Australia’s leading women in technology

James Riley
Editorial Director

Technology Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder says there are long-term structural issues keeping the number of women in technical roles in the sector frustratingly low and outside of societal expectations.

In an interview with ahead of International Women’s Day, Ms Pounder welcomed the federal government’s Pathway to STEM Diversity Review and is keen to outline the systemic obstacles that are limiting the pipeline of STEM women through the education system.

Tech Council chief executive Kate Pounder

But before any of that, she wants to name-check the quite remarkable list of women in leadership roles in technology in Australia, partly because its International Women’s Day, but mainly because the list is genuinely incredible. It is worth reflecting on.

After I texted with an interview request, Kate started throwing out some names with people in her office, spit-balling about the women in leadership positions in the tech sector.

The Australian Government chief scientist, the Defence chief scientist, the CSIRO chief scientist, Google managing director and VP, Salesforce regional VP, AWS managing director, Canva CEO, Adobe managing director, Telstra CEO, Optus CEO, Silicon Quantum Computing CEO – all positions held by women (There are many others on the list below, and still many more not listed.)

And, of course, Kate Pounder herself is the CEO of the Tech Council, and the chair of the Tech Council board is Robyn Denholm, who also happens to be the global chair at Tesla.

“We have not quite fully realised that in some ways we have made more progress, probably, than we think,” Ms Pounder said. “It is actually quite incredible how it has changed over the last five years.”

So that’s worth reflecting on, she says, before moving directly to the structural issues that continue to stymie opportunities for girls, and for women.

Firstly, Ms Pounder says government is right to put the pathways to STEM diversity under review, and says the Minister Ed Husic could not have appointed a better placed panel to conduct the review.

“If you look at the calibre of people like [Cicada Innovations CEO] Sally Ann Williams or [Indigital CEO] Mikaela Jade, they are people who’ve had long careers and varied careers in the industry.

“So, I welcome the fact that such a high-powered panel has been given this role to review those programs,” she said.

“The challenge is that there are systemic issues, still. That from a young age we are seeing girls diverted from STEM subjects at school, and that diversion – looking at all the data – is entrenched as you go through the school system.

“That then translates into under representation of women in training courses, and therefore to smaller pools of women who are looking for tech jobs and opportunities,” Ms Pounder said.

“I think doing the review of the programs is useful to understand why we are still – in the 21st century – those kinds of [poor] numbers. Because it makes no sense. It is not like women are intrinsically less able to do STEM subjects.

“We have to genuinely unpack what is causing that, and then what modes of intervention would make the biggest difference to address it.”

In technical jobs in the tech sector, women make up about 25 per cent of the workforce in this country. While this number can vary across certain companies or certain parts of the industry, 25 per cent is the rough average.

For non-technical roles across the technology companies, women fill more than half the roles. But “it is the [under] representation in STEM roles that is the problem here.”

The bigger problem is that if you look back through the pipeline, that number is fairly consistent. Meaning that if you look at the number of women enrolling in undergraduate ICT courses the figure is about the same, and the figure is the same if you look back into the school system, Ms Pounder said.

“That’s why I think there has been a systemic deterrence that’s been occurring,” she said. “And if you don’t address that at the source, it obviously means you just reduce the number of women who are training for those or seeking to find those roles over their life.”

Ms Pounder says the significant challenges will warrant multiple interventions. Looking at the way girls are treated through the school system is one.

But she says that it is important that the review look at the impact of these structural effects over years, which “has meant there’s whole generations of women who are amazingly talented, who may not have been given the full opportunity to develop that talent or to get those opportunities.”

The review might also look at programs or strategies that give these women a “second chance”, whether its support as founders, or through reskilling programs so they are able to come back into the sector.

Finally, on International Women’s Day, I ask Kate Pounder who are her heroes, the women she admires for their achievements. There are a lot.

“Obviously Robin Denholm, who is my chair. She is someone I know personally, who I think has had the most incredible career, starting out in the car industry, and then moving into tech in the 90s,”Ms Pounder said. “She had the bravery to go to Silicon Valley and build a career there when that was still unusual.”

Robyn Denholm built a “phenomenal global career” in Silicon Valley and is now giving back through roles at Blackbird and the Tech Council – in addition to Tesla. That’s inspirational.

“Also on my board, people like Kate Jones and Mina [Radhakrishnan] are both amazing in different ways. Kate Jones being the first climate change minister in this country and former education and innovation minister. She’s now made that move into tech. And for Mina, to migrate to a new country and to found a successful startup company [:Different] is no mean feat either,” she said.

“And then, outside of that, I’m a huge fan of Cathy Foley and Bronwyn Fox, the National Chief Scientist and the chief scientist at CSIRO I think they do really incredible work. Then there are people like Mel Silva [Google] and Pip Marlow [Salesforce], not to mention Vicki Brady [Telstra] and Kelly Bayer Rosmarin [Optus], and Kendra Banks at Seek.

“It’s pretty amazing to see so many large tech companies, domestic and international, headed by women in Australia.”

The list of women leaders sent over by Kate Pounder and published below is far from complete, but does paint a pretty good picture of tech in this country.

On indulgence, I will add one name: Corrie McLeod is the CEO and publisher of, and a fearless leader in everything she does whether at work or at home.

  • Robyn Denholm, Chair, Tesla
  • Melanie Silva, Managing Director, Google
  • Katrina Troughton, Managing Director, Adobe ANZ
  • Christina Sass, Co-Founder, President, Andela
  • Laura Malcolm, Executive General Manager, Avanade
  • Rianne Van Veldhuizen, Managing Director, AWS
  • Melanie Perkins, CEO, Canva
  • Katherine McConnell, Founder, CEO Brighte
  • Shuo Wang, Co-Founder, Deel
  • Mina Radhakrishnan, Co-founder, :Different
  • Rebecca Burrows, General Manager, Doordash
  • Cyan Ta’eed, Co-Founder, ED Envato
  • Melanie Cochrane, Managing Director, CEO ANZ Equifax Australia
  • Kirstin Butcher ,Co-Founder, CEO Genvis
  • Laura O’Reilly, Co-Founder, Hireup
  • Lisa Vincent, Founder, CEO, HowToo
  • Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, CEO, Optus
  • Kendra Banks, Managing Director (ANZ), Seek
  • Michelle Simmons AO, CEO, Director, Silicon Quantum Computing
  • Natasha Prevot, Co-Founder, Director, Techvisa
  • Vicki Brady, CEO, Managing Director Telstra
  • Sarah Liu, Founder, Managing Director, The Dream Collective
  • Natasha Collins, Founder, Tidal Ventures
  • Maree Isaacs, Co-founder, Executive Director, Wisetech Global
  • Jo-Anne Ruhl, Vice President, ANZ Workday (ANZ)
  • Katherine King, CEO, Yarris
  • Pip Marlow, CEO, Salesforce
  • Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist, Australian Government
  • Bronwyn Fox, Chief Scientist, CSIRO
  • Tanya Monro, Chief Scientist, Department of Defence
  • Sally Ann Williams, CEO, Cicada Innovations
  • Mikaela Jade, CEO, Indigital
  • Corrie McLeod, Publisher,

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. Digital Koolaid 1 year ago

    Hello James. Australia’s leading women in technology aren’t much from technology. I counted one (1) with an IT qualification, three (3) from engineering, four (4) others who have actual STEM educations and the rest with nothing related to technology at all. That’s eight (8) with potentially relevant tech credentials out of 35. Kate says STEM is important and her list does paint a pretty good picture of tech in this country. That picture shows that seventy-seven percent (77%) of “leading” women in tech don’t have a STEM education of any sort. Do you see a problem? I do.

    Kate Pounder – politics, international studies, English, zero technology
    Robyn Denholm – economics, commerce, zero technology
    Melanie Silva – economics, marketing, zero technology
    Katrina Troughton – physiology / pharmacology, marketing, economics – zero technology
    Christina Sass – philosophy, English, German, law, zero technology
    Laura Malcolm – physics (at least STEM) but zero technology
    Rianne Van Veldhuizen – marketing, communications, zero technology
    Melanie Perkins – arts, commerce, communications, psychology, ,marketing, zero technology
    Katherine McConnell – commerce, Japanese, finance, zero technology
    Shuo Wang – engineering (STEM)
    Mina Radhakrishnan – computer science YAY!
    Rebecca Burrows – marketing, political science, zero technology
    Cyan Ta’eed – visual communications, zero technology
    Melanie Cochrane – business, marketing, zero technology
    Kirstin Butcher- arts, French, Italian, zero technology
    Laura O’Reilly – law, history, zero technology
    Lisa Vincent – economics, psychology, zero technology
    Kelly Bayer Rosmarin – management, engineering (STEM)
    Kendra Banks – economics, maths, politics, zero technology
    Michelle Simmons, physics, chemistry (at least STEM) but zero technology
    Natasha Prevot – business, management, law, zero technology
    Vicki Brady – commerce, zero technology
    Sarah Liu, Founder – arts, zero technology
    Natasha Collins – business administration, zero technology
    Maree Isaacs – high school, zero technology
    Jo-Anne Ruhl – commerce, law, zero technology
    Katherine King – behavioural science, media, zero technology
    Pip Marlow – sales, marketing, Microsoft job but zero technology
    Cathy Foley – physics, (at least STEM) but zero technology
    Bronwyn Fox – chemistry, engineering (STEM)
    Tanya Monro – physics (at least STEM) but zero technology
    Sally Ann Williams – international relations, Japanese, zero technology
    Mikaela Jade – business, biology, land management, tourism, zero technology
    Corrie McLeod, arts, communications, media, marketing, thanks for InnovationAus Corrie but it’s not technology, is it?

    • James Riley 1 year ago

      Do you work in HR? Surely it is time to unmask yourself so that we can assess your qualifications! To suggest that Michelle Simmons has zero technology creds, even as she constructs a computational device out of silicon – at atomic scale – is a brave assertion. It is very funny. You have made my day. 🙂 As for the rest, all of these women are eminently qualified for the leadership roles they are in.

      • Digital Koolaid 1 year ago

        Many thanks James; we all admire Michelle for her achievements, which is not the point. Your article and Kate’s comments concerned STEM and “technology”. Does the S stand for Science, such as Physics and Chemistry? Is it distinct from the T, which stands for Technology? Michelle has a SteM education. She studied Physics and Chemistry of Materials (1985–1988) at Durham University (Trevelyan College). As a postgraduate at St Aidan’s College she was awarded a PhD on “The characterisation of CdTe-based epitaxial solar cell structures fabricated by MOVPE” in 1992 hxxps:// Durham is one of the leading physics and astronomy departments in the UK. It offers degrees in Physics, Physics plus Astronomy, and Theoretical Physics. Can you identify technology subjects in the following course structure:

        Year 1
        Foundations of Physics 1 with a practical laboratory module, including an introduction to programming.
        Two mathematics modules in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
        A module of choice, with Introduction to Astronomy proving to be very popular.
        Year 2
        Foundations of Physics 2A/2B
        Mathematical Methods in Physics
        Laboratory Skills and Electronics.
        Additional topics also include Theoretical Physics 2 (the transition from classical to quantum mechanics), Stars and Galaxies (an exploration of astrophysics), and Physics in Society.
        Year 3
        Physics 3A/3B
        Physics Problem-solving
        Planets and Cosmology
        Theoretical Physics 3
        Maths Workshop
        Physics into Schools
        Team Project
        Laboratory Project
        BSc Project
        A module taken in another department

        James, if LinkedIn isn’t a reliable source of information about people’s education there could be an important IA article there somewhere. All the rest was taken from the public record, as “funny” as that may be.

    • Tony Murphy 1 year ago

      Biology, maths and physiology/pharmacology aren’t STEM? Women with records of commercialising sophisticated science-based inventions are rated as ‘zero technology’? It’s not possible to learn something about STEM post-university?

    • Over the decades I have been in this industry I have worked with many men that do not have any formal education in tech, but that hasn’t seemed any barrier at all to their participation nor recognition of them and their achievements. As well, some of the assessments in this list are *way* off! Cathy Foley “zero technology”? Her technology contribution is stellar.

      • Digital Koolaid 1 year ago

        Cathy Foley – hxxps://

        Macquarie University
        BSc (Hons) Dip Ed PhD Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
        1976 – 1984
        Activities and Societies: Postgraduate Students Association Student Council

        Santa Sabina College, Strathfield
        Higher School Certificate Physical Sciences
        1970 – 1975

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