A passion to solve some of our most difficult sustainability challenges – such as energy disruptions in developing nations and the protection of turtle habitats – has led two female innovators into careers in technology.
Finding solutions to environmental problems must start by pinpointing the problem that needs to be solved: “Start with the ‘why’ and the solutions will present themselves,” said scientific futurist, drone expert and Australian National University associate professor Dr Catherine Ball.
“When people fixate on the technologies, they become very blinkered towards the capability of other opportunities.
“When looking at environment monitoring, as I did with turtle nesting habitat behaviour, it was about gathering the data and having the best technology platform to do that,” she added. “This is where drones came in.”
Starting with the problem of climate change led to solutions embedded in STEM for renewable energy and clean tech investment director and QIC Global Infrastructure consultant Katerina Kimmorley.
Working on energy poverty in India, where a significant proportion of people lack access to stable electricity, the problem was how to get the best, cleanest technology to the people who need it most in an affordable way. Establishing a social business and living in India for five years, Ms Kimmorley applied the technology, but with a real emphasis on the problem.
“If you stay focused, you can utilise a whole raft of other technologies to scale something, sometimes even beyond your biggest dreams,” she added.
Ms Kimmorley and Dr Ball spoke with InnovationAus Publisher, Corrie McLeod, as part of See What You Can Be, a new series of interactive webinars championing Australia’s extraordinary female changemakers. This episode discussed their passion to positively change the future and what opportunities lay ahead of future leaders looking to do the same.
As women now working in STEM, both Dr Ball and Ms Kimmorley had an early interest in science. At times, Dr Ball was the only girl in a physics class or faced pushback from male colleagues, but she continued on.
Her advice to women in burgeoning STEM careers is simple: “It can seem incredibly daunting, but just know that change isn’t easy and you’re not on your own. There are always people who want you to succeed, even if they’re not in the same room”.
On the other hand, going to an all-girls school and with a group of likeminded friends who were passionate and focused on science, Ms Kimmorley relished physics and learning about the infinite expansion of the universe.
In her professional life now, Dr Ball is actively working to end the ‘manels’, or all-male panels, at conferences and events in her area of drones and robotics. While it’s not a problem unique to men, confirmation bias can see conferences organised largely by men end up with male-dominated panels.
“It’s a natural human trait. Therefore, you need diversity at the top, because if you don’t have that, you don’t get diversity in the groundswell,” she said. “I won’t subscribe to this idea of being the only woman in the room – there are many excellent women in our field.”
Industry events are also an important way for women in STEM to broaden their professional links. However, Dr Ball has found qualified women may not put themselves forward and need to be invited and actively encouraged to participate in a highly visible way in industry forums.
“Your network is your net worth. You can create your own pathways and opportunities by putting yourself in situations where you can form relationships,” said Dr Ball.
Ms Kimmorley said women wearing lots of different hats have still got to try and allocate time and effort to go to and put themselves up for speaking positions at professional events. “But, when they’ve got a lot of things going on, it’s often the first thing that drops off,” she said.
These events are a way to form connections with people who may go on to become your sponsors or mentors. As Dr Ball sees it, sponsors will open doors and opportunities, where mentors will always keep you growing. “It’s important to have professional champions throughout your life – people that realise your passion and push you on, she said. “And, if you can’t find them believe in yourself and follow your hunger.”
Ms Kimmorley said champions have been the key to her career and that “it’s about seeing what you can be”.
Find out more about See What You Can Be, where insightful women share what they have learned on their STEM journey – including success stories, opportunities and barriers to entry – while encouraging viewers to challenge outdated stereotypes.
InnovationAus has partnered with Cool Australia to make the video recordings and assets available to teachers all over Australia as resources, should they fit elements of their teaching focus.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.