Engineering better opportunities for women

Two early career researchers from the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences (EIS) have joined forces to launch a network aimed at boosting women’s participation in engineering.

Dr Marcella Bernardo Papini and Dr Mainã Portella Garcia, who were both born in Brazil, are keenly aware that – as women – they are in a small minority in any engineering faculty.

They established the Women’s Research Engineers Network (WREN), with the support of EIS Executive Dean Professor Valerie Linton, to address the gender gap and facilitate collaboration between female engineers.

Dr Papini is an Associate Research Fellow at the SMART Infrastructure Facility and Dr Garcia is a Research Fellow with the School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering (MMMB).

Joining them as founding members of WREN are fellow early career researchers Dr Apsara Jayasekara, an Associate Research Fellow at MMMB; Dr Emily Yan, a Research Engineer at the Industry 4.0 Hub and MMMB, and Ms Grace Kennedy, an Associate Research Fellow at SMART.

Even though there has been a lot of effort to reduce gender gaps in academia – UOW is a recipient of the prestigious Athena SWAN Bronze Institution Award from Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), which recognises the commitment to advancing women’s careers in male-dominated disciplines, such as engineering – just 22 per cent of the academics in the EIS faculty are women and most are heavily concentrated at the junior levels.

The proportion dips from 34 per cent at the entry level, to just 12 per cent of women at the most senior grade.

This, says Dr Portella Garcia, has to change.

“This isn’t about us,” she said.

“There is research that shows men get more grants and publish more because they have more international collaboration.

“Since publishing and accessing grants are closely linked to promotion, this gender gap on international collaboration could have long-term impacts on women.”

The researchers are teaming up with the University of São Paulo (USP) to promote collaboration between the two institutions (UOW and USP are partner organisations in the University Global Partnership Network).

“The ultimate aim is to address gender gaps, such as the gender funding gap, by facilitating international collaboration between members of WREN,” Dr Bernardo Papini said.

The six-month project will organise five web seminars between the two universities with a potential audience of more than 500 women academics in engineering disciplines.

In addition, the project will develop a website which will compile a searchable database of female researchers, using their resumes to pair suitable researchers to the right project.

“The network will initially have about 100 members, and WREN has the potential to grow to 1000 women through its expansion to other universities in Australia and Brazil,” Dr Bernardo Papini said.

The two researchers hope that the project will eventually give women across Latin America and Australia equal opportunity that will enable women to achieve the success that is earned by diligent work, everyone on an equal footing.

Dr Portella Garcia’s main research interests include optimisation of alloy design, phase transformation and weldability of high strength steels.

Dr Bernardo Papini’s research interest is the application of Operations Research techniques in transport, logistics and waste management.

The project is supported by the Commonwealth Government through the Council on Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR), which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The council was established by the Federal Government in 2001 to enhance Australia’s economic, political, and social relations with Latin America.

Pictured above: Women’s Research Engineers Network (WREN) members (left to right) Dr Emily Yan (Research Engineer, Industry 4.0 Hub/MMMB), Dr Marcella Papini (Associate Research Fellow, SMART), Ms Grace Kennedy (Associate Research Fellow, SMART), Dr Apsara Jayasekara (Associate Research Fellow, MMMB) and Dr Mainã Portella Garcia (Research Fellow, MMMB).



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