How you can find belonging in STEMM (no lab coat required)

February 7, 2023
STEMM careers

It all started with ice cream. 

A joke about ice cream, actually.

Indra Tomic recalls:

“My husband and I had just relocated to Melbourne for his work, and it turned out his company was literally just around the corner from CSIRO. He worked for a company that manufactured ice cream (among a host of other things), and we joked how he could give me afternoon ice cream treats on our ride home if I got a job at CSIRO. Well, the joke was on me (or rather my waistline) when I got the role and a little too many free ice creams.”

Indra family CSIRO

Little did she know that joke would be the start of a long and productive career in the organization.

And while a scientific organization like CSIRO may not be the first place you’d imagine a communications’ professional would build such a long career, Indra always felt at home at CSIRO.

Indra’s story is proof that you don’t always need to be a scientist or technical specialist to work in such a specialized industry. When an organization provides all the right things to support your professional and personal growth, you can feel like you truly belong.

“I just don’t want people to think CSIRO only requires people from a science background. Our finance, HR, safety, IT, legal teams etc, are all skilled professionals contributing to CSIRO

The value of belongingness 

As a daughter of immigrants (Croatian and Indonesian), Indra learned early on the importance of fitting in and feeling like she belonged.

It’s a value she carried with her to adulthood, knowing it can make the difference between a happy life and a miserable one, especially when it came to work.

indra csiro

“When your personal values align with the place you work, it makes a world of difference in how you show up to work, the effort you put in, and your reason for sticking around.”

As CSIRO’s Head of Employee Communications, Indra is responsible for instilling this feeling among the organization’s employees.

To do this, Indra draws from her own journey at CSIRO – one that saw her move across multiple departments, move interstate, and even transition through a variety of job-sharing roles. 

Supporting her professional growth in the STEMM industry

Creating a genuine sense of belonging takes more than just words and policies – it requires deliberate action and follow-through from senior management.

Indra knows this by heart because she experienced it herself. It’s been 18 years since that day Indra and her husband joked about ice cream, but her sense of belonging at CSIRO has grown even stronger.

When we asked Indra if she could recall the exact moment she knew she belonged, she said:

“I don’t know if there was a particular moment of belonging, more of a feeling of knowing it was just right.” 

That feeling built naturally and cumulatively, spurred by CSIRO’s unique workplace culture that supports every employee’s professional growth. 

Indra csiro

CSIRO encourages you to play an active role in your career development and progression, and they provide constant opportunities to further your knowledge and grow professionally.”

Indra is a prime example.

She’s had ten roles over the 18 years she’s been with the organization, taking on a variety of communication and management roles in different departments.

“I started at CSIRO in a 12-month contract role. That 12-month position turned into a three-year contract, which then turned into an indefinite role.”

Even when CSIRO disbanded one of her teams in a strategic shift, her leaders never left Indra in the lurch.

“When CSIRO made the decision to disband my business unit, my boss arranged for me to chat with another director from a different business unit regarding an opportunity there.”

Indra eventually transitioned to that other role, and the organization made sure the transition was as smooth as possible.

“When I moved from working in forestry to oil and gas, CSIRO supported my development and growth in this new sector by encouraging me to attend relevant industry training workshops and conferences. This helped me build my knowledge of the sector, the research in this field, and understand the industry.”

CSIRO offers highly flexible working arrangements, continued learning opportunities, and comprehensive leave benefits that help its employees balance their personal and professional lives.

Learn more 

It’s moments like these that created a feeling of support and belongingness for Indra, reassuring her that the organization always takes her growth and interests seriously.

But beyond her professional growth, what really solidified the organization’s support in Indra’s mind was how they supported her through major personal changes in her life.

Shaping her work to match her personal life

After relocating to Melbourne and working there, Indra and her husband decided to move back to Perth to start a family and have their support network nearby. 

Like many women in a similar position, Indra was ready to leave her job, thinking it was her only option.

“I was ready to hand in my resignation when my boss at the time asked if I considered relocating with CSIRO instead of resigning. I hadn’t even considered this as an option and didn’t realize it was possible.”

CSIRO gladly relocated her to Perth, and she continued to work with her business unit until the organization disbanded it and moved her to another unit.

Later, after giving birth to her first child, Indra knew that her work situation would need to change.

“When I returned from parental leave with my first child, I decided I only wanted to return to work three days a week. CSIRO was fully supportive of me doing this. This was the first time I started to job-share.”

Indra family CSIRO

Creating a flexible working arrangement that works

Job-sharing is not common in many industries, but it’s widely used at CSIRO as part of its ‘Balance’ initiative, which enables flexible working arrangements.

“I’ve been in several job-sharing roles during my career at CSIRO. My first job-share role was with a colleague whose position I filled when she first went on parental leave. Later, when I returned from my own parental leave, I only wanted to return at three days a week. The person covering my role also decided she wanted to reduce her working hours. Our Director was supportive of us both doing the role three days a week.”

And while job-sharing has its challenges, CSIRO makes sure that the people sharing responsibilities can still perform and deliver.

“I’ve had five job-share partners at CSIRO, each of them slightly different due to the nature of the different individuals. But one thing that was consistent and the reason for what truly makes a job-share role successful is having the same work ethic and work values. It also helps if they’re a great person – which they all have been.”

It’s not always easy, but Indra and her co-manager have built a system that works. 

Indra stresses, however, that her job-sharing roles wouldn’t have been successful without the support and flexibility of CSIRO’s management.

csiro team

“I feel lucky that CSIRO believes and trusts in me to manage a team in a job-share role. I’m not sure how many job-share positions are out there that manage teams of 12 people.”

Working with a STEMM organization as diverse as the world

But perhaps the best showcase of how CSIRO builds a sense of belongingness is how it made Indra feel at home from the start.

Despite having no formal scientific background and training, Indra was able to thrive and excel in the famously technical and scientific organization. 

That’s the mark of true belongingness in a organization: when people from different backgrounds and cultures can feel welcome and naturally comfortable in the workplace.

Just like Indra does. 

And, of course, the possibility of afternoon ice creams always helps.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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