In 1982, the Australian Bureau of Labour Market Research reported that women formed just 3% of the engineering profession at the undergraduate level. It was one of the most gender-segregated professions in Australia at that time and significantly below the participation rate relative to most other industrialised countries. In the early 1980s, there was a deficit in the profession and the industry was reliant on immigration to meet the shortfall. This encouraged national endeavours to increase the domestic participation and the Women in Engineering movement gathered pace. This aligned with increased political debate around women’s rights, leading to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 (now the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999).  A steady rise in women in engineering was seen through the late 1980s, reaching ~10% in 1990.

In 1991 EMM’s National Technical Leader – Contaminated Land, Victoria Buchanan, enrolled at UNSW in the first undergraduate Environmental Engineering course available in Australia, operated through the School of Civil Engineering. This cohort was not only the first group of undergraduate environmental engineers, but broke new ground in having a higher proportion of women enrolled at ~60% women and ~40% men. Being a small group, the ladies were still very sparse in the lecture theatres in joint subjects with the Civil Engineers, but were proud to be forging the way in the industry for others who would follow in their footsteps.

Victoria completed her studies, graduating with Honours. She has practiced since 1995 in the field of contaminated land management, risk assessment and remediation predominantly as a consultant across both the private and public sectors. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and long-serving Army officer, she has a particular passion for Defence. In addition to providing technical leadership to EMM’s Contaminated Land Management team, Victoria is also proud to be EMM’s National Defence Sector Leader.

Sadly, the momentum of the 1980s and 90s has slowed, hovering at around 12% and is not trending upwards.

EMM proudly supports women in STEM and employs several female engineers, amongst numerous Environmental Scientists and other STEM-based disciplines, including at the Board level.

By Victoria Buchanan,
National Technical Leader, Contaminated Land

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