Systematiq’s women are breaking barriers to lead the way forward

Maria Montealegre joined Systematiq in December last year as a Project Manager and Systems Engineer. Growing up in Colombia, Maria was passionate about computers and software and was inspired by the work her father did as a Systems Engineer. Reading articles that spoke about the work Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did, further motivated her to finish her studies in engineering, despite being part of a cohort that comprised 90% males.

In the next 20 years after graduating with an engineering degree, Maria went on to take up various roles where she gained progressive experience in HR, Finance, and project management across the defence industry and multi-national corporate organisations. Some of the key projects Maria has supported include the Shipbuilding Management Services (SMS) program and the Through Life Support project of The Australian naval vessels (LHD).

Leading by example

With a career trajectory that has had one common theme throughout – the determination and the will to do more – Maria strives to be a role model for her daughter and for all the young women in Australia who wish to take up non-traditional roles but are swayed by the misconceptions surrounding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related careers.

“There is a misconception that engineering is a masculine profession, discouraging women from even thinking about taking up such careers. The wrong idea that becoming an engineer would require women to lose their female identity and would expect them to act more masculine is something that needs to be changed.
I believe if I can lead by example and show young women that non-traditional STEM related careers can be rewarding and enjoyable, it will spark interest in the field and will get more young women interested in taking on STEM roles.”

Diversity within the Defence and Rail industry

Defence’s commitment to building capability through inclusion under the program Pathway to Change 2017–22 has resulted in efforts being made to further gender equality focused on women’s representation in leadership roles, mentoring and networking, capability development, and participation in STEM fields.

To increase the number of women on Defence boards, in line with Australian Government targets, Defence is focusing on providing board readiness training for women. As of 30 June 2020, Defence boards had 45.9 per cent representation by women, an increase of 1 per cent from the previous year.

Similarly, the Women in Rail Strategy launched by Australasian Rail Association (ARA) in 2017 includes four key focus areas: attraction and promotion; improved networks; retention; and national benchmarking to encourage gender diversity in the rail industry.

The survey released by ARA earlier today (dated March 2022), highlights organisations within the rail industry are making a concerted effort to have a gender-diverse workforce. 89 per cent of the organisations (that responded to the survey) have formal policies or strategies to support gender diversity, and 80 per cent of the respondents have specific recruitment policies or strategies to improve the overall gender equality in their organisations.

The report also states that women hold on average 24 per cent of managerial positions in the rail industry, with an increase in female representation across most management categories since 2018-2019

“The initiatives being pushed by the government for businesses to bring in more diversity to their workforce will further encourage more women to take on more non-traditional STEM roles within Defence and Rail. This in turn will ensure access to a wider range of ideas, talent, skills, fresh perspectives and experience, fuelling growth across businesses and within industries.”

Career growth and success

Maria has taken steps in her own career to ensure that she is setting herself up for success. One such step was getting involved with the Victoria Government Level Crossing Removal Project’s Women in Transport Mentoring Program. Having identified that she was spending more time in her previous role working on non-engineering tasks as opposed to working on engineering related tasks within the project management space that she loved, Maria enrolled in the program to further her engineering career.

Through the program she was able to fine tune her soft and hard skills as an engineer and further her career and transition into the Rail and Defence industry by landing a role with Systematiq.

“I have been able to implement what I have learnt in the program through my role at Systematiq where I am being given the opportunity to work on project management tasks for engineering projects. I am really excited about this new challenge in my career, and I can’t wait to bring my experience to the client projects I work on.”

As a way of giving back, Maria continues to be associated with the program, but now both as a mentor and mentee. She hopes to be able to boost the confidence of young women to take on more non-traditional roles and share her experience as an engineer with them, while further building on her skillset.

“Having a mentor who can guide you through a career transition and help you achieve your goals is crucial. Through this program, I found my mentor in Laurice Temple, CEO and founder of Ripple Affect Institute. Being an authentic and courageous leader for women, she has shown me unwavering support and encouraged me to connect with my values to be my best in life and at work.”

Systematiq is proud to be a strong supporter of women in non-traditional roles and providing career pathways to support diversity in the workplace.