion about the opportunity for Australia to reach into our full talent pool as a country.
We know that unless we’re reaching into every corner of the diverse Australian community we’re going to be robbing ourselves of some of the best innovation talents, some of the best science and technology development talent we can have.
So that is an invitation to all of us who work in science and tech and startups to think deeply about what more we can do – personally and institutionally – to work with Government to drive that diversity agenda.
I’m personally really excited to see the work of diversity organisations and diversity champions to try and think innovatively about how we deepen that diversity.
One of the contributions that we make at Science & Technology Australia is to run an exciting program called Superstars of STEM. We go and recruit a cohort of 60 diverse women in STEM every two years – that program’s now open to non-binary STEM professionals as well – and support them to become much more prominent media go-to commentators on science and tech matters as experts.
Because we know that one of the things that inhibit the pipeline of more diverse people coming into the science and tech sectors is parental expectations: parents making some of those judgments about who they think automatically is going to end up in a science or tech career.
We know that by shifting that picture of media visibility, by making it easier for people to see what they can be, we’re going to help to really shift those cultural expectations over time.
Isn’t that fascinating – it’s not all about programs, it’s not all about education, it’s really changing community perceptions, isn’t it? Which are as deep-rooted as mum and dad going ‘ah now you won’t be suited to that role… it’s a bit boring’, mainly because mum and dad don’t understand it.
This is it, right? It’s a complex, knotty, social and economic challenge that we need to solve. And if we can nail this as a country, the economic upside and the social upside for us is going to be enormous.
It’s a range of those factors. When you look at the detailed research, it’s about the kind of conversations that people have in their family environments. It’s about whether or not someone happens to be in the path of a teacher at high school who’s really great and such an enthusiast, and a really skilled teacher in maths or technology or engineering subjects and really ignites that fire of passion for a young person to think, ‘oh, actually I can see myself for a career in coding, or a tech startup, or working in some of the deep physical sciences and turning that into a tech startup in 10 years’ time’.
So, we need to create many more of those opportunities for those incidental conversations to happen.
The piece of work that I’m really pleased to see the Government announce is this review to try to drive those stronger diversity gains in all its forms – more First Nations people, more people with disabilities, coming into the tech and science workforces, regional Australians, and people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
It’s in two parts. It’s firstly going to have a look as we understand it at the programs and initiatives and interventions that are making a powerful difference at the moment and learn the lessons of what people are doing right that is starting to shift the dial on diversity so we can share that information more widely. But it’ll also take a broader look at some of the systemic and cultural and workplace factors that might be holding our workplaces back from reaching into that full talent pool even more effectively.
So, thinking about the structure and culture and the big challenges in some pockets, particularly engineering and tech, where we’ve got a big road to travel on getting to much greater gender parity. And if we can do that, the economic opportunities for our country, the social opportunities, and frankly the excellence of the kind of tech we design, is going to be so much stronger for that diversity right at the design stage.
So many of them here at Startup Daily, both on the platform and also through the TV show that it’s just inspiring and really relatable. The story of Melanie and Cliff at Canva is a classic in terms of young go getters that have a great image for that next generation to come through. Forget your investment bankers and your financial nerds and influencers – they’re the ones we have to be holding up as our heroes, don’t we?
Absolutely. And you know part of what they’ve done is create that visible sense of what’s possible. Because in telling your personal story as someone who’s an inspirational founder, as someone who has potentially come into tech without a huge tech skill set at the outset and then built that out and importantly recruited a team of specialists to really build a business at scale.
By telling that story I think it helps other people to see the possible pathways in, so I think we should never rush past the importance of that storytelling, that personal testimonial about how someone found their own way into a tech or science or startup career. It’s so important to help plant that seed of possibility.
Because it’s not just the American founders that everyone goes, ‘Oh, I want to be the new Mark Zuckerberg’, we’ve got plenty here in Australia that are just shooting the lights out.
Absolutely. And we’ve got so many people who are really clever, working at those very frontier areas of thinking about where science is going to take us next in terms of a whole raft of new cures and treatments and medicines, and the big conversations happening at the moment about how do we turn the Moderna opportunity with manufacturing those vaccines in the southern hemisphere for the first time into a broader ambition for Australia about broader med tech and genomic medicine aspirations? Areas where we could have a whole raft of exciting startup activity, and that venture capital market like Phil Morle and his team and so many other VC-connected community people around the country, are going to be really important to that opportunity for Australia as well.