News & Insights

International Day for Women and Girls in Science 2021

The International Day for Women and Girls in Science is acknowledged each year on February 11. The theme for 2021 is “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID”, something that couldn’t ring truer for two of the women leading the way on Cardno’s COVID-19 Taskforce - Justine Parker, Senior Managing Health Scientist and Natalie Egnot, Supervising Health Scientist.

There are very few people who expected to see a pandemic like COVID-19 in their lifetime. As a whole, 2020 was a year that will go down in the history books. A time we’ll look back on and see a world that wasn’t prepared for what was ahead of it. There is a lot to learn from 2020 – how effective the use of hand sanitizer, face masks and social distancing can be, but also how to better prepare should we see something like this again.

Justine Parker, Managing Health Scientist felt somewhat prepared to kick into action when Cardno ChemRisk began their COVID-19 support, “Although COVID-19 has been all-consuming over the last year I feel my experience in emergency response and the Ebola crisis in 2014 really prepared me for risk management planning for our clients.”

As the days and weeks went on, we learnt more and more about the disease from leading scientists around the world. These thousands of scientists from around the world, including our own, can be largely attributed for ensuring we knew how to keep ourselves and those around us safe.

“As we witnessed the COVID threat grow over time, it became clear that we had a duty to expand our scientific contributions to our communities and industries at no cost”, Justine said.

Cardno ChemRisk hosted numerous no-cost educational webinars and had a team of scientists personally volunteer their time to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) to help write over twenty-five “Back To Work Safely” guides to help small businesses manage during the crisis.

“The contributions we make to directly help protect workers and their families is what keeps me going and pushes me to strive for excellence in each task”, said Justine.

There is no doubt that the world would be worse off if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of the scientific community.

Cardno employee Justine Parker working on a project providing COVID support to film, television and media

Justine Parker, Senior Managing Health Scientist on a project providing COVID-19 Support for Television, Film, and Media

Natalie Egnot, Supervising Health Scientist said that as an epidemiologist she was able to use training and past experiences to be of service to others. “I consider that to be a great privilege,” she said.

No matter how experienced you are in your role, it’s normal for everyone to feel self-doubt at times, the middle of a pandemic is no different.

Natalie said, “At the start of the pandemic, I was a bit disconcerted by the constant stream of what felt like very high-stakes decisions presenting themselves to me at work and at home, especially given that we knew so little about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 at the time.”
Cardno employee Natalie Egnot presenting COVID update webinar

Supervising Health Scientist, Natalie Egnot, presenting a COVID webinar

But as the early days and weeks went on, we all had to make tough decisions about the roles we all wanted to play in helping overcome this pandemic.

“Once I established what was most important to me (i.e. protecting public health, maintaining scientific integrity, promoting equity), I was able to respond to challenges more decisively and effectively. Crises also create opportunities for, and in some ways force, change”, Natalie said.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the critical role of women researchers in different stages of the fight against COVID-19, from advancing the knowledge on the virus, to developing techniques for testing, and finally to creating the vaccine against the virus (UN Women).

The COVID-19 pandemic not only presented challenges for our female scientist working on plans and information directly related to the disease, but for all people everywhere. The way we worked took on a whole new meaning. Being COVID safe, keeping the 1.5m social distance, business up top - casual down bottom, how we hosted meetings and how we connected with our teams virtually became the new normal. Gone were the days of office introductions, team lunches and Friday afternoon get-togethers.

Graduate Environmental Scientist, Vivian Lee Yu experience this first hand.

Cardno environmental scientist Vivian Lee Yu conducting an ecological suvery

Vivian Lee Yu, Graduate Environmental Scientist completing an ecological survey

“I’m a graduate environmental scientist that started working at Cardno in September 2020. Due to COVID I wasn’t able to meet most of my team in person.”

It wasn’t all bad though, with some positives coming from fewer people out and about, “Luckily, I was still able to get out in the field for contaminated land and ecological fieldwork, which was actually made easier with COVID since there were less people about!” Vivian said.

For Environment Team Leader, Cassy Baxter, being COVID safe took a completely different direction when she started community engagement for an upcoming project. The Cardno team developed an initial online survey through our GIS programs to engage with those not wanting to attend in person. To try and tackle the in-person community sessions in a planned and safe way, the team developed a consultation strategy, working with both Cardno and DPIE health and safety officers. 

Cardno employees Cassy Baxter and Amy Steiger at a COVID safe community consultation

Cassy Baxter, Environment Team Leader (left) at the Lake Illawarra Maritime Structures Community Drop-in Session with Cardno GIS Leader, Amy Steiger (right)

"The Lake Illawarra Maritime Structures Community Drop-in Sessions provided a number of challenges with the changing COVID requirements in NSW. Our first session required the use of a mask for all attendees and so through the use of the media posts for the events trying to give people notice of the need to wear a mask was really important," Cassy said.

The community attendees at the event were very respectful of the rules with only limited complaints regarding masks and check-in.

Cassy recalled, "It was an interesting experience to plan with the additional requirements, however, the events were quite successful."

There’s no doubt our female scientists at Cardno had a great role to play in helping businesses, communities and the environments throughout COVID but there is still a large under representation of women in the science field.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let's change this narrative. Join us in celebrating women and girls, who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back.

Now, more than ever, there is a great push for women and girls to make their mark in science.

Today, just 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women, and only 35 per cent of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study are women. Recent studies have found that women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less for their research, and do not progress as far as men in their careers. Girls are often made to believe they are not smart enough for STEM, or that boys and men have natural affinity for the field.

Despite these setbacks, women and girls continue to lead innovation and ground-breaking research. They have created life-saving medicine and broken the sound barrier, explored the universe and laid the foundation to understand the structure of DNA. They are inspiring role models for our future generations.- United Nations