Women in STEM pave way for SRL progress

Victoria’s biggest ever infrastructure project, the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL), is helping change the face of the state’s construction and engineering industries, by attracting more women from the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.

Currently in Australia, females make up just 16 per cent of engineering graduates and 13 per cent of the engineering workforce. SRL will create a long-term pipeline of work, supporting up to 24,000 local jobs and helping train the next generation of skilled workers – with more training and job opportunities for women.

More than 40 per cent of Suburban Rail Loop Authority (SRLA) employees are women, including 50 per cent in senior management roles, with the organisation actively recruiting women into graduate programs and supporting experienced women to thrive through development and leadership programs.

Construction of SRL East between Cheltenham and Box Hill kicked off in June 2022, starting a massive program of initial and early works which will create up to 800 early local jobs. At least 14 per cent of total hours during this phase of construction will be worked by apprentices, trainees or cadets, with opportunities for women, Indigenous and disadvantaged Victorians.

Kate O’Donnel 

Kate is an intern with the SRL environment team with managing contractor Laing O’Rourke and will complete her Environmental Engineering degree at Monash University next year.

As a student, she is keenly aware of the benefits SRL will bring to future students at her campus.

Kate O’Donnel.

“Tens of thousands of students currently travel to campus in cars, trawling for carparks. Once the SRL station at Monash is open, it’s going to make such an improvement to travel time and accessibility, but will also reduce the damaging environmental impacts of so many students driving their cars,” she said.

In choosing her career, Kate knew she was heading into a male-dominated sector.

“On day one at uni, I became immediately conscious that I was in the minority. I’m not sure of the actual stats, but it feels like a 10 to 1 ratio when it comes to men to women. You do feel like you stick out a bit,” she said.

Kate has taken classes in geology, groundwater analysis, air quality monitoring, recycling, and building sustainability.

When joining the intern program, Kate admits to feeling apprehensive about her first day.

“I mentally prepared myself to meet a team of stereotypical ‘blokey’ blokes, but when I first arrived, I was taken aback by how many women there are in the office,” she said.

Asked about her aspiration for women in the infrastructure industry, Kate stresses the importance of women continuing to be actively welcomed.

“As a woman in STEM, there are great career prospects. I would like to see women continue to be encouraged in this space, in the same way that I’ve been,” she said.

Madison Carty

Madison is in her fourth year of Civil Engineering at RMIT University and she is an intern in Laing O’Rourke’s SRL team.

She is getting hands-on experience in the SRL delivery team, and she works closely with associate teams managing the project’s utilities, traffic management and environment.

“Being here helps me to understand the scale of a project like SRL – it’s big and there’s so much to be done to make it happen,” she said.

“As someone starting my career in engineering, it’s amazing to understand the lasting impact engineers can have on a city, and to think about how transformative this project will be for Victoria

“Seeing other women as engineers and leaders has made a real impact on me. My own manager is female.

“A welcoming environment is so important. We’ve certainly got that here, and that includes the male engineers I’m working with.”

This feature first appeared in Rail Express.

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