Women in STEM series

As the only global pure-play STEM recruitment company, we are passionate about STEM and therefore the encouragement of females to excel within STEM sectors. In recent times, the STEM sector has become more important than ever, with an increased need for the production of pharmaceutical drugs, and various technologies needed to enable the majority of companies to work from home. Jessica Swann, Client Relationship Manager from Huxley Australia sat down with Ruth Santangelo, Associate Director in Digital, Service and Automation at telecommunications giant, Optus, to find out a bit more about her journey within STEM and also how she is adjusting to the current climate.

Q1. Hi Ruth, can you briefly tell us a bit about your role, and also the career path you took to get you there?

I work within IT, in the Business Partner team at Optus as Associate Director of Digital, Service and Automation. Our team is focused on delivering services to make our customers’ lives easier, so it is a rewarding one to be a part of. I collaborate with a number of different teams across the business to make this happen, from Product and Sales to Procurement and Regulatory. One really exciting aspect of my role this year was being given the chance to lead the Robotic Operations Centre (ROC) within the business. This enables us to monitor the operation of 150 bots which form part of our digital workforce, and is a real sign of modern times and the way technology is changing the way we work.

In terms of my career path, it’s a varied one! I studied Computer Science and Genetics at university. I worked as a Research Assistant at Concord Hospital where I sliced human brains and cloned DNA taken from the brain as part of a study on Dementia and hereditary linkage. After university, I moved into a more computer science focused field, as part of the consulting team for a global company. I gained experience in a variety of different positions starting with technical roles before and moving onto lead generation, solutioning and project management, before taking up a senior leadership position managing the PMO across Australia and New Zealand. This exposed me to a lot in terms of business strategy and planning. The most current skill I can add to my CV is automation, with the introduction of ROC as mentioned above and supporting the Bots that make up Optus Digital Workforce.


Q2: What would your advice be to any females, or people in general, trying to carve out a career in STEM?

Attempt to identify any gaps within an organisation, and work towards filling those gaps. The systems and processes of any given business can probably always do with some optimisation, so review those and go from there. This advice was given to me when I was undertaking a graduate role, and it has helped me get to where I am today. If someone tells you your idea is a ‘’no can do’’ then work on making it a “can do”! Perseverance is key, so take any opportunity which presents itself, and rise to the challenge to the best of your abilities. Also, always think outside the box.

You may come up against resistance from people with more experience or seniority, but backing yourself  and practicing positive self-talk is the best way to address any doubts. Confidence really is key, and you have to back your own ideas in order to receive any backing for them.


Q3: Tell us about your passion for, and involvement in Women in STEM:

I have two children, a boy and a girl, who I want to both feel that they have an equal chance at a career within STEM industries. My daughter enjoys maths, but also feels mathematics is ‘not a girl’s job’ and I want to change this stereotype. In this day and age, I believe there should be no barriers between the genders in terms of career, and that girls and women should feel they have an equal chance in succeeding in whatever they may wish to do as men. And vice versa.

I have become more proactive in speaking out about this recently. For example, last year I was the moderator at a panel discussion of various women in STEM here at our Optus headquarters. Our external speakers included representatives from Nokia, Leslie Shannon and Nuala Ward, as well as some of our colleagues here at Optus. The discussion was definitely thought provoking, and a great experience overall. It’s something I hope to see and do more of in 2020. 


Q4: The Power of a STEM workforce is something which is undeniable right now. How are Optus adjusting to the current climate? (Working from home, remote interviews, etc)

Keeping my teams engaged, motivated and focused on delivering solutions to our customers while also having their health and wellbeing top of mind during these challenging times.

I have drawn on my previous experience working in a regional role, at a global organisation, where I had to work remotely with teams situated across Asia Pacific. I’ve extrapolated the tips and tricks I learnt along the way and extended them to the current COVID situation. Regular check ins with my team ensure we’re collaborating, and I make sure that they’re staying in touch and keeping engaged. Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation!

I have witnessed the Optus teams really pull together and rise to the challenge. We have managed to deliver more critical projects and products than planned or anticipated. Yes, it has been harder and more difficult and even downright frustrating at times, however we have pushed through, stayed focused and delivered the outcomes we were targeting which included some exciting product launches for our customers.   


Q5: What advice would you give to anyone, to better support the women who are on their teams at work, especially when it concerns things that not everyone may recognize as problematic?

I see it more about how anyone can be more supportive, as everyone has unconscious biases.  My advice would be:

  • Check in on your colleagues on a professional and personal level
  • Support and coach them when you see they are battling to overcome obstacles
  • Show appreciation, I have found it can make a big difference

For me this works for everyone.


Q6: Do you think females or people starting out in general in STEM will struggle in 2020? (Hiring freezes, inability to onboard, etc.)

I think 2020 has been a difficult time overall, from the Bushfires and floods to COVID-19.

I’ve seen some great innovation here at Optus. For example, we’ve adapted our onboarding and IT processes to be done completely remotely. Our cohort of grads were remotely onboarded this year.

Q7: Do you have any tips or advice for staying motivated during this period?

Keep active, even if it is just going for a walk around the block. I have started going on long walks with my kids to spend time with them and have a chat.

Another, particularly during this time working from home is, set clear boundaries between work and home life as the line for work/life balance becomes blurred. I admit this is something I need to keep working on!



Q8: Where are you looking to achieve in 2020 and beyond?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact, however I feel new opportunities will emerge that no one would have thought of prior – so I’m keen to explore these and see where it leads. I will continue to focus on the ROC and evolve to predictive learning and AI. I relish being in a role that helps pave the way for managing digital workforces with innovative technologies.

If you would like to partner with us on our Women in STEM series, please kindly reach out to Jessica Swann at [email protected]

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Whether you’re a professional looking for a job or a business seeking highly skilled talent, the team at Huxley are here for you.

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