Marlene Kanga, former president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, speaks to Innovation News Network about about her experience and the challenges faced by women in STEM.
Marlene Kanga is an adviser to Innovation Australia and Chair of the R&D Incentives Committee, Kanga is also on the board for a wide range of innovation based companies. In this article, Kanga discusses her own experience as a woman in engineering, and the career challenges that are faced by women in STEM.
Among her many achievements, Kanga has been listed among the Top 100 Women of Influence in Australia and the Top 100 Engineers in Australia.
How has being a woman impacted your career in engineering?
“It has been a challenge throughout my career. I have had to stand up for myself every single day, in every way, even today. I could have achieved so much more if so much time and energy has not been wasted. I just wanted to get on with the job, and I know that I am an excellent engineer. Despite the barriers, I believe I have made a difference and a contribution. I could have achieved so much more without the barriers.”
To what extent has the engineering industry changed to accommodate more women in the sector?
“It has not changed very much in the developed world: Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ, South Africa, where engineering first began about 100 years ago and was male dominated. This culture predominates and the percentage of women in universities is below 20% generally and even lower in the workforce. In other economies, women make up 50% or more of the students in engineering, in countries like Kuwait, Malaysia and Myanmar. They are entering the workforce and staying in high proportions, especially in the public sector. For example, 80% of engineering in the Myanmar Department of Industry are women.”
What more needs to be done to promote women in STEM?
“It’s not about attraction, it’s about retention. We have a very leaky pipeline where women in STEM leave throughout the career progression due to unwelcome cultures that do not promote and support their advancement.
“Women simply leave for other careers rather than put up with the barriers. We have very few women in leadership in science and engineering. If you cannot see you cannot be. Women will not aspire to roles in STEM and therefore not be attracted to these careers if they cannot see the opportunities. In Australia, less than 20% of women are engineering students and less than 1% remain in the workforce after age 50. It is a huge loss to the country and to the world.”