Girls in STEM – Creating the future

*This article first appeared in and has been republished with permission.

Late last year, InnovationAus announced a ‘Girls in STEM’ initiative to launch in 2021. We caught up with Publisher Corrie McLeod to find out more about the project’s conception and aims for the year ahead.

Was there a ‘moment’ that triggered this effort or did it just feel like a good idea for some positive progress heading into 2021?

It was actually during a podcast interview that James was doing with ‘veteran IT girl’ Ann Moffatt*. She was so funny and interesting, and had such great stories about her early days in the computing sector in England. I thought at the time – I wish high school girls could hear this – and realised that it could be a good project for us to make happen. I have the privilege of speaking to the most amazing and inspiring women all the time, and I want young people to hear from them too.

We have met hundreds of Australian women carrying out significant, and often ground-breaking, work in STEM and are driving change across the world. We have told their stories to the technology industry for over five years but now want to champion the valuable stories they have to tell to our future female leaders.

*Note, you can buy a copy of Ann’s just released biography The IT Girl: 50 years as a woman working in the Information Technology industry here. ? The book was edited and produced by the late Graeme Philipson.

Reactions so far from the industry?

The women we have approached to date – from cryptography leaders to game developers and astrophysicists – have been incredibly supportive and are more than happy to give their time to inspire future leaders. As far as students and schools go, we have had some really interesting expressions of interest – including many from home schooling organisations and communities.

A range of other organisations have contacted us about collaboration and partnership opportunities. From the outset, we have been clear that our role is a ‘storyteller’ that can recount the journeys of those who have broken barriers, and use them to connect and inspire. There are a lot of great organisations that deliver practical modules to schools, and we want to support them rather than compete with them.

What should schools and participants expect from a session?

Sessions will comprise a fireside chat with me and two guests for the first section of the webinar, and then we’ll open up to students for a broader Q&A. My guests will be insightful women sharing what they have learned on their STEM journey – including success stories, opportunities and barriers to entry – while encouraging students to challenge outdated stereotypes.

We really want to tackle areas of STEM that are particularly interesting right now and we know young people are very engaged in issues of social justice and the environment. So we will try to put the technology in this context. For example: How can we use drones to better understand and manage sensitive but remote areas of the environment? What role will cryptocurrencies play in improving social and financial outcomes in developing countries? How does a cryptographer inform government and the legal community on electronic voting and securing our democratic processes? And AI, quantum and healthcare – where will we see these intersect to bring better health outcomes for our communities? And space! How could we forget space?

We really want to talk about (and show) pathways to STEM and STEAM careers, and we will have an illustrator mapping the conversation so it can be captured and republished as posters and digital assets. We also want to be very careful not to exclude boys in the way we engage with schools and students – their involvement and interest is vital.

The events will be true to the name of the series ‘See what you can be’.  Our guests include women from culturally and language diverse backgrounds, indigenous women and women from different generations. Following the event, students will be invited to research and write an article profiling a ‘hidden figure’ Australian STEM, and one will be selected for publication on InnovationAus. We have also partnered with Cool Australia to make the recordings and assets available to teachers all over Australia as resources, should they fit elements of their teaching focus.

Is the theory to do live events or online or a hybrid?

Given the uncertain nature of COVID recently, we will kick off the series in a webinar format, but if things settle down, we would love to do a hybrid event and work with our video production partners to film something on location.

To wrap up, any general thoughts on InnovationAus in 2021 and the road ahead?

So many thoughts. We have just appointed current MD of Espresso, Cath Arnott, to take up the same mantle for InnovationAus – and she has been tasked with (and is doing an excellent job of) streamlining processes, HR, financial management and other operational aspects. This will free me up to realise some of the bigger things I would love to do (this series being one of them).

Last year has taught us all a lot about working ‘on the edge of chaos’, and this year there will be other things that will really challenge the publishing and media sector. But after a good summer break, we are going to hold on, think big and enjoy. Watch this space!

For more detail on the series and the talent we have secured, see our main page.