The Bright Future Of Women In STEM

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Growing up, Irene Hsieh was never into tech, or getting her hands dirty. She cared more about makeup and clothes. Hsieh was "okay" in mathematics, enjoyed science and knew she wanted to help people.

Hsieh enrolled into a Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Medical Science, not really sure if it was for her.

Today she is a fourth year student at UTS, where she is the president of the engineering society.

"I'm hoping to start my career in tech," she tells Gizmodo. "From what I've been exposed to, I'm optimistic about my career ahead."

Irene Hsieh

"Through time, meeting the right mentors and having the right conversations I started realising the potential of engineering," Hsieh told Gizmodo Australia. "I realised my context in this world as an engineer and what I could do to fulfil my passions."

Hsieh says she's always drawing inspiration from passionate people she meets.

"Some of the women I look up to are those that are unapologetic of themselves," Hsieh reveals. "I love meeting people who bring themselves to their job and aren't afraid to be quirky, fun, daring, bold, whatever it might be, I think they are killing it."

Hsieh's first mentor taught her to be myself in her work, and in the way she carried herself.

"It was terrifying," Hsieh says. "She showed me it was possible to embrace your strength, weakness, integrity in an industry that can be full of turbulence, interesting characters and stressful situations."

Hsieh strongly believe initiatives, programs - and especially mentors - have been the training wheels to set her up for the journey ahead.

"It's reassuring to know that the dilemmas and challenges you face are normal and there are ways to overcome them."

Hsieh assisted with the Lucy Mentoring Program at UTS, where 50 girls were paired with 50 industry members. "Seeing the growth and synergy is incredible," Hsieh tells me, "I think mentorships are great for the individuals who are involved - it also opens up conversations for everyone, and that's important."

Hsieh says she is "forever grateful" for the women in engineering community.

"That was my cradle," she says. "This year, I've tried to step outside and start conversations in the mainstream crowd."

Hsieh has tried to hear her male friends speak their thoughts over beer "without interruption".

"And I'm learning a lot," she says. "What I've tried to do is listen and understand where they are coming from."

"It's important that when addressing diversity, we remain inclusive."

Hsieh recently toured the inclusion lab at Microsoft Headquarters. There, she examined how to create inclusive gaming designs for individuals with disabilities.

"It was interesting to apply an inclusive mindset on different groups of minorities and cross-pollinating ideas and strategies," Hsieh says.

"A quote I picked up from the lab was 'When you do not intentionally, deliberately include … you will unintentionally exclude.' I've learned since to make a conscious effort to be inclusive when making decisions and having conversations that will impact others."

Hsieh point out some amazing initiatives at local, national and international levels, too.

"I've been privileged to be part of UTS: Women in Engineering and IT at my university, the Zonta Club and the Women in Engineering committee from Engineers Australia," she says. "These are all great initiative that have helped countless young female engineers at tertiary education and beyond."

While there are plenty on initiatives happening inside the tech industry, Hsieh says outsiders can help, too.

"Be supportive of younger females," she advises. "Neither of my parents were engineers or are in the tech industry - however they were very supportive of my goals and failures."

In a society where young girls don't have much exposure to engineering or have pressures to conform to societal expectations, Hsieh says one of the best things you can do is to encourage them to take an interest in something technical. Tell them it's okay to be nerdy, to be bold, to be ambitious, be proud of what they have an interest in.

Hsieh believes the future looks bright for young women.

"For females now, it's better than what it was before," Hsieh says. "Looking back, I am grateful for the milestones the previous generation have achieved. As the STEM community, we have gone a long way pushing for gender equality and optimistically, I am confident we will go even further."

But the one thing she'd like to see changed?

"The perception of females in senior positions."

"It's not attractive to young people when their female role models, who are as assertive as their male co-worker, are labelled as 'bossy' or 'controlling'. I would like to see a cultural change in the way we embrace females in senior positions."