Women in Science and Innovation

Queensland Women’s Week is a time to reflect on the achievements of women and to look to a future made brighter as a result of the efforts of women in various roles.

Queensland women are continuing to lead the way in the science, innovation and STEM education sectors.

Out of the 8 university Vice-Chancellors in Queensland – 6 are women, including:

  • Professor Deborah Terry at the University of Queensland
  • Professor Margaret Sheil at QUT
  • Professor Carolyn Evans at Griffith University
  • Professor Sandra Harding at James Cook University
  • Professor Geraldine Mackenzie at the University of Southern Queensland; and
  • Professor Helen Bartlett at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

We also have women in leadership roles in key research and innovation institutions, including:

  • Professor Fabienne Mackay at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
  • Professor Neena Mitter at the Centre for Horticultural Science at the University of Queensland; and
  • Dr Sue Keay – the inaugural Chief Executive Officer at the Advance Queensland Artificial Intelligence Hub.

Women are also doing great things in science across many fields, with other high-profile women including:

  • The doyen of synthetic biology in Queensland, Associate Professor Claudia Vickers
  • Dr Catherine Ball who is behind the internationally renowned World of Drones and Robotics Congress
  • Dr Abigail Allwood who is one of the principal investigators on NASA’s currrentmission to Mars
  • Professor Adele Green from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute who is leading the fight against skin cancer in Australia and
  • Dr Sarah Pearson in her role as Deputy Director-General of Innovation at the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport.

On top of that, the state’s 3 top ministers responsible for science, innovation and STEM education are all women: Science Minister Meghan Scanlon, Digital Economy Minister Leeanne Enoch and Education Minister Grace Grace.

There is no doubt – more women in top roles create the conditions for greater diversity of thinking across our economy, thereby adding to greater innovation and boosting productivity.

That’s important as we seek to inspire and empower more of our girls and young women to aspire to be leaders in science, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Unfortunately, women are still poorly represented in the STEM workforce in Australia. Less women are qualified in STEM, and a very small percentage of STEM professors are women.

Women earn less and are less likely to be part of start-up founding teams.

Balancing work-life responsibilities, workplace culture and a lack of women in senior roles are barriers in the workforce – all of these are undeniably gender-biased.

Family roles have a big impact, especially around career breaks to look after young children and cultural issues around part-time work. In fact, women are far more likely to be in casual employment than men – making women more vulnerable to major economic downturns.

We will never fully realise our innovative capability until we ensure we have a more diverse workforce. If we don’t achieve this, then ultimately, all of us will lose out.

And our opportunities are great. If we adopted AI technologies in Australia, we could increase our Gross Domestic Product by $400 billion by 2025. But that depends on also having suitable AI-specific expertise. But the fact is that nearly two-thirds of Australian organisations report they have trouble finding suitable staff to lead AI technology integration.

In addition, we need greater diversity in developing AI solutions as currently these are delivered by, and for, men – and women’s needs must be supported too.

Australia also currently faces a shortage of 3 million workers with digital literacy skills.

These skills shortages are exacerbated by the low participation rate of women in innovation and STEM.

That’s why having women in leadership roles is so important. They are role models for our girls and young women.

These women show younger women and girls that a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) has endless possibilities.

It also means, with women in key decision-making roles, we can look to level the playing field.

Advance Queensland has been getting behind our female researchers.

Women made up 40% of the recipients of the latest round of the Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships.

Compare this to the fewer than one in four applications for Australian Research Council STEM project grants being led by women, and fewer than one in three applications for National Health and Medical Research Council grants.

In fact, measures brought by the Queensland Government to support more women to apply for the research grants program has seen an increase in the proportion of female recipients from 36% in 2016 to 49% in 2020.

The government changed the funding rules to support part-time fellowships and also allowed researchers to be employed in a part-time capacity – helping women achieve a better work-life balance.

The Queensland Government is also supporting women in research and innovation through the Advance Queensland Female Founders and Women’s Research Assistance Programs.

These programs are all about providing the right resources, tools and support to give women a leg-up in their workplace or university.

Queensland’s STEM education strategy also has it’s a primary goal to lift the participation rate of girls studying STEM at state schools.

So, let’s thank all STEM professionals for their contribution to Queensland during Queensand Women’s Week, and in particular celebrate our leading women who are showing the way for generations to come.

Last updated 05 Mar, 2021
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