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Gender diversity key to water industry innovation, says expert

A leading water researcher has been named one of Science and Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM, a program designed to highlight and support gender diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dr Jillian KennyPower of Engineering and Machinam co-founder, said her current work in STEM education is inspired by research outcomes from her PhD on innovation in the water sector.

“In order to transition to water systems that thrive in modern conditions, the sector needs to innovate. My research explored the key elements that allow for innovation to arise,” Kenny said.

“One of the most exciting things about STEM is that the people in these professions get to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges – that’s an awesome opportunity. But in order to do that successfully we need to innovate, and one of the most essential factors for innovation is gender diversity.”

Kenny said Power for Engineering, which she co-founded with Felicity Furey in 2012, is aimed at helping young women in STEM with future career development.

“Power of Engineering is a non-profit organisation. We run day programs for Year 9 and 10 students, predominately girls and regional students. The intention is to dispel myths and stereotypes, and show them what’s possible with a career in a STEM field,” she said.

Kenny said many teachers asked how the enthusiasm for STEM generated in Power of Engineering workshops could be carried across into the classroom, which was a key motivation for founding Machinam.

“We came up with the idea of creating a repository of maths resources, and are now developing interactive resources that connect what students are learning in the classroom with the real world and future careers,” Kenny said.

Regarding support for women in STEM industries, Kenny said it’s crucial for organisations to support diversity, as different voices and experiences help enrich businesses and organisations.

“When young women do decide to go into the industry, it’s important for them to be themselves. It can be hard to try and mold yourself to workplace cultures, especially if you are the only woman,” Kenny said.

“But diversity is the key to innovation, and it’s the things that make us different that add value to the workplace.”

The Australian Water Association, in collaboration with the Australian Water Partnership, has launched a new program focused on increasing equality and diversity in the water sector across Australia and the APAC region. To learn more, click here.