Women in STEM leadership program to go national

The Brandon Capital managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) has received funding to roll out the Women in Leadership Development (WILD) program nationally.

The program was established to increase female participation in the most senior STEM leadership positions. It has received over $1 million from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women.

Australian jobs in STEM are growing faster than any other sector. Yet women still only account for 16 per cent of the STEM workforce and 3 per cent of STEM executives and CEOs.

The WILD program was founded by three PhD qualified women – Dr Nadine Brew (general manager, Cincera Therapeutics), Dr Lauren Giorgio (chief operating officer, GPN Vaccines) and Dr Udani Reets (director partnerships, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre).

“Australia has so many remarkable women working in STEM but too often they face significant barriers to progressing to the most senior levels,” said Dr Reets.

“All of the WILD founders have had our own experiences witnessing first-hand the barriers faced by women wanting to move up the ranks and the program was created to provide tangible solutions to address these.

“In addition to a shortage of positive role models and a culture of unconscious bias, the cost of training and poor pathways to promotion are the main barriers that we have identified.”

The federal government funding will be used to roll out the program nationally following a successful pilot in Victoria in 2019.

Twenty women joined the pilot with more than 40 per cent of participants experiencing career progression while doing the course. It is anticipated that 25 women will participate in the program each year over the next three years with the first cohort to be selected by the end of this year, to commence in early 2022.

“The program focuses on providing director and leadership training and board mentorship, and it also builds a community of female leaders in the industry and creates networking opportunities. Aiming to have 100 women complete the program will have a significant impact on the Australian STEM sector and increase female representation at the executive and board levels,” added Dr Giorgio.

The WILD program consists of three parts – completing recognised governance training, an executive leadership retreat and participation in board meetings for a STEM-related company so as to gain mentorship and firsthand experience working in a senior management setting.

Marthe D’Ombrain, the senior director and head of Global Research Innovation at ‎CSL, participated in the 2019 pilot. “Taking part in the WILD Program was an extremely rewarding experience. The program gave me more confidence but also provided access to a community of women in the industry who were willing to share their valuable insights, expertise and skillsets with the wider group,” she said.

MRCF CEO Dr Chris Nave said there is an industry-wide diversity problem that needs to be addressed. “The reality is that not enough of our brightest young women are choosing careers in STEM, and those that do face unacceptable barriers to progression. It is our hope that this program can start to break down some of those barriers. The extremely positive results from the 2019 pilot are exciting and we hope to see these multiply as we roll out the program nationally.”

The Brandon Capital-managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) was one of 60 organisations across the country to receive $39.8m under the Women’s Leadership and Development Program. It is estimated the funding will benefit around 40,000 Australian women nationwide.

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