Suzanne Von Kolpakow - Project Coordinator

In November 2018, some of the KJA female staff members attended the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Celebration in Sydney.

It got Suzanne von Kolpakow thinking about the various factors in today’s political and social climate, and how women can break through the glass ceiling.

Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. She was the third woman to have been awarded this prestigious honour in 117 years. To reiterate, the third woman in 117 years. That's 2.56%. This got me thinking - why is this the case?

I read an article recently about women being better negotiators when they negotiate on behalf of others, and being poor negotiators for themselves. When Donna was questioned about her title, she responded that she had never filled out the paperwork for the promotion and while it would have been a different title, the pay would not have changed, and the responsibilities would have been similar.

She has a fair point, it would just be a title change. But what happened to the "reach for the stars" line of thinking? The "climbing the corporate ladder"? Getting back to the negotiation point, it does seem as though women, relative to men, don't seek out that top management position unless they are 100% confident they can perform every responsibility required of them, while men are confident about their ability at 60% (Source: Forbes/Hewlett Packard). This holds women back.

But what sort of impact does this have on young females in high school and beyond who are contemplating their career path of choice? While I do believe the STEM landscape is changing, it is still male-heavy. So heavy, that recently, an organization called the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) wrote a letter that spoke to an extensive roster of its member companies, warning them that they have 6 years to achieve serious gender diversity at the top.

While I am almost embarrassed that something of this nature even needs to be said and made note of, it possesses crucial underlying intent. We need more women in STEM influencing us. We need to demonstrate that you can be a woman in this field, have influence, move up the ladder; all while maintaining personal responsibilities.

Strides are indeed being made. For example, the first ever female CEO of a big pharma was hired in 2017 (Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline). Jennifer Doudna has been credited as one of the pioneers of CRISPR, a technique that allows scientists to make precise changes to the genetic code of living organisms. And these are just two examples amongst hundreds.

I am a firm believer that mentorship, particularly in a woman’s early career life, is a recipe for career success. Technical skills may be components of the "success reaction" that get the degree, but mentorship acts as a catalyst to fuel a lifelong career. This is what we need - for women to have role models and mentors whose paths they can be influenced by - so that we can continue to move in the right direction together. Thank you Kathy Jones, and all the other women I know – in both hemispheres - for inspiring me to reach for the stars.