"You can't be what you can't see": Blazing the way for female engineers

What does it take to be a STEM superstar at ExxonMobil, one of the world's largest petroleum and petrochemical company? Meet Caitlyn Broberg and discover how science, exercise and art have powered her life.

Engineer, ballet dancer and marathon runner: just three things that describe ExxonMobil chemical engineer Caitlyn Broberg.

Her efforts in helping to fuel Australia and reduce emissions saw Caitlyn recognised as one of Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM. The program, open to women and non-binary people, is designed to tackle gender inequity and dismantle assumptions about who can work in STEM, supporting a small group of 60 experts in the field.

“It’s a program that aims to smash gender stereotypes and ensure there is a strong cohort of female scientists, engineers and technologists that are presented to society, and that society can see them out there doing what they do best,” Caitlyn explains.

One of the aspects that appealed to Caitlyn about chemical engineering was that, like her two other passions – running and ballet – it presented a challenge.

“I wanted to start my career in a refinery because it was the most technical manufacturing that I’d ever come across, one that had real bread-and-butter chemical engineering equipment and problems,” Caitlyn says.

Caitlyn says the driving forces for her are these technical challenges, and playing a direct role in helping to build a lower-emissions future, have been driving forces for her.

“I’ve worked at ExxonMobil Australia for 12 years now, because I can see how the company is and will continue to play a vital role in the nation’s energy transition. I want to be a part of that and help change things from the inside,” she says.

“Being in the thick of it is where you can have the most positive influence in reducing emissions and finding solutions to the big energy challenges.”

Caitlyn encourages young girls to pursue a career in science and technology, especially in the energy industry, which she believes can benefit from their perspectives.

“It’s a good time to be in the energy space, as we really need young people, young women to come through with new ideas and new ways of thinking. A younger generation can help make changes on the inside,” Caitlyn says.

“We want people not to think of scientists as just old guys in lab coats, instead leveraging the concept of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ It’s all about being a positive role model for young girls.”

It’s not just her engineering knowledge that’s helped Caitlyn develop her professional skills, she also takes the lessons she’s learnt from art and sport and applies them to science.

“I’ve definitely learnt perseverance from long-distance running; to look after yourself and treat your job and your career as a marathon, not a sprint. That’s a key way in which the lessons of running are translatable to work,” she explains.

“Ballet also complements engineering well and has given me poise and confidence in my presentation style at work.”

Caitlyn says that young girls getting into engineering shouldn’t be afraid to be themselves, and adds that her hobbies show that you can both be feminine and be an engineer.

“I used to think that to be successful I had to sit down with operators and only talk about sports and stereotypical male hobbies and interests. But I learnt that I shouldn’t try to be something I’m not, and by being myself and sharing my interests I was able to form great relationships,” she says.

Caitlyn adds that young women shouldn’t dismiss engineering because it’s currently male-dominated.  “Just because you wear jeans and hi-vis to work doesn’t mean you can’t have a diverse background and be into things like ballet. At the end of the day, what matters most is being yourself. I’m proud to say working at ExxonMobil has allowed me to do just that.”