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Podcast – More than just numbers: the work experience program inspiring young women to take on engineering

When Karina Dervidis started her career in engineering it was clear she was joining a very small club.

Now, as the Senior Water Planning Engineer at Stantec, Karina says she got used to being the only woman in the room. But she was also seeing young women starting their careers notice it too.

“I think the main thing that stands out is that you're usually one of only a few women, if any, in a lot of groups,” Karina says. “But I think when you're starting out in your career it's something that stands out to you. You ask yourself ‘where are the other women?’”

In this episode, host Jo Taranto chats with Karina about starting a work experience program aimed at high school girls, the current gender disparity in engineering, and how Stantec is encouraging more young women to take up STEM careers.

Gender diversity in engineering

More and more STEM industries are making great leaps in attracting more gender-diverse talent to workplaces. Right now, about 29% of all STEM jobs are done by women in Australia.

But Karina says for women in engineering there hasn’t been much of a change, with only 13% of engineers in Australia being women.

“It's surprisingly low, and it's something that has remained fairly constant for a long time,” Karina says. “I think that's something that as an industry we need to work on. How do we encourage more women to consider engineering?”

Karina worked with the Women in STEM group within Stantec to launch a work experience program aimed at parents of girls in years 11 and 12.    

“We settled on high school students because they're at that critical point in their lives where they have to start thinking about career choices.”

Connecting students with science in the workplace

The program started as a trial in December 2023, beginning with asking Stantec staff parents with teenage daughters in their Brisbane office. It wasn’t long before they started inviting local high schools.

Due to resourcing and the popularity of the program, they’ve had to apply limits of 5 students. But Karina says she hopes to increase that limit in years to come.

“Being a multidisciplinary company, it was important to not just show what civil engineers do, but what the breadth of different careers and different fields and what they do.”

Along with the work experience program, Stantec also partnered with a local school where staff speak to students once a term and run workshops about careers in STEM.

The importance of role models and representation

Karina believes programs like this go a long way to bringing engineering to young people. But she says there are still a lot of assumptions.

“There's this perception by parents, teachers, and just the general public that these are not careers for women,” Karina says. “There’s virtually no media representation like what you get with medicine.”

With the right backing and support, Karina says other organisations can run similar programs aimed at young women.

“Showing them that we are women of different backgrounds, different career levels, we're at different stages in our careers. It's something that they can achieve too if they're interested in a career in STEM.”

“You don't need to be the best person at maths or science. You just need to have an interest in these areas and there's so much more than just the numbers. Engineering can take you anywhere, there's so many opportunities out there. It's a great career to consider.”

 This podcast is proudly sponsored by Schneider Electric

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