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6 Mar 2019

A balanced world is a better world

In celebration of International Women's Day, an annual event that was started over 100 years ago, we would like to introduce you to some of the brilliant women that work behind the scenes across the Botanic Gardens. This year's theme, Better for Balance, hopes to encourage gender equality across a diverse range of industries and workplaces. 

Learn more about the important contributions from our team of world-class horticulturists, educators, scientists and more.

Melissa Slarp, Educator

Have you always been interested in plants?

I’ve always been interested in animal science but working at the Botanic Gardens has given me a huge appreciation of the unique characteristics, adaptations, and critical importance of plants.

I love that we showcase an all-Australian-native garden, where people can appreciate and experience the wonder and diversity of the Australian landscape. We’re also lucky to have a significant remnant of the endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

Typically in education and teaching, females are more common than males but it’s usually been males occupying the senior positions. I appreciate seeing females in higher roles and at the director level at the Botanic Gardens.

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry?

I think it has helped pushed organisations to be more flexible and open with work practices, for example working from home and flexible start times.

Dr Cathy Offord, Principal Research Scientist

Have you always been interested in plants?

I have always been into nature as well as human culture. At one time, I intended to become an archaeologist (I even did a year of this at Uni), but there was always something in the back of my mind telling me that the world was changing rapidly, and scientists would be needed. I studied Agriculture, which was amazing and taught me so much about natural and man-made environmental systems and how they interact. 

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

Things have improved over the years for women generally, but there is still a long way to go. The Botanic Gardens has always kept pace or been ahead of the rest of society.

My team currently has way more women in it than men. We always employ on merit so this is just how it is and will likely change through time as people come and go. I am very proud of the women in my team and how some of them have battled great odds to get there.

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry?

I have been very well supported as a woman in this workplace, especially when I was bringing my children into the world. I try to pay this support forward by helping staff with work-life balance whenever possible.

I think that, over time, this leads to greater productivity and creativity as people are happier and more confident.

Kayte Wilkie, Senior Horticulturist

Have you always been interested in plants?

I have always had a desire to work in nature or with plants. Ever since I could remember, I knew I wanted to work in a rewarding and satisfying job that enabled me to produce work that people could appreciate, be outdoors, to contribute back to nature and make myself happy.

Plants are an integral part of this planet and I feel privileged to absolutely love what I do.

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

Yes. I guess in the past trades and outdoor jobs were predominantly male workers. At the end of the day, anyone can do anything.

If you have the drive and passion to move forward in your chosen field then you create your own path. Horticulture in my time has always had an even amount of male to female ratio.

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry? 

Men and woman do have different processes when it comes to certain tasks, so having a balance in gender and opinions does create opportunity to have a better holistic approach to the work environment.

Whether it be strength, finesse, attention to detail and hard but silent worker, everyone one and every gender has something to offer at different points of the day.
 

Melissa Driscoll, Head of Venue Services

Why the Botanic Gardens?

The Gardens are a highly reputable organisation to work for, known for its beautiful and iconic green spaces. I have always loved the great outdoors and producing events so why not combine both passions to produce outdoor events. 

I love feeling empowered to lead a hard-working team, drive initiatives and ideas whilst having the balance to be a mother to two amazing little human’s Jack and Ruby. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Spending time with my kids, family and friends, I love going to live music gigs and events, training to become a runner (again) by doing the couch to 5 km training program and dancing. 

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

There are a lot more women in leadership positions that are empowered to be authentic leaders. There is now also a greater balance of men vs women at industry meetings that I attend.

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry?

By inspiring women to realise their potential and appreciate that it is possible to balance your career and have a family if that’s what you aspire to do.
 

Laura King, Horticulturist

Have you always been into plants?

I have qualifications in Environmental Science and Journalism, but I’ve always found plants fascinating: they form an intrinsic part of our lives and have developed a variety of strategies to survive across a range of different environmental conditions, including fenestration, contractile roots and posing as rivals to male wasps.

I decided to make a career change and was lucky to gain an apprenticeship in an organisation where I could work with a wide variety of plants (instead of just reading about them).

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

I have only been working in horticulture for a short time but so far,  I feel that it’s an industry that offers equal career opportunities to both men and women. I have been welcomed by all of my colleagues and have never been made to feel that my gender restricts me in my role in any way.

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry?

Women make up approximately 50% of the population, so any industry that’s dominated by one gender is restricting itself to half of the potential talent pool and ideas that are out there.

Everyone has a different way of viewing the world and something to contribute, which will be more important in the future as we face many challenges.
 

Dr Marlien van der Merwe

Have you always been interested in plants?

Plants are not only crucial for our survival but also beautiful. The Botanic Gardens brings these together in having a scientific institute nestled within a beautiful space.

I have loved plants and the “bush” as a child, and now as an adult I am deeply aware of the value of functioning ecosystems in our world and the intrinsic value of biodiversity. 

How have you seen positive gains in your industry to increase a gender balance?

Recently there has been small improvements in the scientific community in Australia to increase the gender balance, these include things such as providing space on research grant applications for highlighting that you took time out to start a family.

I had the privilege of doing two part time post-doctoral fellowships when my kids were still very young. This is becoming more common and really should not be a privilege, but a given.

I believe more part-time opportunities such as what I had would be a positive move within the science community to promote woman to continue with careers in science. 

How do you think gender-balance drives a better work environment in your industry?

At the end of the day it is about feeling valued at your workplace whether you are at the bottom or the top of the ladder, male or female and all combinations.

A gender balanced work environment is one where you and your choices are respected whether you are male or female at the bottom or the top. 
 

Ambitious leaders

This is just a snapshot of the brilliant women that work every day to maintain the beauty and significance of the Botanic Gardens.

It's important that we #BalanceforBetter throughout the year, not just on International Women's Day. To find out other ways women are supporting each other this year visit the official website here.

If you are a journalist and have a media enquiry about this story, please click here for contact details and more information.

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