The fourth instalment of BAE Systems Australia's podcast on defence industry, 'You Can't Be What You Can't See', launches today.
The episode speaks to women across Defence and industry who, as host Lily Serna puts it, fought through stereotypes to become leaders in their fields – 'women you can see.'
Serna observes that women remain underrepresented in STEM in Australia, comprising less than 20 per cent of engineering students and less than 15 per cent of the engineering workforce in industry.
Serna speaks to Tanya Monro, the first woman to ever lead the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group).
"I'm responsible for helping shape what Australia does in innovation, science and technology to solve some of Defence's biggest problems," Monro says. "And I'm responsible for the STEM profession within Defence. That means having a coordinated approach to inspiring and retaining STEM talent. It's never boring!"
Monro discusses her career path, which took her through professions with few women around her.
"I actually felt the strangeness of being the first woman when I was the first female professor of physics at the University of Adelaide," Monro says. "The reason I felt it so viscerally was because there was a wall in the physics building with photos of the professors of physics – all men with amazing moustaches and beards, and then me. It was that daily reminder of maleness that made me feel different."
Serna also speaks to Gabby Costigan, the first female CEO of BAE Systems Australia.
"I had a real passion for aviation and wanted to fly helicopters," Costigan says. "It seemed to be a great adventure. I was most disappointed when I found out at the time women weren't allowed to fly. I decided if I can't fly, I'll try and fix them – so that put me on the path to aeronautical engineering."
Another guest is Deborah Jeppesen, one of the first two female pilots in the RAAF in the 1980s who is now a Manager of Intelligence at Thales Australia.
"There wasn't as much diversity of career as there is now," Jeppesen says. "My brothers were both aviators and I was looking to a career in medicine – but my brothers told me the RAAF was now recruiting females and that I should apply.
"After several years of flying I felt we always had to be better than our male counterparts to be as good as, because everything I did was in a spotlight. I think that extends to females breaking barriers in other roles."
Serna speaks with Jackie, a young engineer working on the first design for manufacturing capability for the Hunter Class Frigate Program, who talked about the role her dad played in fostering her interest in STEM from a young age.
A core message of the podcast is that support networks are necessary to make women feel welcome in STEM – family members, teachers, other women and supportive men on the way.
"There's a gendered thing about confidence," Monro says. "We need to support everyone to realise that they have to support women differently. I think we need to think seriously about what we need to do to level the confidence gap for girls and women, because they're equally able to contribute."
You can listen to the podcast on your preferred podcast player or visit https://www.baesystems.com/en-aus/podcast.