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How Businesses Can Really Support Women in STEM

As part of Vogue Codes series of events, Pip Marlow, CEO of Salesforce ANZ/ASEAN, joined Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief Edwina McCann to discuss how businesses can create a culture to support women in STEM. Here, Pip shares her thoughts.

The absence of a female lens on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), is having detrimental, long-term effects on society as a whole. 

Let me give you an example by taking gender out of it: imagine if infrastructure was exclusively designed by, and for, very tall people. It would be extremely frustrating, sometimes useless, and often dangerous, for other *ahem* shorter people in society (think reaching doorknobs, accessing top cabinets, or walking up and down stairs). 

Now adding the gender lens back in, we can give you an example where male-dominated design has a more serious effect.

Tragically, women are 47% more likely to suffer serious injury and 17% more likely to die in a car crash than men. Why? Partly because crash test dummies and data that defines many of the safety factors in modern cars are developed around the male form. 

This lack of diversity when applied to design is just one example of the many areas across  STEM where diverse perspectives are an imperative.

So why do these design issues continue to occur? And what can leaders do to take action?

Pip Marlow on stage with Vogue Editor-In-Chief Edwina McCann. Photo by Lucas Jarvis via Vogue Australia

Driving systemic change towards female representation in STEM

We’ve known for a long time about the need for support across gender diversity in STEM, but never has the ‘why’ been so clear.  

Girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and maths throughout their education, limiting their training and options to explore these fields as adults.

In Australia, women make up less than a quarter of students studying STEM, and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in university. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering. 

As a leader, I choose to challenge other leaders to leverage data within their own businesses to understand and identify where their policies could systematically be discouraging women from beginning or advancing in STEM roles.  

As a mother, I choose to challenge the public education system to make STEM subjects visible and available to girls, by providing equal encouragement, opportunity, and support for young women to explore STEM subjects and understand what a STEM career might look like. And, once young women have been placed into roles after university, we must make sure the programs and support they need are available to nurture them throughout their careers.

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Role models matter

I truly believe in the power of mentorship. Not only because it gives me new perspectives and insights to consider in the way that I work as a leader, but also because it gives me the opportunity to encourage, educate, and inspire the future leaders of Australia and New Zealand.

Historically, there has been a lack of formal support for women within organisations. That’s why we launched the Salesforce Women’s Network in 2008 to amplify the progress of female Salesforce employees across the world, at every step of their journey. It centres around professional and personal development, allyship, mentoring opportunities, supportive connections, and taking action on gender equality. 

We’ve also been working hard on increasing our visibility and opportunities for female leadership in the field of tech, so we can improve our mentorship experiences. We started by looking at boosting the numbers of our global female workforce, which has been increased to 33%, from 30.9% last year. Globally, in the past two years, women in leadership positions increased from 23.7% to 25.5%. Locally, my own Australia and New Zealand leadership team is made up of six females and five males. 

Across Australia and New Zealand, we’re committed to making an impact in our communities as well. Students from all backgrounds must have equal education and workplace opportunities. That’s why, at the start of this year, we committed $1 million in grants to CareerTrackers to support Indigenous high school students complete year 12, and to Schools Plus to help bring STEM skills and mindsets into the classrooms. And our partnership with TupuToa has led to one of our TupuToa interns securing a full-time role as a Solutions Engineer — an inspiration for other Māori and Pacific women in STEM. 

But, we realise that we don’t have all the answers — there’s so much more we can do. We’re attacking this complex problem on a number of fronts to support women in STEM, and to further our organisation’s values around equality.

Embrace digital skills

For inspiration, we only have to turn to our own Salesforce community — Golden Hoodie recipient, Jessica Macpherson, founder of St Kilda Mums in Melbourne. 

When she launched the nonprofit, Jessica worked with Salesforce to help keep track of families and equipment. She constantly upskilled herself. When growth occurred, her systems were naturally scalable.

Most importantly, she publicly dedicated herself to creating change for women in STEM. She made that change a driving purpose of her business, a reason for being. As a result, in everything Jessica did, she would naturally and strategically create opportunities for other women.

Jessica’s recognition of the tech skills gap and obsession with creating a solution through training and upskilling, of women specifically, provides access to the right training, and gives women greater control of their own career destinies.

Jessica Macpherson outside St Kilda Mums. Photo credit: Photo credit: Blaze Your Trail

In 2021 the Order of Australia recipient launched Blaze Your Trail, a social enterprise offering consultancy services around fundraising and the use of technology. Over 200 people, mainly mums and migrant workers who have volunteered within her programs and gained valuable tech knowledge along the way, have gone on to secure meaningful, well-paid jobs.

So if one person can help over 200 people, mostly women, to skill up and find jobs in technology, what can your business do?

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Pip Marlow CEO, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand

Pip Marlow is Chief Executive Officer, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand. In this role, Pip is responsible for ensuring Salesforce delivers on its values of trust, customer success, innovation and equality for both our customers and our community across Australia and New Zealand. Prior to Salesforce, Pip was Chief Executive Officer Customer Marketplace at Suncorp, where she was responsible for driving customer focus into all aspects of Suncorp’s business including strategy, customer care, partnerships and innovative solutions that add value for customers. Prior to joining Suncorp in 2016, Pip was at Microsoft for 21 years where she held a number of roles for them in Australia and the USA. This culminated in her role as the Managing Director of Microsoft Australia for 6 years. Pip is also a non-executive director of the Rugby Australia (ARU), sits on the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Board at UTS,  is a member of Chief Executive Women (CEW), and is an Executive Ally for Pride Diversity. She is a passionate advocate for flexible and diverse workplaces that empower people. Born and  raised in New Zealand, Pip lives in Sydney with her Scottish husband and her two American born daughters, Sophie and Lucy.

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