'You can't be
what you can't see'

Diversity & Inclusion

Women’s roles and representation in STEM careers have transformed dramatically over the years. This change would not be achieved without trailblazers who challenge gender bias and persevere with their passion. Meet some of the women in the defence industry who pushed back against stereotypes to become leaders in their fields.
These stories are based on the Technically Possible podcast episode  -  'You can't be what you can't see' hosted by mathematician and science communicator, Lily Serna.
  • Deborah Jeppesen

    Deborah Jeppesen

    Deborah is Manager of Intelligence at Thales Australia

    She was the youngest and one of the first female pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force ​in the 1980s
  • In 1988, Federal Defence Minister Ros Kelly opened up the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF( to female pilots. Deborah became one of the first, which meant starting a professional journey in aviation without having a female role model to look up to. Being that trailblazer wasn’t easy for Deborah:
    “As a woman, who is breaking the barriers, you have to be aware that when you make a mistake, there's going to be a big deal made about it, versus a male making a similar mistake in that same situation.”
    During her pilot course, Deborah often felt that challenging bias now, would help the next generation of women aspiring to a career in aviation.
    If someone's got to push the boundaries here it might as well be me so that the next person who comes along doesn't have to do it

    Deborah Jeppesen, Manager of Intelligence, Thales Australia

    Deborah and her colleague Dr Robyn Williams, who graduated the same course, participated in many public interviews at the time, which, Deborah believes, differentiated them from their male colleagues:
    “Some people have said that seeing me and Robyn back then inspired them to join the RAAF. I think whilst it can be uncomfortable being in the limelight breaking barriers, it is essential for the women who may follow you.”
    After her 14 years career in Defence, Deborah moved to the defence industry and is now working as Manager of Intelligence at Thales Australia.
    Deborah recognises change that has occurred in the past 30 years.
    “A lot has changed. No longer do you leave school and have limited opportunities. There are many graduate programs in defence and government which encourage diversity and different ways of thinking.”
Currently in Australia, less than 20% of engineering students are women. And in industry, female engineers make up less than 15% of the workforce.

This is on par with the global figures.

  • Gabby Costigan

    Gabby Costigan

    Gabby is the CEO of BAE Systems Australia

    In 2018 she became the first Australian female CEO of a defence prime
  • From an early age Gabby aspired to being a helicopter pilot, however, when she commenced her career, women were not allowed to fly helicopters. To keep her passion for aviation alive, Gabby decided that if she could not fly the aircraft, she would fix them, a decision that led her to pursue a career in engineering.
    After beginning her career as an Aeronautical Engineer, Gabby held leadership positons in the Australian Defence Force and in the defence industry, before becoming the first female CEO of an Australian defence prime, delivering major defence programs in Australia.
    Gabby believes that to reach your dreams and achieve goals, you need to grab opportunities when they're presented and seek out opportunities too, something she learnt at a very young age.
    “My parents always told me and my sisters that we could do and be whatever we wanted. It was up to our imagination - up to our hard work and passion - to seek out, find those opportunities and build careers.”
    Gabby’s career saw many twists and turns, including deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq:
    “Because I've taken those opportunities and risks, I've had a very rewarding career where I have been able to travel the world and have many different experiences serving my country, working for other foreign militaries, and in different types of businesses.”
    Gabby says STEM skills are highly sought-after, particularly in defence.
    It's an incredible opportunity here in Australia for Defence industry where the government is investing $270 billion in Defence over the next decade

    Gabby Costigan, CEO BAE Systems Australia

    She encourages young Australians - and in particular young females - to consider the opportunities a career in STEM can offer.
    “It’s an investment in Australian companies, and in Australian people. And the big defence projects are really a catalyst for economic recovery for our nation.”
Women are particularly underrepresented in fields like physics and engineering.

Surveys revealed that 80 per cent of women who work in these areas perceive the lack of female role models as a significant hurdle for gender equity in their field.

Listen to the episode of the Technically Possible podcast where these inspirational women talk to a mathematician Lily Serna
  • Professor Tanya Monro

    Professor Tanya Monro

    Tanya is Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist

    She is the first woman to lead the Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) in its 110 year history
  • Professor Tanya Monro has been fascinated by physics and maths since high school.
    As a physicist, she can attest that female underrepresentation in her field is a real challenge.
    In her area of work there weren’t many women ahead of her:
    “I felt the strangeness of being the first female Professor of Physics at the University of Adelaide. You'd walk into the physics building, and there was a wall of black-and-white photos of the professors of physics, a whole lot of men. The early men with amazing moustaches and beards, and then me. I think it was that daily reminder - that visual wall of maleness - that made me feel other or different.”
    Tanya is the first woman to lead the Defence Science and Technology Group in its 110 year history.
    Having worked in academia, she has observed a significant uplift in the number of girls doing a range of STEM subjects to the end of school or early university years.
    Unfortunately, this uplift breaks down at the level of senior roles in the sciences.
    Whether you're talking universities or government labs, we're still stuck in many fields at 20 to 25 per cent of senior people being women - it's not okay.

    Professor Tanya Monro, Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist

    Tanya Monro says challenge occurs within making culture truly inclusive - where women feel valued and able to contribute and make a difference.
    “I've come to realise that, whether it's a student making decisions on what subjects they do at school, right through to a woman in a STEM workplace deciding whether she'll put herself forward for promotion, there is a very gendered thing about confidence. And we need to work not just to support our women in STEM - to be more confident about their abilities - but support everyone to realise that you've actually got to support women differently.”
The next generation of trail blazers are having a slightly easier time as attitudes change and years of effort to get more women involved in STEM are beginning to make a difference.

Jackie joined BAE Systems as a graduate and today she is working on the first design for manufacturing capability for the Hunter Class Frigate Program. 

  • Jackie


    Jackie is a Mechanical Engineer 

    She joined BAE Systems following the Graduate program
  • “I feel extremely lucky that I've come into the industry when it is becoming much more progressive and encouraging.”
    While for Jackie’s generation gender stereotypes are not as pertinent, during her degree she fuond herslef surrounded by male students.
    “The hardest part for me was really going through uni. And I was lucky enough to make some really good friends. But they were, obviously, males, and it's a different atmosphere, when you have a female around you and you can lift each other up, it inspires you.”
    A recent graduate herself, Jackie is already making strides in promoting STEM amongst school students by going to schools and sharing her story.
    I think it's really important to get them STEM orientation, if that's what they're passionate about from when they're even the ages of 5-7

    Jackie, Mechanical Engineer, BAE Systems

    “I think they don't understand the full scope of what engineering is. And the best way to open their eyes a bit is share what the possibilities are for them. And you can get them excited about it.”
    According to Jackie, a bit of encouragement and awareness about engineering can move the needle.
    “I think it's really important to get a lot more females in who want to have a crack at engineering, because that's something that's possible for them. You get a lot of males that are doing it because their friends thought they could go to engineering. So they've all just signed up. And that's how you end up with so many in there.”

    Positive steps towards gender balance are taking place with help of the vanguards like Gabby Costigan, Tanya Monro, Deborah Jeppesen and Jackie.
    Through their own example, influence and leadership, they are raising the profile of women in STEM and inspiring more girls and young women to take up engineering careers.