STEMM Profile: Dr Johanna Speirs | Senior Climate Scientist | Snowy Hydro Ltd | Sydney | NSW

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“A supportive working culture should allow parents to take breaks without penalising their career advancement… I’m proud I’ve been able to help shape my workplace’s parental leave package to encourage greater gender equality. Having flexible and generous leave entitlements available for both parents can help minimise the impact of parenting exclusively on women’s careers”

Dr Johanna Speirs is a Senior Climate Scientist with Snowy Hydro Ltd and specialises in
understanding weather and climate processes that affect water resources in the Australian Alps. Johanna maintains an adjunct affiliation with the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences following her PhD on Antarctic meteorology and climatology. See Google Scholar for her publications.

Johanna is naturally passionate about STEMM engagement, scientific communication and diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She wants to live in a world without barriers, where quality science is used to make informed decisions in the way this planet is managed. She recently participated in ‘Homeward Bound’, a global leadership program and Antarctic expedition for women in science. When not working, Johanna enjoys family life and the great outdoors with her partner and their little boy.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

Busting out of the comfort zone. I’m naturally rather introverted but I can probably trace each successful turning point to a moment where I’ve put myself on the line and reached out.

If you have transitioned careers, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

I moved into an industry position after my PhD to work on more impactful science that helped resource management and decision making. But initially I had a bit of an identity crisis as I questioned whether I’m still a legitimate scientist. While my role these days is more focussed on science as a service, I’m still a scientist!

How can we strengthen ties across the different sectors of STEMM? 

We need stronger collaborative links between academia and the private sector as well as more scientists employed directly in business and industry. Australia does poorly at this by global standards. I’ve seen first hand the massive benefits that in-house scientists can bring to various parts of a business and it’s almost gobsmacking that it’s not more of a standard practice for other private organisations to have strong scientific capabilities.

How can we best support the next generation of women scientists?

Leadership training, science communication coaching, networking and mentorship opportunities etc. We need opportunities to grow. But then the organisation structure needs to allow more women to reach the top… and stay there. Supportive, flexible and inclusive working environments are essential.

If you have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time – what helped you the most?

I didn’t, I’m not superhuman! I took a year of maternity leave in 2016 and had a grand vision of superhuman-like productivity during my “time off”, finishing that old paper from my PhD while the new baby blissfully slept for hours etc. As you might imagine, my definition of productivity was redefined as a bleary-eyed new parent, even with a champion partner. A supportive working culture should allow parents to take breaks without penalising their career advancement.

I’m enjoying working part-time, but it is challenging. Opportunities can slip by when you’re not 100% physically present and there’s always a lingering preconceived view that part-timers are less productive and incapable of responsibility. Personally however, I’ve found that working part-time promotes high productivity. ALL the things need to be squeezed into those precious reduced work hours in order to completely switch off when not working (a skill I’m still learning), and enjoy quality time with the little one.

Career disruptions, workplace flexibility and caring responsibilities shouldn’t solely be a “women’s issue”. I’m proud I’ve been able to help shape my workplace’s parental leave package to encourage greater gender equality. Having flexible and generous leave entitlements available for both parents can help minimise the impact of parenting exclusively on women’s careers.

Twitter: @johspeirs

LinkedIn: Johanna Speirs


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