International Women’s Day with Luisa Panuccio

Every single person deserves to feel physically and mentally safe at work. I know from personal experience that this is not the case for women in STEM.
Happy International Women’s Day! Or is it?

Now more than ever, we’re finding that there is a shortage of women in STEM. We came across this tweet recently from the wonderful Lee Constable that perfectly encompassed the state of our industry when it comes to representation:

“If we only talk about “getting girls interested in STEM careers” but we don’t address the bullying, sexual assault, and misogyny rife in STEM workplaces, we are doing those girls a disservice.”

It’s all well and good to talk about #BreakingTheBias, but how can we, as an industry, address the dismal 12% of female participation across engineering alone? How can we walk the talk better, and, in the process, create a better, safer, more diverse landscape for women in STEM? 

As recruiters, we have a responsibility to our candidates and clients alike to recruit a space that is diverse and equitable for all, and that starts with opening up a critical – sometimes difficult – conversation.

We chatted with the incredible Luisa Panuccio, Project Manager at TSA Management, seconded to Arup, the Founder of STEM at HOME, and all-round inspiration for young women.

luisa panuccio
Luisa Panuccio, Founder of STEM at Home

What is your name, and your preferred pronouns?
Luisa (she/her)

What is your best advice for girls and women looking to pursue a career in STEM?
My top tip for girls and women looking to pursue a career in STEM is to reach out and find mentors already working in STEM. I really underestimated the value of a mentor while I was studying engineering and even in the first few years of my career.

Have you ever personally faced bullying, misogyny, or sexual harassment in this industry?
Like many women in STEM, I have faced bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment since I started working as an engineer. I quit my first job because of sexual harassment from a male senior manager and more recently, I quit and moved states because of the bullying and misogynistic behaviour that I experienced from a male manager while I was on secondment to his team.

I spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom and small meetings rooms after repeatedly being told that I was not worth my hourly rate and threatened that if I did not take a permanent position (at a significantly lower salary) that my contract would be ended without notice. I then resigned, announced that I would be moving to Melbourne and reported how he had treated me. After being told-off, he approached me at our team Christmas party and started crying noting that he was only messing around.

Bullying and misogynistic behaviour is not messing around, it is harassment and a major reason why women leave STEM careers despite working so hard to get there in the first place.

If you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?
Every single person deserves to feel physically and mentally safe at work. I know from personal experience that this is not the case for women in STEM. If this does not change, then the gender gap will not change because women will continue to leave the industry.

Are there systems that you believe should be in place to create a safer environment for young women in STEM? 
Organisations need to go well beyond generic online modules about bullying and sexual harassment. 

As a start, organisations need to speak to the women that already work for them and listen to their experiences. With that information in hand, organisations need to fire and formally report known offenders.

It would seem that organisations think that by protecting offenders they are protecting their brand. In reality, people talk and so organisations that protect offenders for fear of “opening a can of worms” are actually destroying their brand through word of mouth and even more so through a loss of talent, because women will continue to resign.

If you could talk to your graduate self today, what would you tell her?
The most important piece of advice that I could give to my graduate self is to formally report every single experience of bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment. You are not overreacting and they cannot get away with it, because otherwise they will do it again.

You can follow Luisa on Instagram at @StemAtHome_, or connect with her on LinkedIn here.