6 trailblazing women in AI to inspire your students

Women represent only 37 per cent of enrolments in university STEM courses and hold a mere 15 per cent of STEM-qualified jobs.¹ There is a critical need to empower female students to pursue careers in STEM fields, to help Australia meet the ever-increasing demand for digital technology professionals in the future. It will also ensure that new technologies and advancements like AI are created inclusively, and represent the collective needs of our society without bias.

One way for teachers to cultivate an interest in STEM among their female students is by showcasing inspiring female role models that girls can look up to.

With International Women’s Day on the horizon, we’ve rounded up six remarkable women who are exceptional STEM leaders in Australia and New Zealand.

 ¹ State of STEM Gender Equity in 2023

Stela Solar, Director of the National AI Institute, CSIRO

Stela holds the esteemed position of Director at the National AI Institute, where her primary focus is putting AI on the agenda for corporations and building value for Australian people, businesses and the country, through the use of AI. 

Additionally, Stela serves as Co-chair of the Commonwealth AI Consortium (CAIC)—an organisation that includes tech giants, research institutions, nonprofits, and Commonwealth member countries. The CAIC aims to harness the power of AI’s global innovations to strengthen the prospects of small states and empower 1.5 billion young talents in AI across the Commonwealth through various initiatives.

Stela boasts a career spanning across multiple sectors, including roles within various IT distributors and tech start-ups. Before her role at CSIRO, Stela was the Global Director of AI Solutions Sales and Strategy at Microsoft.

Professor Mary-Anne Williams, Michael J Crouch Chair for Innovation, UNSW

Professor Mary-Anne Williams is the Michael J Crouch Chair for Innovation at the University of NSW Business School, where she collaborates with the broader innovation community in startups, business, industry and government to grow entrepreneurship and accelerate innovative thinking in Australia.

Mary-Anne also leads the UNSW Business AI Lab, which focuses on how AI can ignite, launch and accelerate innovation, and has led numerous projects in technology-enabled advancement and built solutions using AI, Design Thinking, experimentation, and analytics.

Honoured as a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI, the international peak body for AI), the Australian Computer Society, and the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE), Mary-Anne also chairs the Digital Futures Forum at ATSE alongside incredibly inspiring leaders like Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, David Thodey and others.

Kylie Walker, CEO, Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering

As CEO of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), Kylie collaborates with Australia’s leaders in applied science, technology and engineering. Kylie and her team offer guidance to decision-makers and lead national dialogues aimed at supporting a technology-powered, human-driven future for Australia.

Kylie has served on the boards of Australia’s National Commission for UNESCO, the National Research and Innovation Alliance, and National Science Week. 

Known for her ability to bridge the gap between the STEM community and stakeholders including governments, businesses, media and society, Kylie has successfully spearheaded campaigns to increase investment in Australian research and development in science and technology. She also pioneered the Superstars of STEM and Elevate: Boosting Women in STEM programs, championing Australian women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Kylie is also a visiting fellow at the Australian Science Media Centre, recognised as an AFR 100 Women of Influence, and a member of the leadership development program Chief Executive Women.

Dr Ekta Sharma, Researcher, the Office of National Intelligence

Dr. Ekta Sharma is a distinguished researcher with the Australian Government’s National Intelligence Community, spearheading innovative efforts in advancing next-generation data security technologies to help solve communication problems in the context of space satellite challenges.

As the University of Southern Queensland’s Vice Chancellors’ Postdoctoral Fellow for Women in the STEMM discipline, Ekta champions gender equity and improved career pathways for women as part of the Science in Australia Gender Equity Athena Swan Action Plan.

In 2023 Ekta received the Inspiring Excellence in Research and Education Award for her innovative research on novel AI early-warning systems to combat air pollution. These systems have the potential to aid in the response to the effects of climate change as well as natural disasters like bushfires.

Saba Samiei, Founder of Comfort.AI and MACSO Technologies

Since completing her Master of Computer and Information Sciences in 2019, Saba Samiel has founded two AI startups. The first, Comfort.AI, is an educational platform that provides online resources and in-person workshops about AI. 

Her most recent venture, MACSO Technologies, uses AI to replicate human senses to prevent catastrophes from happening. Some of the use cases for the tech include respiratory health monitoring of pigs on pig farms, and aerosol sensors that can be placed in schools, hospitals and hotels to monitor for dangerous chemicals in the air.

Saba won the coveted Women in AI Innovator Award for the Asia-Pacific region in 2023, an annual event that honours the top female entrepreneurs in AI, and aims to inspire women to take part in AI-related career paths.

Dr Sue Keay, Partner and Director of Future Work Group

Dr. Sue Keay is renowned as one of Australia’s most influential leaders in AI and robotics. She set up the world’s first robotic vision research centre (the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision) and led the development of Australia’s robotics roadmap, which inspired Australia’s National Robotics Strategy; Australia’s strategy for implementing emerging automation technologies.

Sue also serves on the committee for the National Robotics Strategy, guiding the way Australia develops and uses robotics, with the aim of boosting local manufacturing, opening up export opportunities and creating safer and more productive work environments.

Named one of the first Superstars of STEM, Sue is a strong advocate for diversity and is closely involved with global organisations for women in technology. Sue serves on the Boards of Robotics Australia Group and the Australia AI Collective, as well as Women in Robotics.

Have you registered for the Day of AI 2024 yet?

Equip your students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in an increasingly AI-powered world. The Day of AI is a free full day of engaging and interactive learning for students in Years 5 – 10. The Day can be taught at any time during Term 2. Materials will be made available to registered teachers from early April.


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Accessed March 4, 2024.


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