For over 30 years, Julia Dickinson has worked in the Space and Defence industries as an engineer on some of Australia’s most significant satellite projects. And throughout her career, she has cultivated a deep passion for increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Growing up, Julia didn’t always want to be an engineer. “My first planned career until the age of 13 was to be a ballerina, as I was a passionate dancer from a young age. I started my journey into STEM when I discovered the magic of science and maths in high school.”
A career survey assessment in Year 10 identified that Julia was most suited to a career as a doctor. “Engineering wasn’t even listed as a potential career path,” Julia said. Fortunately, with an engineer father and an engineer grandfather, Julia was afforded the opportunity to pursue engineering as a career.
“Upon reaching university, I was presented with the harsh reality of the lack of diversity in engineering. Women were a minority, with less than 10% in first year and fewer in final year due to higher dropout rates.
“Interestingly, an informal poll of my fellow women students discovered that I wasn’t alone in having a close relative who was an engineer, in fact, nearly all of us had a father, uncle, brother or close family friend who was an engineer.
“This led me to the words of American activist Madeline Wright Edelman, who said ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ My peers at university may not have seen women role models when we were young, but at least we saw engineers, and this encouraged us to pursue STEM. Unfortunately, many other young women in high school didn’t have this formative exposure, and clearly didn’t see engineering as a career option.”
In her early career, Julia was often the only technically qualified woman in the building. This, coupled with her experience at university, made her realise the need to achieve gender diversity within STEM.
Since then, Julia has been a mentor and champion for young engineers and graduates in the industry and a passionate advocate for the development of an accessible and inclusive Australian Space sector.
Julia joined Lockheed Martin Australia in 2021 as Chief Engineer of the Space organisation. “Since joining, I have seen that the company has a genuine commitment to diversity and increasing the number of women in technical roles."
Across Australia, women make up 21% of Lockheed Martin’s workforce. “Where I sit in the Space organisation it is slightly higher, and 25% of employees are women,” said Julia. However, the percentage of women in tech based roles is considerably lower and is an issue seen across Australia. Across Australian industries only 13% of engineers are women and 16% of new engineering graduates are women.
For Lockheed Martin Australia, a company engaged in the integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems where more than 50% of the staff work in STEM fields, these low numbers in engineering are significant. Like others in the Defence and Space industries, Lockheed Martin Australia recognises the growing workforce shortage in STEM and the need to attract and support the next generation of talent, regardless of gender.
“At the executive level, in Australia and across the company globally, 25% of executive roles are held by women. If we look specifically at the Space organisation, this number is higher than the average, with 41% female executives. Plus four of the five business pillars within Space are headed by a woman. These numbers speak volumes to promotion opportunities, and that women in Lockheed Martin have the same chance of progressing as any other employee,” said Julia.
The JP9102 Military Satellite Communications program, which Julia is working on as Chief Engineer, is one example where Lockheed Martin has a large cohort of women who are leading and shaping the work. “Our Campaign Director, Business Operations Lead and Deputy Program Director are all women,” she said.
For Julia, a career in Space with Lockheed Martin Australia is rewarding. “There has never been a more exciting or critical time for Australia to be building our national space capabilities.”
Julia explains that because global strategic environment is constantly evolving and threats are continuously emerging, Australia needs to ensure our space systems survive a contested or denied environment.
“I am hopeful that in the not too distant future, more girls will see a career in engineering for themselves, and they can be what they do see.”