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Breaking the STEM stigma

Telstra Business Women's Awards Business and Enterprise

Posted on March 17, 2017

5 min read

The Australian Government recognises that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational program is now a necessity for equipping Aussie students with the skills for our economic future.  Despite the popularity and necessity of these subjects, women are still under represented in all of these industries.

Recent research revealed only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Meanwhile, fewer than one in five women occupy senior research positions in Australian universities*.

We quizzed STEM trailblazers, Telstra Business Women’s Award Alumni Dr Rowan Brookes, Dr Catherine Ball and Dayle Stevens, on why they think there is such a gender imbalance in STEM industries and what the opportunities are for women in this domain.

“STEM is an exciting industry to be part of,” says Rowan. “It’s constantly changing and filled with people who have diverse, creative skills.”

Catherine agrees. “STEM is all about challenging and creating new things. It’s not a linear path and includes more creativity and artistry than it’s given credit for.”

For Dayle, it’s about how STEM can take you anywhere: “I love that STEM is everywhere, in every industry and in everything we do. It shapes the future and it’s a privilege to be part of that.”

They all agree that despite the diverse career paths available through STEM, few women choose to pursue these fields, and, those who do, are less likely to achieve senior positions.

“STEM fields suffer from a leaky pipeline. How leaky the pipeline is depends on the discipline. Biological science, for example, graduates more women than men, but later on there’s still an under representation of women in leadership roles,” says Rowan.

“It’s not about getting women into the field, it’s about keeping them there,” says Catherine. “What needs to change is how we measure success and encourage women to thrive in the industry. For example, universities measure ‘success’ by how many papers you publish. So, if you take time off to have a family, you’re not publishing papers and therefore not able to achieve the next step. That’s not the way we should be viewing the value of our work.”

Rowan adds: “To help navigate your STEM career – no matter what work or educational stage you’re at – find a mentor. Someone who can act as your guide and advocate to help create opportunities and overcome challenges.”

Catherine reiterates that university is only one route into the STEM industry, as the skills required to thrive in STEM are diverse.

“It’s not just an industry for future generations. You can easily make a late career change, as the skills older generations have are transferable.”

Dayle says: “We need more female role models in STEM, and we need them to be visible, in the media, on our screens and in pop culture. We need to recognise and celebrate the achievements of females in STEM, too.  I loved being a finalist in the 2016 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, particularly because of the large number of women in STEM being celebrated.

Dayle and Catherine both agree that women need to stay curious about STEM and they encourage women of all ages to look at the opportunities STEM careers provide.

“Encourage your children to be curious about what’s going on behind the screen. Many parents hand their child a phone or device before they can even speak, and the kids master them in moments, because curiosity and problem solving comes naturally. Encouraging our children to think beyond the screen will unlock all sorts of possibilities,” says Dayle.

STEM careers are on the cutting edge of technology. So many careers that will be available in the future haven’t even been thought of yet, because we haven’t created the tech. With more people entering the industries, the possibilities of what can be achieved are endless.

The Telstra Business Women’s Awards continues to uncover and recognise amazing women who are challenging the STEM boundaries.

Nominate an inspiring woman now


Meet Our Panel

  • Dr Rowan Brookes, Director of Education for the School of Biological Sciences and course leader for the Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges at Monash University, Rowan seeks to transform the way STEM education is taught to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow.
  • Dr Catherine Ball, CEO and Founder of Remote Research Ranges, Co-Founder of SheFlies and Co-Creator and Technical Convenor of the World Of Drones Congress is a national leader in innovative solutions harnessing technology in environmental monitoring for engineering projects.
  • Dayle Stevens is the Divisional Chief Information Officer (CIO) at National Australia Bank (NAB). She is also leader and co-founder of NAB’s Connecting Women in Technology Program, which aims to support women in technology careers, helping them achieve greater inclusive leadership across the business. She champions diversity based on gender, culture, life stage and ability in technology.




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1995: The awards that changed recognition for Australian business women

Telstra Business Women's Awards

Posted on November 9, 2016

4 min read

In the lead up to the Telstra Business Women’s Awards finals, Karen Owens catches up with Marcia Griffin, the first-ever Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year who is still reaping the rewards 21 years later.

In 1995 at a time where few women achieved senior positions and their success was not widely recognised, we launched the inaugural Telstra Business Women’s Awards to recognise brilliant business women around Australia.

Marcia Griffin became the first-ever Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year for her work as CEO of Japanese skincare brand Pola Cosmetics for Australia & New Zealand.

“It was such a positive win; I was in every newspaper the next day. I must have received more than 200 congratulation faxes and my office looked like a florist shop!”

Marcia says winning changed her life forever. Immediately after, she was invited to speak at multiple events.

“I must have done more than 100 talks that year; I was on the road two to three days a week. It was intense, but so worth it.”

The recognition she gained meant that she was also invited on several organisations’ boards to share her knowledge.

“The Telstra Business Women’s Awards are a great thing to have happened to Australian women in business. Back in the 90s, there weren’t that many examples of successful business women. They were just not around; it was an unusual thing.

“The recognition that the Awards affords the winners is incredibly useful. Telstra has been a very close participant in women’s expansion in business over the last 20 years,” Marcia says.

This year, Marcia published “Finding New Meaning in Life”. Written in conjunction with psychologist Paul McQuillan, the book explores how to keep a positive outlook on life and which says is a tool for mental fitness.

“It’s all about having a purpose and taking responsibility for your own happiness,” she says.

Starting her career as a secondary school teacher, fresh out of university, before moving on to become a corporate economist for the Australian Wool Corporation. She soon discovered the role wasn’t for her, and she was keen to try something new.

It was then she came across the entrepreneur who had the franchise for Pola Cosmetics, a direct selling Japanese company which Marcia was able to negotiate a percentage of – a move she remembers as “Terrifying, exhilarating and challenging.”

“It was a big step going from economist to selling cosmetics. I didn’t know anything about selling at the time. I took a big leap of faith.”

Through hard work over 16 years, Marcia grew her small operation from selling at friends’ houses to a multi-million dollar business covering Australia and New-Zealand with more than 4,700 consultants. Marcia then went on to take more senior roles within the Japanese corporation, eventually becoming CEO for Australia & New Zealand by the time she won the Award.

In 1998, she published her first book, “High Heeled Success” to inspire other women to achieve success. In the book, she shared that determination, vision and absolute commitment are three ingredients to get to the top, no matter your industry. The advice in the book still resonates strongly today.

Marcia sold her shares back to Pola Cosmetics around the same time as publishing her book and set up Griffin & Row, a range of natural skincare products, which she just sold this year.

Life however is still as busy as ever with Marcia juggling duties as Chair at the CEO Institute and her board positions on several organisations, including Care Connect and the Australian Physiotherapy Council. She is also a mentor to a number of CEOs and has been a Telstra Business Women’s Awards judge every year since 2004.

“I think that what Telstra has done for women in business is extraordinary. No other organisation has done as much for women in this country.”

Marcia’s top tips for business success:

  • Have a quality product that you are passionate about and believe in
  • Have a real purpose for doing what you do. Whether it is to fulfil your passion, feed your family or become rich, having a purpose will help you become more successful
  • Have a vision for your business, and work hard every day to achieve it
  • Give it your all; you must be absolutely committed to your business. Hard work is critical to getting where you want to be


Nominations are open year-round. Do you know a brilliant woman who deserves recognition? Maybe yourself? Nominate here now.

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