Tag: feminism

Looking to the future: talk 11/8/16

What follows is the slightly edited text from a talk I gave on Thursday the 11th of August, as part of an event between WISE and ExxonMobil.

“It’s such an incredible pleasure to see our members here with brilliant women from ExxonMobil. My talk will be slightly aimed more towards the students, but it will hopefully include ideas everyone can get behind.

For the students among us, we haven’t really entered the real world yet. We’ve completed high school and suffered all the injustices that your teenage years and early 20s provide and certainly we can enter bars (mostly) and gamble and get our democracy sausage  but universities are often a small-l liberal bubble – the large-l liberal youth branch notwithstanding.

What kind of issues exist within this small l liberal bubble? Well it’s things like the informal mentoring and sponsorship that men often benefit from. It’s how men assume they’re smarter than their female classmates. It’s the social pressures that mean the involvement of women in undergraduate computer science degrees peaked in the eighties and has since declined. Women made up 37% of comp sci undergrads in 1985. In 2012, that was 18%. It’s the social pressures that means I first got the Grandchildren Talk at 20. As a queer woman, I’ve had precisely zero role models for the bulk of my scientific journey but if you’re a white man you’ve got a glut of them.

Having said all that, this is a bubble – we are safer and more respected within this space and it’s associated with our ability to choose the spaces and people we interact with. You’ve chosen WISE, which was a great start. That isn’t a luxury that’s necessarily available or encouraged when you get straight out of university. We all know how bad the job market is – who here is confident of getting a job when we graduate?

There’s a feeling that you have to take what you can get and keep your head down. It’s a big jump into the workforce from university and nobody wants to make a splash. Because after all, it’s one thing to be a woman in a STEM degree. It’s another thing to be a young woman in STEM career.

There are ways to bridge that gap. Workplaces will have an HR induction that should clearly detail things like complaints policy – and you’re never so far down the pecking order to invalidate your complaints. It often feels like there’s a pressure to call out sexism or feel like we’ve betrayed the sisterhood. This pressure can fall on young women, with ideas like the “generational shift in thinking” which is meant to incrementally close the pay gap at some point around 2075. Or, if you’re staying in Australia, the gender pay gap increased from 15 to 17.5% between 2005 and 2013, and this year according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, it’s 19.1%. That’s ridiculous.

Young people need to be more politically engaged, young women need to be more outspoken, we need to ask for more, actively seek out mentors, surely we can just lean in – I’m sure so much of this room has heard a variety of one or all of these. But sometimes calling out sexism, or working yourself to the bone, or being an activist is honestly not worth it. The entirety of women’s rights doesn’t rest on our shoulders and sometimes we’re not safe or able to call something out without risk. Never compromise your safety for ideals.

Having said that, I do enjoy calling out sexism. Some of my favourite ways involve being a bit sarcastic, maybe leaning back and going “is that… is that right?”, “huh”, or “That sure is an opinion, and you definitely have it.”

But in all honesty, transitioning to the workforce isn’t just being punched in the face with sexism, homophobia, and racism – things which during my brief foray into the working world I have watched or experienced, and that’s in New ZealandNew Zealand is like a less terrible Australia. But it isn’t just that – it’s things like finally having money, not having homework (unless you do law which, why did you do law), it’s cool older friends, working out what you want from life, and maybe starting to take a multivitamin like a real adult. It’s fun!

It’s just scary, and that applies to an extent to all changes you make from safety to newness. It is confusing the first time a colleague queries borderline aggressively into your personal life, and colleagues of mine now get subtly asked if they’re planning a family soon. I get the added difficulty that it’s likely my partners will be female so talking about personal life is this balancing act of trying to work out if you’re homophobic before letting anything slip.

But what are we likely to face in our future?

  • We’re likely to face jobs that aren’t necessarily in STEM. There was a recent news article about how science degrees were not great degrees, which realistically read like someone bitter that their law degree didn’t handhold them right into a partnership. STEM degrees qualify us to research effectively, to problem solve, and to think critically – and that’s applicable far beyond strict STEM careers.
  • Unless something dramatically changes, we’re not likely to see equity in parliament.
  • We’re probably going to continue to be higher-qualified and get better marks than men.
  • Amazing trailblazing women are going to continue to push for pay transparency, because that will be the easiest way to get paid the same as men very quickly.
  • The discussion about feminism will becoming increasingly mainstream. The difference even since 2009 in how easily feminism, the wage gap, gender-based issues will be discussed as a real issue rather than relegated to extremist, bra-burning lesbians.
  • Beyoncé will continue to be a beautiful feminist icon.
  • We’re going to have way more female astronauts – the groundwork is already there to fill space with women.
  • The rates of reporting of sexual violence will likely continue to increase. That means we won’t really know if the actual rates are going up or down – which is beside the point because they’re disgustingly high – but reporting might mean that things change.
  • We aren’t likely to have long-term jobs. The average job length for a millennial is 3-5 years. This means if you have a bad work environment, or boss that’s not good, you can shift jobs and that’s becoming normalised.  We’re also likely to change careers a lot, so you can chill on that immediate post-university choice.
  • We’ll have more control of our fertility and bodies than ever before (unless you go to the USA).
  • Thanks to the connectivity of the world and the democratisation of storytelling (thanks, twitter), we’re going to have more access to inspirations, mentors, and women who accurately reflect us. We’re not going to have to fight the way people even 30 years older than us did.

The women who went before us changed a lot of the world which meant we aren’t going to have to fight for the right to work while married, for the ability to do what we want. The future can seem stressful and bad but the world is changing – for the better. And that’s great.”

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The panelists at the event where this talk was given. Names above refer to panelists, right to left. Photo thanks to Jess Vovers.

Day for Days for Girls

About a week ago (5th December), myself and esteemed WISE president Jess Vovers, headed along to a Days for Girls fundraiser at the Fitzroy bowling club. The fundraiser was run by Isabel Zbukvic, a Tweep I was getting the opportunity to meet in the flesh, and it featured some of the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten.

Days for Girls is a non-profit organisation that creates and distributes feminine hygiene packs to people who need them. Each hygiene kit includes absorbent pads, soap, zip-lock bags, moisture shields – everything needed to learning and working while menstruating.

Most women bleed a lot, and in the first world with our scented disposable pads and our moon cups and our (relative) lack of stigma we can forget how much of a difference it would make if we could’t attend school or work for all of those days. I was annoyed and inhibited enough by my (roughly) two days off a month due to suspected endometriosis. Triple that to get the time many girls and women are losing from school and work. That’s not an insignificant dent in learning, earning, and functioning, and it helps explain why women are more likely to be in poverty worldwide.

You can volunteer to make your own but as my sewing ability begins and ends with hems and buttons, I’m more than happy to shell out a few dollars for a feed and bowling. The spread was glorious, featuring donations from  Organic Wholefoods, Mayfield Café and Babka Bakery – and a potato salad that may have changed my life. Isabel made a lot of the food herself, including some quality tzatziki and hummus, and deserves ongoing congratulations for a successful event.

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The potato salad is second from the right, third from the bottom.
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Rachel Zbukvic and Millie O’Sullivan provided the music. Photo by Jess Vovers.
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Natalia gets her bowl on. Photo by Jess Vovers.

The weather pitched in, bowls were bowled (at the Fitzroy Victoria Bowling & Sports Club), music was provided, and far too much food was eaten. I met great people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and had a relaxing afternoon outside.

It can feel a little bit like slacktivism to have a great afternoon while at the same time helping get menstruating people out of poverty. But really it just isn’t that hard to create meaningful change. It can be as simple as picking up a pair of underwear next time you go to the supermarket.

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Days for Girls are a great cause, and I thoroughly recommend liking their Facebook page and watching out for the next fundraising event they have near you. They’ve made it easy to make a difference – take advantage of that.

Robogalsa!

Last Friday the 27th of November a group of us from WISE headed along to the end of year event for Robogals, the Robogals Industry Gala (RIG).

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From left: Wakiuru Wohoro (WISE Vice President 2015), Jess Vovers (WISE President 2015), Sophia Frentz (WISE Secretary 2015)

Robogals was founded in Melbourne 2008 by Marita Cheng, the 2012 Young Australian of the Year. It has subsequently spread to 32 chapters worldwide. The Melbourne chapter is the oldest and is sponsored by Caterpillar, NAB, and Training Systems Australia. All the members buzz with enthusiasm for the Robogals mission – to help young girls explore engineering, build robots, and become confident in their passions and skills.

Robogals is only getting more popular. In 2015 they trained 76 new volunteers for schools outreach and taught over 1500 students, and haven’t even finished! 2016 looks even bigger, and gender equity in STEM is a hot button topic for everyone. The incumbent president, Qalissa Othman, is capable, passionate, and brilliant. She is certain to rise to any and all opportunities the new year will bring her and her team.

The gala was hosted in the NAB village. NAB support services technology general manager Dayle Stevens spoke about her involvement with both Robogals and the NAB program for Women in Technology. NAB aims to be an employer of choice for Women in Technology, and is making great strides in that field external to their support of Robogals.

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Dayle Stevens talks about her interactions with Robogals and the NAB Women in Technology Program

The evening was fantastic – a great mix of people, from Robogals, WISE, Research Bazaar, NAB, Silicon Beach, and many more. The event married promotion of women in STEM, education, networking, and playing with robots incredibly effectively. Personally, it’s always been a life goal to wear a pretty dress and play with robots at the same time.

If you’re interested in being involved with Robogals or want to keep up with what they’re up to, like their facebook page and get in touch to find your local chapter.

 

Junket

Junket 2015 : 200 youth leaders in Australia (including yours truly) get whisked away to the QT Canberra to solve problems. Ideally, they’ll solve the biggest problems facing Australia today. It’s invite-only; you could only “buy” your way in with ideas.

I cried when I got the email inviting me out of the blue (sent to the WISE inbox), nearly tried to convince the current WISE president that the email was actually meant for her, and looked at the email about fifty times over the next two days to ensure it was real. I carefully didn’t mention that I’m a New Zealander.

I’ve seen enough startups that claim they will solve the world (or even just fill a niche) be impractical and overly optimistic and frankly grating with their buzzwords. I wasn’t super hopeful that hashtag junket was going to be any different – even when I signed up to the conference-specific app it seemed like everyone was more enthusiastic/less moderately jaded than me. I felt it was going to be an impractical love-fest full of people saying words like “disruptive”, “agile” and “lean”, but food was provided, and free food will get me just about anywhere.

a bowl full of donuts with a greeting card welcoming Ms Frentz to the QT Canberra
An example of the free food with which I can be bribed places

I cannot explain to you exactly how different it was.

It was a love-fest, sure – everyone was always excited to see you and keen to talk to you about who you are and what you’re doing. But it was practical. It was grounded. On the second day we had five hour-long sessions, with 11 options for each one, and every single one asked for practical action points at the end.

A lot of the sessions had people working in the field of interest, from arts to the sciences to education to indigenous issues to medicine; the list goes on. This meant that people took action points back to their work and can start putting ideas in place as early as this week. But it gets better than that.

Every person there was doing good things. It was an experience reminiscent of the International Biology Olympiad to me – I’d found my people. These were hyper-intelligent polymath overachievers with a social conscience the size of a bus. The core of Junket was the fact that people who wouldn’t have otherwise met were brought together to discuss things that mattered to us. I met other people who care about women in STEM, who think the social norm that is university is kind of bullshit, a volunteer for the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, queer activists, mental health activists, engineers, scientists, dancers, artists, all full of energy and passion.

I not only pitched about women in STEM at the opening night, but ran a session and pitched about a women in STEM students network in an actual elevator. I’ve got about three pages of my own notes as well as the write-up Junkee is going to supply to start taking action on. Everyone had really good ideas and I’m looking forward to putting them in action. Watch this space, I guess, but not too closely – I still need to recover.

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Scene from the opening night at Junket

While I’d love to focus on the content of the sessions or discuss the disconnect between corporate sponsors and social justice that is apparently a Big Deal but 100% doesn’t seem incongruous to me, that would bust this blog post out to thousands of words. Junkee.com will be writing articles on it over the next few weeks.

What surprised me the most about Junket, what mattered the most about Junket, was that I felt comfortable to be fully honest about myself and my experiences. In my daily life there’s a lot of things I don’t share, neglect to mention, avoid discussing – even with you, public forum of the Internet. I try to fit in and in doing so become a version of myself. I did not do this at Junket; there was no need.

At Junket I was open and honest. I was challenged and inspired. I was reinvigorated and changed and it was fantastic.

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Final family photo at  #junket 2015 – photo shamelessly stolen from Jess Scully (curator of Junket 2015 and probably now my personal hero)