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A career for girls should have no limits

Sheena and her kids

Every day brings a new opportunity to learn things. For the Peeters family, when kids were younger, this was dialled up during the school holidays and weekends where it is packed full of adventure and a chance to get their hands (metaphorically) dirty. Time was filled with coding camps like Minecraft workshops, filmmaking, storytelling classes and much more. These days, they explore the many travel, cultural, music and sporting opportunities that are on offer from the National Gallery of Victoria, theatre, concerts in the park and hikes in the Northern Territory.

“When younger, instead of sending them to traditional holiday programs, my three kids were always doing something different. There was one time they learned how the TV animation, Wallace and Gromit was created. It was lots of fun.” 

Life experience in NT
 

Gaining life experience in Northern Territory.

Supporting our frontline health workers

If you haven’t gathered, Sheena Peeters is anything but traditional. As HESTA’s General Manager for Technology, she is passionate about advancing gender equality. She wants to see more young women curious to explore the exciting world of STEM.

“It’s critical to build and sustain a diverse and inclusive workforce. However, getting it right is becoming more and more urgent every day. We need to get young women to think big and be excited about non-traditional careers.”

Sheena has worked in the technology space for over 20 years. She has been at HESTA for two years and is proud to lead a talented and diverse team.

“My role is varied. Overall, my team’s goal is to make sure the people who work at HESTA have the best technology to serve our members. There is a lot of forward planning, project work, and continuously seeing how we can be more innovative.”

HESTA is a superannuation fund dedicated to people in health and community services. This means HESTA’s members are our dedicated frontline workers who are doing tremendous work in our community — especially during this pandemic. Sheena and the team feel privileged to equip both employees and members with the digital tools to carry out their work effectively. 

Gaining real-life experience is priceless

Ask anyone, and they may recall a conversation with their parents or teachers about what they want to be when they grow up. Or sadly, sometimes a career choice is not negotiable. 

Sheena was intentional about not having a formal career conversation with her kids. She believes this is limiting because there are still exciting opportunities and jobs that don’t exist yet. Sheena says having a range of life experiences and picking up skills along the way is much more important than fixating on one or a few career choices.

“My youngest, Emily, is 14. She said one time that she wanted to be a gaming journalist. She mentioned that to a relative, and they chuckled because, in their experience, it wasn’t a real job – the job doesn’t exist. I don’t think we should limit ourselves. If the role doesn’t exist, we can create it ourselves!”

Gender equality starts at home and school

All three of Sheena’s children are in high school. She witnessed first-hand the different approaches across genders.

“My children go to good schools, but I see the subtle difference in what is offered or anticipated for boys and girls. For example, my son has had experiences with various science and innovation projects such as the solar car challenge that he was excited by. However, I don’t see the girls exploring or participating in the same types of experiences. One of the teachers at my daughter’s school once mentioned that when the boys do a science project they brag about blowing things up. You don’t get the same reaction from the girls. Parents won’t show the same interest. The standard for girls still feels different. We don’t ask them if they’ve blown things up in science or gotten messy.”

Sheena explained that school subjects are picked based on popularity. She believed if we want more women in STEM, schools should actively encourage girls to take up these subjects. 

“My daughter wanted to take a robotics elective class. But it wasn’t popular in her grade. Instead, cake decorating was the popular elective. I was disappointed because robotics would have allowed girls to explore their imagination much more. It’s so much more fun and if we don’t make it happen then the subsequent years don’t get that information from their peers.”

School is not the only learning hub. Sheena believes that if girls are curious about something, they shouldn’t wait for school to tap them on the shoulder. 

“We should never stop learning. My daughter has taken a big interest in driverless vehicles, and so, we explored this further. I’ve taken her to STEM conferences targeted at young people to expand her view of the world. I am not pressuring my kids to do anything. This is all on them.”

Starting from the bottom, now we’re at the top

Sheena gave us a beautiful inside preview into her upbringing. We can see why she is so open-minded and believes that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. 

“My grandma didn’t have the opportunity to get an education. Because of this, she was determined that my mother and her sisters got the best education. I’m fortunate that my mother then passed this onto me but never pushed me into any career. My parents just wanted me to be the best version of myself.”

Sheena’s mother became a nurse and a contributor to the family. Whilst her father was the primary earner, he also did a lot of the housework and cooking, which was non-traditional for a man of his generation. “My father loves to cook and is great at it”.

“My dad dropped out of school to do odd jobs to support his mum and siblings after his father died. He started as the mailroom boy at a financial services company. He worked hard to build his career, get a degree as an adult and went on to have a very senior role. In semi-retirement, he and my mum are following a life passion — to own and run a cafe.  What I learnt from them is anything is possible.”

Don’t forget to look after yourself

Sheena takes both her senior role at HESTA and her wellbeing very seriously. She believes we are productive when we rest and take care of ourselves.

“You need to pause and veg out sometimes. Sit on the couch, read a book or watch TV. I encourage my kids to do the same with me. It’s impossible to do a great job by being creative in our problem solving when we are tired and stressed. This goes for everyone. Take the time to look after yourself.”

We ended our conversation with Sheena sharing her top career tips for young women. They were: 

  1. Try something different: “You will be surprised at what you learn when you try new things. One of my girls completed work experience at Lend Lease. It wasn’t as popular as some of the other choices. Initially, she was unsure if it would be that exciting. But she ended up being blown away by the experience. It was well-structured, and the leaders at Lend Lease were actively involved providing her with a new perspective.”
  2. Gain as much life experience outside of school: “Children are reliant on their parents for guidance on this. We live in Melbourne, and there are a lot of different activities and places to visit. Think of these as learning opportunities.” 
  3. Put your hand up more often: “Girls tend to be more self-conscious and think about how they are perceived which stops them from putting their hand up. There is safety in numbers, and the more girls put their hands up, the more it empowers others to do the same.”

To find out more about HESTA, visit the careers page here.

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