Becoming a Woman in STEMM

I was never a sciency kid. However, having an engineer as a dad, I was quite strongly pushed into science and math subjects from an early age.

Actually, I wasn’t bad in science or math – I just didn’t enjoy it.  Biology experiments were fun, but my whole life I’ve never been good at following recipes (#CantCook). And let’s face it, if none of the above interested me – chemistry was simply a no-go. Eventually it became clear that my dad’s dream of having another engineer in the family was not going to be fulfilled by me.

So, I ended up pursuing a different route. Some might say a more creative path. Public relations, social media, communications, photography, design… I felt more at home this way.

And then one day I stumbled upon Sleeptite. For those of you who do not know, Sleeptite is an Aged Care Technology company that exists in order to improve the well-being and health outcomes for older Australians. The company, together with their Program Partners (Hexoskin, RMIT and Sleepeezee), is developing advanced, medical grade technologies with integrated sensor capabilities to provide Real-Time Biometric Analysis of data through a complementary interface. This technology will provide feedback on a user’s state of health and sleep through non-invasive monitoring.

Woah. That’s a lot of sciency terms that I don’t even understand. And I am the Communications Manager.

After a few months in this role, I met up with our Research Program Partners from RMIT: Associate Professor Sharath Sriram, Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran and Dr Sumeet Walia. They were so down to earth, so enthusiastic, and so passionate. The oh-so-inspiring Madhu left a big impression on me. Being so young, she has already received countless awards for her research on stretchable electronics, fabrication for terahertz and optical devices, two-dimensional materials excluding graphene, and sensor technologies.

In other words, she is an absolute rock star! Someone my dad would be very proud of.

Through Madhu and Cam (Cameron) Van Den Dungen, my CEO at Sleeptite, I was introduced to Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, better known as Maggie. This remarkable person is the co-founder and CEO of Women In STEMM Australia – a non-profit, nationally recognised association for women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). “But I am not a woman in STEMM”, I would tell Cam, “I am just in charge of our communications activities…” “Nonsense. You are a woman in STEMM”, he would kind-heartedly repeat back to me.

Nonetheless, the Sleeptite business manager, Alison Macqueen, and myself were invited to attend the 2018 Graeme Clarke Oration Women In STEMM lunch. With big, pushy encouragements from our office, Alison and myself accepted the invite and purchased tickets.

A little too dressed up and very nervous for lack-of-big-sciency-words in our vocabulary, Alison and I rocked up to the lunch, eager to listen and to learn. The 2018 Graeme Clarke Orator was an African-American Professor – a brilliant woman named Paula Hammond, known for her research in biomaterials and drug delivery.

As the lunch went on, Women in STEMM Australia’s other co-founder, Michelle Gallaher (@StartupShelley), had a beautiful chat with Paula Hammond about her life, her work, and the challenges that women in STEMM still face today. Alison and myself were surprised by how much we could relate to the struggles of feeling like “you don’t belong”.

After the talk, we met up with Maggie. The topic came up and we explained that we weren’t sure how we fitted in amongst these super-intelligent wonder women.

“If only I had a dime every time someone told me that. In 2018 there are more women that work in STEMM than anyone realises … The work you both do in this sector is so important – of course you are Women In STEMM!” You work within the STEMM ecosystem.

Maggie is clearly a passionate advocate of all things STEMM. As a public relations and communications graduate I never imagined calling myself a “Woman In STEMM”, but I guess now (with encouragement and support!) I feel as though I can.

And I am slowly starting to own it.

I have realised that it’s not about the label, the definition, nor the amount of research papers you have published. It’s about a community of women committed to STEMM who support one another through sectors that have been, and in many aspects still are, primarily male-dominated. Like Maggie said, we live in 2018 – we are surrounded by technology everywhere we go, and in some ways most women in Australia are indeed women in STEMM.

Even though I never became an engineer (sorry dad), I am beyond proud that I work for a company that I truly believe in (and so is he). A company that works towards bettering future generations, and a company that supports women across all industries – whether it is a Researcher from RMIT or a young Communications Executive who wasn’t that great in science.

About the author:

Sheida Danai is a communications professional with a demonstrated history of working in the technology and not-for-profit sectors. Sheida is a fast learner with skills in social media, creative writing, event logistics, and external and internal communications. She has a passion for photography and exploring the world’s different cultures. In 2016, Sheida graduated with Distinction from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in Public relations and Journalism. Sheida is passionate to connect with and support other women in STEMM.

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