PEOPLE: “Education is a privilege and a STEM career is a huge step towards empowerment and equality” – Muneera Bano

Muneera Bano is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and is an active role model for the next generation via the various accolades and positions she holds, including a ‘Superstar of STEM’ for Science and Technology Australia, and the Go Girl, Go For IT 2020 Ambassador. In this interview, Muneera shares her views on driving diversity and inclusion in STEM fields.

  • What are the big things companies are getting right and wrong about how they position IT careers to the public?

My research focuses on the socio-technical domain of software engineering and I work at the intersection of human and computers in order to study the impact of technology on society. The amazing thing to see in the field of IT from my perspective is how current technological innovations have transformed society in ways so that we cannot imagine life without an aspect of IT. Especially during the pandemic of covid19, IT infrastructure became the critical backbone of society to keep most jobs on track. IT jobs and careers will become even more critical to the core of the post-pandemic society as we will see more transition to online job markets.  

One of my research interests in the field of IT is the inclusion and diversity of under-privileged and under-represented groups of people who do not receive the benefits of IT initiatives. While we look towards an advanced technological future with AI at the back, the digital divide could increase substantially. More initiatives are needed now than ever before to ensure that the future belongs to all, regardless of their gender, race, identity and socio-economic status.

  • How does this impact who applies for IT and technology roles?

The innovations in current IT infrastructure and platforms have enabled a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship and have created new jobs. With e-learning and distant educational initiatives, anyone can upskill their capabilities to meet the new job requirements. The digital divide and the data gaps make it more competitive to access equal opportunities to new initiatives for those from under-privileged and under-represented backgrounds.

  • Why did you decide to recently become a Go Girl, Go for IT ambassador? 

Being a woman, an immigrant in Australia coming from Pashtun ethnicity, and in the male-dominated field of IT and Engineering, I have experienced every facet of diversity, and that makes me personally a passionate advocate. The aims of ‘Go Girl, Go for IT’ align with my mission of gender equality in IT careers.

In the future, with increased reliance on IT infrastructure, we have to ensure the design and outcomes of IT solutions meet the requirements of everyone. Innovation should be driven to improve the quality of life for all. For that, we have to impress upon the younger generation to play their part, especially girls and under-represented groups, to step forward and move into IT careers, so that we can create a fair and inclusive future together.

  • STEM careers tend to have stigmas such as being difficult, complex, boring, or only for high-achievers. How has or hasn’t this been your experience?

At the core of all STEM subjects are elements of intellectual curiosity, a quest for inquiry and creativity. Once we are able to invoke these factors in young minds, personal pursuit and motivation make STEM subjects easy and enjoyable. In my experience, personal motivation was the biggest driving force behind me selecting IT and Engineering fields.

Yes, STEM subjects and careers have a stereotype with only the high-achievers pursuing them. However, STEM subjects should be taught with the pedagogical design of accepting mistakes and making students learn from their failures rather than penalising them. This might help in not just academic and professional pursuits, but also change perspectives on life. 

  • What’s your message to young women who are steering away from STEM careers because they feel they don’t have high enough grades or school marks?

I come from an ethnic background in Pakistan where in my mother’s generation of girls were not allowed access to education. Given the equal opportunity to education, I decided to prove I can outperform in a male-dominated field. I grew up without any female role models and had to find my way.

Next time you go to school, think of all those who have been denied of this opportunity and have to fight for their right of education. I have a clear conviction in my life that education is a privilege and a STEM career is a huge step towards empowerment and equality. If you wish to make your mark in digital history, now is the time to make a choice.

About the expert

A passionate advocate for women in STEM, Muneera Bano was announced as the ‘Most Influential Asian-Australian Under 40’ in 2019. A ‘Superstar of STEM’ and member of ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ committee for Science and Technology Australia, Muneera has a strong commitment to smash society’s gender and cultural assumptions about scientists. She is the Go Girl, Go For IT 2020 Ambassador with the aim to inspire the next generation of girls in STEM careers.

During her research career, Muneera has also received prestigious recognition for her work, including being named as a finalist for Google Australia’s Anita Borg Award for Women in Computer Science, Asia-Pacific 2015. She was also the recipient of Schlumberger’s Faculty For The Future (FFTF) Award for Women in STEM (2014 and 2015) and was given the ‘Distinguished Research Paper Award’ at International Requirements Engineering Conference held in August 2018. As the winner of Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australians Award, Muneera was offered Dr John Yu Fellowship for Cultural Diversity and Leadership at Sydney University in November 2019 .