Engineer Dr Francesca Maclean is using her platform to raise the profile of women in engineering and encourage others to step up as industry leaders.
Dr Francesca Maclean, the youngest and only private sector representative of the inaugural Superstars of STEM program, was in two minds about whether to apply for the opportunity.
When the request for expressions of interest was released last year, Maclean was yet to have her engineering PhD thesis accepted, so did not meet the requirement of holding a doctoral degree.
A mentor convinced Maclean that she had nothing to lose by applying, so she took the plunge and hasn’t looked back.
“I didn’t satisfy the requirements 100 per cent, but I’ve learned that you should apply even if you think you have no shot, as it gives you the chance to articulate what is important about your work to other people,” Maclean told create.
Maclean, whose career has already encompassed academia and commercial consulting, describes herself as purpose driven.
“I really need to be able to see that what I am doing matters,” she said.
Maclean said this attitude is common among millenials. When she was working as a university tutor, she came across students who – at the age of 21 – were giving up job offers in technical firms in favour of non-traditional roles based on their values.
“If companies are not tapping into this now, they will need to decide or they will be left behind,” Maclean said.
Fostering diversity and inclusion
Originally from Darwin, Maclean relocated to Canberra to study a double degree in engineering and science at Australian National University (ANU). She went onto a PhD researching how tissue engineering could repair injured brains.
During her PhD, Maclean struggled with a lack of female role models. While her entire lab group was made up of women, there were no more senior female researchers in her building.
In response she founded Fifty50 – a student-led university organisation to bridge the gap between support for high-school students to enter technical fields and gender equity initiatives in graduate recruiting.
“It focuses on the uni experience and the transition to academia or industry,” explained Maclean, whose work with Fifty50 earned her the 2017 ACT Young Woman of the Year Award.
Maclean hopes that in 10 years or less programs like Fifty50 won’t be needed.
“It should be built into the student experience,” she said.
After completing her PhD, Maclean wanted to work in industry. Dr Robert Care, former head of Arup in Australasia, sold Maclean on the company’s ethos to ‘shape a better world’, and she became a consultant one week after her PhD was submitted.
As well as consulting at Arup, Maclean is an Engineer in Residence at Swinburne University’s Bachelor of Engineering Practice, which is a practice-based course run like a mini engineering firm within the university.
“They come in as associates, not students, and work on projects from day one,” Maclean explained.
Maclean’s role is to make diversity and inclusion a part of the curriculum, and she is soon to run a course called Embracing and Valuing Differences.
In the public eye
Maclean has recently graduated from the Superstars of STEM program, which was started by Science & Technology Australia (STA) to mentor women in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields to become visible role models in the quest for gender equity across the professions.
Maclean said the Superstars program allowed her to carve out time to work on and communicate the messages that are important to her. As a result, she has established her own business for speaking engagements, article writing and workshops focused on diversity and inclusion and gender equity.
She is currently working on speaking engagements and workshops that target middle management, whose lack of training in diversity and inclusion is a barrier to achieving gender equity in the workplace.
Maclean encouraged women in engineering who are thinking of applying for programs like the Superstars of STEM program to “just do it” – even if they aren’t sure they will be successful.
“Society and engineering [as a profession] are still challenged by women who self-promote – we need to change that and how we think about promoting ourselves,” Maclean said.