STEM PROFILE: Dr Sally Male | Engineer and Researcher | University of Western Australia | Perth | WA
“I do not have a mentor because, within the masculine culture of engineering, subconscious bias pervades all women and men. I do not trust even myself to avoid gendered assumptions”
I am a mother of two wonderful sons. Born in Western Australia, I completed most of primary school in the South-West coal-mining town of Collie, before attending schools in Wales and England, and returning to Perth for secondary school. My qualifications of a bachelor of engineering with honours in control and communications, and a PhD on competencies required by engineers, are from The University of Western Australia (UWA).
I have taught electrical engineering at UWA, and at Curtin University where I also managed the Women in Computing and Engineering Project. I am currently a Senior Research Fellow at UWA, paid from and leading my own competitive grants. My research interests are curriculum development, development of capabilities for engineering practice, and gender inclusivity.
I collaborate with academics, students, industry, Engineers Australia, and the Australian Council of Engineering Deans. Current and recent projects include “Virtual Work Integrated Learning for Engineering Students”, the National Strategic Priority Project “Students’ Experiences of Threshold Capability Development with Intensive Mode Teaching” and “Gender Inclusivity of Engineering Students’ Workplace Experiences”. I developed the 2014 ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Effective Industry Engagement in Australian Engineering Degrees’ for the Australian Council of Engineering Deans.
I enjoy the honour and responsibilities of being a Fellow, Engineers Australia; Governance Board Member, Engineering Institute of Technology; Editorial Board Member, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education; Advisory Council Member, Women in Oil and Gas – Perth (WIOG); Governing Board Member, Research in Engineering Education Network; and Member, UWA ATHENA SWAN Self-Assessment Team.
It has been my pleasure to serve as a Committee Member of the Engineers Australia Western Australian and National Women in Engineering Committees, Women in Science Enquiry Network (recently merged with Women in Science AUSTRALIA), Graduate Women WA, and UWA Centenary Trust for Women. My publications are listed here.
Who and/or what inspires you to achieve?
My research, my sons who are postgraduate coursework students, my students, and my colleagues, inspire me to achieve. Young people’s lives are precious and must be valued by government and universities. My vision is for students to develop capabilities to lead successful lives ‘contributing to a well-functioning society’ .
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
The key for my success has been my family. My parents cared for me during my school and university studies. My parents and sisters have cared for my children and me. When I lived too far from them, for my husband’s job, it was not possible to accept employment.
Do you have a mentor? What is the most important advice they have given you?
I do not have a mentor because, within the masculine culture of engineering, subconscious bias pervades all women and men. I do not trust even myself to avoid gendered assumptions. Instead, I seek advice from several women and men, including colleagues and family. Sponsors are more important than mentors.
What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?
To improve gender balance in senior ranks of scientists and engineers, it is essential that women and men are supported to understand the factors that contribute to the imbalance. Women and men must recognise these factors to proactively eliminate the problems. This first step is challenging to women and men.
If you could give one piece of advice to the current government what would it be?
My advice to the current government would be to measure indicators of gender equity; to ask about every decision, ‘How is this decision likely to affect women and men differently?’; and to give universities and employers incentives to ensure that university students experience relevant education.
 OECD, “Definition and Selection of Competencies: Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations (DeSeCo): Summary of final report “Key Competencies for a Successful Life and Well-Functioning Society”,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2003.