Women in STEM are embracing the tree change — here’s why

·5-min read

Throughout the pandemic, many city-based Australians have been eyeing off country living. For these women in manufacturing, it was a move that really paid off.

After studying food science in Melbourne, it was a move back to her hometown of Ballarat in regional Victoria that really accelerated Lauren Quanchi’s career.

The food scientist took a role at the iconic Mars Wrigley factory, which has been manufacturing some of Australia’s favourite chocolate brands in the region for the last four decades.

First working in the onsite Micro Lab testing products to ensure food safety, she has since worked her way up to Food Safety Lead and now consults on major projects and innovation strategies.

Lauren says she’s proud to work at a company like Mars Wrigley, which has long been a fixture of Australian manufacturing, and working in the regions has allowed her to thrive.

“One of the main reasons I came back to Ballarat was because I was seeking community,” she says. “Living here, I’ve been able to connect with old friends and also build strong friendships at work and through local sporting groups and not-for-profit work.”

“Flexibility is also really important to me and the short distance to both work and regional stays like Daylesford and the Grampians offers a really good work–life balance.”

 Lauren Quanchi, Mars Wrigley.
Lauren Quanchi, Mars Wrigley.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, many Australians have been eyeing off greener pastures outside the big cities – including many who work within the STEM and manufacturing industries.

A recent survey of STEM professionals, commissioned by Mars Wrigley, found three in four respondents have considered making a tree change in the last year.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a still-male-dominated industry, more female respondents, 43%, said they’d make the move only if they found a suitable job opportunity, versus 38% of male respondents.

With six regional manufacturing sites across Australia – located at Ballarat, Asquith, Wyong, Wodonga, Bathurst and Wacol – Mars is a major employer in the regions, and the company is actively encouraging more women in STEM to consider a move outside the big smoke.

For Nicole Chien, it was the chance to provide a better life for her children that prompted her to move to Hornsby, located on the outskirts of Sydney and at the foothills of several national parks.

At Mars Wrigley since 2014, Nicole was recently promoted to Gum Manufacturing and Coating Day Manager at the company’s Asquith facility.

Previously based in inner-Sydney, Nicole decided to make the move after researching childcare and education opportunities in the area.

“I remember I had to leave work at 4:30 every afternoon to be able to get to the day-care before six o'clock to pick up my child,” she says. “One day I thought to myself, I can't keep doing this every day – it's too stressful,” she says.

“I'm now five minutes away from work, and really close to my kids, so that gives me a lot of peace of mind.”

Nicole says, as well as allowing more time with her children, the regional move has also been great for her career.

Nicole Chien; Mars Wrigley.
Nicole Chien, Mars Wrigley.

“I wanted career progression and I wanted a family. I’ve been able to do both,” she says.

“At Mars, they really encourage you to take it seriously, when it comes to your development. They really encourage you to do it, commit to your plan, talk to your manager, have a mentor if you need to.

“For me, I started to have this conversation with my manager about three or four years ago, after I came back from my first maternity leave. And he's the one who challenged me to think about where I wanted to go,” she says.

“I recently took on a team leader role in the factory and I have 17 direct reports – all of them male and I’m the only female.”

Mars Wrigley general manager Andrew Leakey says it’s crucial for the manufacturing industry that women are supported to succeed, and the company is investing in programs to help them do it.

Back in Ballarat, a partnership between Mars and Federation University is helping nurture local talent.

“We’ve partnered with Ballarat-based Federation University for the past two years, offering work experience scholarships to students studying science through the university’s Industry Placement Program,” he says.

“To date, five Federation University Students have completed the program with us. In July, we opened it up to two additional students, with one supporting R&D and the other completing a six-month placement in supply.”

He says there are still opportunities for more to be done to help women pursue careers in STEM – such as a government-commissioned skills audit in food and beverage manufacturing, which would ensure women are trained for the right future roles.

He says it’s also important that women in manufacturing are aware of the opportunities available to them outside of the major cities.

For Lauren and Nicole, the regional shift was a no-brainer. Nicole encourages other women in STEM who are planning their next steps to consider the benefits a regional career move can bring.

“I think you really need to understand what you need to succeed both personally and professionally,” she says. “Really ask yourself what you need, and what's going to be good for you and for your family.”

To find out more about career opportunities at Mars Wrigley, explore current vacancies or join the Mars talent community, visit: https://careers.mars.com/au/en

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