First up in our daily series is Dharmica Mistry from Cicada Innovations who shared her views with Rachel Hooke.

Please describe your role, and how your career has progressed through your industry.

I am a scientist by trade who has made the transition into the commercial world.

I started out as a laboratory technician and through a series of events I came up with a discovery that shaped my career. As a result, I became founding scientist of a medtech startup, BCAL Diagnostics, where I was developing a revolutionary blood test for the detection of breast cancer. I spent a decade trying to bring my small research idea to life and went from science to business quite exponentially. As Chief Scientist I had to arm myself with more than just scientific skills to succeed. It was a steep learning curve but allowed me to be multiskilled and successfully navigate the membrane between academia and industry.

I am now Medtech Program Manager at Cicada Innovations, Australia's pioneer deep tech incubator. In this role I am helping to support the medical innovation ecosystem through a number of programs and also assisting and mentoring other researchers to commercialise their impactful ideas. I also remain as Scientific Advisor at BCAL Diagnostics.

Over the years I have been a role model and voice for women in STEM. I am a mentor to students and startups. I am a supporter of translational and impact driven research.

I have gone from a scientist to an entrepreneur, to a senior executive to an advocate, to an advisor.

If a gender equality issue was to occur in your industry or workplace, what do you think is the best way to address this?

By being bold and taking action. We should always be challenging the stereotypes and raising the bar for equality on all levels. By setting a fair work culture from the top to the bottom and all the levels in between.
This could mean the hard decision to re-evaluate duties and roles and re-assess those in senior and leadership positions.

The best way is to speak to employees and truly understand them as people, not just worker bees. There shouldn’t be gender pay gaps. Period. There should be equal flexible working conditions and parental leave. Any parent, male or female, needs to be able to contribute to their home life. We also need to be approachable and objective about sensitive issues in the workplace such as harassment and take swift, appropriate action.

“Collective individualism” is an important part of this year’s theme, why do you believe individualism is important for gender equality?

This is important because as humans we are all very different. We come from different experiences and cultures and this shapes us all uniquely. As humans we are also multi-faceted and all employees have more than just their professional role to manage. We need to stop pigeonholing people and understand their wider commitments and objectives to retain successful, content and productive workplaces.

Women by their nature are less confident and more subject to imposter syndrome. They are less likely to ask for what they deserve and more likely to wait until they think they should. Men can be quite the opposite. We need to shift the way we manage teams, promote people and reward people to be more inclusive of this.

".....By allowing individuals on a team to bat to their strengths and then celebrating their successes, we can let them shine. By providing an inclusive workplace that shows how much you value your team members, you maintain loyalty and motivation."

Conversely, for those that do not pull their weight, it’s an incentive to work harder. So often we see one person getting credit for the work of a collective. This is changing and so it should! People should be rewarded for their input no matter how small or large and with credit where credit is due.

In another context, working as a collective allows us to have a bigger voice. Having a bigger voice allows us to make a change and call for action. There is still so much work we need to do in this space and by working together we are more likely to succeed in doing that.

How do you celebrate women in your workplace and make a positive difference throughout the year?

Acknowledgement. It is the smallest and simplest step in the right direction. We should acknowledge those who deserve it all year round. Boosting those that won’t speak up for themselves when they truly deserve it.
Truly supporting other women. This seems obvious but it doesn’t always happen and that is a sad fact. We should build a strong trust and network between us as women and work hand in hand.

Cicada Innovations hosts female centric events which showcase women in leadership and celebrate women in the STEM disciplines. For me personally, giving a shout out to women who have achieved incredible things, have helped me to get things done or even just those who are doing everything they can to manage the juggle is something I practice each day.

How do you motivate others to achieve gender equality?

  • By being a living example.
  • By being bold and speaking up when it is required.
  • By asking for what I want.
  • By standing up for myself when the situation is complicated and threatening.
  • By doing what is right for everyone, not just right for me.

As a full time working mother it’s a juggle. I never feel like I have it under control and I am as honest as I can be about that. I couldn’t do it without an inclusive work environment and a supportive partner and family.