Drone in flight

How can we push the envelope on diversity in STEM?

Published on
June 18, 2021
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Diversity should be more than a buzzword. According to Dr. Catherine Ball, we have to put the human at the centre of innovation and technology. To do so, she notes we should be making the most of every layer of knowledge we can get our hands on.

Known as a ‘Scientific Futurist’, Dr. Catherine Ball wears many hats. She is an Associate Professor, acclaimed tech influencer and drone expert. Taking to our TEDxMelbourne stage in 2017 to present 'Who runs the drones? Girls', Catherine believes that teaching girls about science and technology is the critical gap to equality. It makes us consider how we view girls, and how we view ourselves as humanity. She currently sits on the board of many women in STEM initiatives. If you're on Clubhouse app, you can catch her discussing topics in the industry there.

Since her TED Talk, she co-created the World of Drones and Robotics Congress. The conference is the largest of its kind outside the US, especially in the commercial field. Based in Brisbane, Catherine is grateful to have been able to run an 800+ person hybrid event in 2020 with participants from Arizona to Zimbabwe. “It is the only technology conference that aims to have balanced gender diversity, inclusive of everyone, regardless of how people identify. The people who present and take part are the best at what they do”, she states.

“In 2015, I attended a drone conference in Melbourne and was the only woman in the room”, she remembers.

“I asked for free tickets to bring my female colleagues along, I didn’t want to be the only woman in the room. I was shameless, but it shouldn’t have been necessary”.

Prioritising diversity and inclusion is the key to making change. Catherine looks forward to hosting her next conference in Brisbane, August 18-19 2021. The conference will be in a hybrid format to allow great minds from around the world to dial in.

Catherine focuses on identifying problems, and finding the best available technology and solutions. Her recent research work within the rare disease field reflects her purpose. Recently diagnosed with a rare eye disease, she shares that it is not rare to have a rare disease. "Over half a billion people suffer from one". She often gets asked why she looks at eye diseases when she works with drones, but it is all about the data. She seeks to understand and find solutions to the “whys”. “When you learn to surf, don’t look at your feet. Your body aligns itself when you look ahead”, she shares. It is important to be forward facing, interested and proactive.

At board level, organisations tend to bring on people they know and trust. Catherine reflects on her experience working in STEM. “This causes our own confirmation bias, and your lens becomes focused on your own network”. The perfect person may be standing in front of you, but if you don’t know them, will you trust them? If the board is male dominated, they are less likely to bring on someone different. The solution is to get to know someone irrespective of their gender identity. Your job isn’t to know all the details, rather to empower everyone else to be the best at their role. Managers light fires underneath people but leaders light fires within people. “You can’t break the system from inside, you have to get outside it”, she asserts.

When investing, the only metric Catherine looks at is board composition. “I treat it as a litmus test”, she says. It reveals the culture, intelligence and financial viability of an organisation. When there is diversity at the board level, organisations are more profitable. Studies by McKinsey and Harvard prove that time and time again. “We have to support different voices to add value to the business model”.

Catherine wants the world to hear more diverse voices in STEM. She begins by advocating for drone education. There are now more than 20 drone education companies that work with schools around the world. As a former director of She Flies, Catherine is a pioneer of drone education. She has since passed on the trademark “She Flies, Because She Can” to Girl Geek Academy. “It is okay to be a pioneer and then change, and then not exist anymore, at least it is starting a conversation, making progress”, she says. How can we continue to push the envelope on diversity in male-dominanated industries? “One step at a time”.

In honour of Global Rare Disease Day which falls on February 28, Catherine is hosting a discussion on ‘Rare Diseases, Orphan Drugs, and Emerging Technologies’ on Clubhouse at 9AM AEST, 1st March 2021.


Design
Culture
Science
Technology
Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.

Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.