Paige BrookerYour name and position?
My name is Paige Brooker and I am a PhD Candidate within the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.

What have been your key career achievements?
While I am still developing my profile as an academic, my most notable achievement to date is the timely completion of a large clinical trial with 100 participants. The success of this trial has led to the development of connections with national and international collaborators. In fact, I have recently returned from a site visit to the University of Cape Town where I spent some time analysing blood samples I collected from my PhD, supported by the prestigious Dr Alf Howard International Travel Scholarship, awarded through the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences. That was definitely one of the perks for all the hard work!

Have you faced any barriers as a woman?
The numbers (or lack) of women in STEM are pretty telling; it is clear there are roles which are more targeted to, or favour, males. Before commencing my PhD, I worked for a large cooperative in the farming sector. Coming from an independent all-girls school where the principal instilled female empowerment and encouraged us with phrases like “I don’t want you to run with the boys, I want you to beat them!”, it was somewhat confronting entering the workforce in a male-dominated industry. I noticed that few females held positions of power, and men commanded the seats around the conference table, and were seen as the key decision makers. I can’t say that I have faced any particular barriers as a woman, but bearing witness to this was shocking to me, but normal to my (female) colleagues who did not receive the same words of encouragement as I did at school. There are definitely gender-stereotypes and, they can stem from our environment and what we view as ‘normal’. Jamila Rizvi, author of Not Just Lucky, asked a young boy if he would like to be in charge of the whole country (during Julia Gillard’s reign as PM), to which he replied ‘no, because that’s a girl’s job!’

What areas are you particularly passionate about that you would like to see change for women in the future?
To me, one of the biggest issues facing women in the workforce (once they are in the workforce!) is being faced with the ‘choice’ between children versus career. It is of belief that, particularly in academia, if you want to be successful, at some point you will probably need to make that choice. That is, of course, my opinion, but I think we really need to focus on changing that perception and creating a more supportive environment so women don’t have to make such sacrifices. It’s hard enough securing a job and working your way up the chain, to then jeopardise that by taking some time off. With smart phones and work computers, the 40-hour work week is somewhat lost, so taking 6- or 12-months off is more like double that time, especially in academia where you need to stay up to date with literature to survive!

Can you suggest how young women, at any stage of their career or study, can overcome barriers and progress towards gender parity?
It sounds cliché, but we really need to work together. It is great to see so many women, of all ages, come together in solidarity for the women’s day march and similar events, but when it comes to the workplace, I don’t think us ladies necessarily have each other’s backs. It’s not because we are all evil or jealous, but I think we are subconsciously aware that job prospects are already limited for females, so perhaps adding another female to the mix will throw off the balance and we feel more threatened because we are almost set up to compete against each other, like we feel there is a quota for women or something.

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