People on the Move

Women in Technology use their 20-20 vision

It may have looked like an event from the 1920s but the mindspace was in the 2020s when 250 technology industry professionals gathered to honour industry role models at the 12th annual Women in Technology Awards on Saturday night.

Robin Craig and Sonja Bernhardt: 1920s 'tech'.

Staged at The Tivoli in Fortitude Valley and themed on the 1920s, the event was a celebration of the massive contribution women are making in the information and bio technology industries.

The Women in Technology (WiT) Awards focus on recognising the achievements of women working in the IT and biotech industries, including as students, researchers and in executive roles. In its lifetime, 88 awards have been made with the winners sharing in over $570,000 in cash and prizes, and achieving recognition for excellence in their field.

Special guest Karen Struthers, the Minister for Women and Minister for Community Services and Housing, praised the contribution of those who had forged new ground in their fields, especially the eight winners and more than 25 nominees.

"Throughout history many brilliant women have not been recognized for their incredible contributions to science and technology," said Anne-Marie Birkill President of WiT. "The WiT awardsaim to ensure the current cohort of female scientists and technologists are recognised and rewarded for their achievements and to identify wonderful role models for men and women working or aspiring to work in technology."

For the first time in 2009 WiT awarded an Employer of Choice, a new category sponsored by the Queensland Government Office for Women. This award was made to the Mining Industries Skills Centre in recognition of their commitment to providing both men and women with a supportive and flexible work environment.

The winners of the 2009 WiT Awards were:

Sonja Bernhardt, CEO of ThoughtWare, was awarded the WiT ICT Outstanding Achievement Award, sponsored by Optus. Passionate about her industry, since 1997 Ms Bernhardt has consistently encouraged others to either take up a career in technology or adopt technology in their daily use through a multitude of career, role model, mentoring and board readiness programs. 

A certified developer of enterprise (CDE) and fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, she was the first Australian inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame (Silicon Valley 2005). Ms Bernhardt was a founder of WiT and AWISE and has held, and continues to hold, a string of impressive board and executive appointments locally, nationally and internationally. She has founded several start-up companies including her current venture, award-winning Thoughtware.

Hannah Cullup of Mater Medical Research Institute won the WiT Biotech Rising Star Award Sponsored by IHBI, particularly for her work on graft versus host disease (GVHD). GVHD is caused by the new transplanted immune system recognising the patient's body as foreign, attacking the skin, liver and GI tract. Dr Cullup hopes to determine whether depleting dendritic cells, a specialised white blood cell which controls the body's immune responses, could play a major role in preventing GVHD.

Yvonne Buckley of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland won the WiT Biotech Research Award Sponsored by UQ. Ms Buckley works jointly in the School of Integrative Biology at UQ and CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and is interested in various aspects of applied theoretical ecology. In particular she works on the population dynamics, species interactions and management of invasive plants.

Zee Upton of the QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation was awarded the WiT Biotech Outstanding Achievement Award sponsored by QCTN. Professor Upton is a biochemist, inventor, tissue engineer and dedicated developer of new intellectual property opportunities. She is an inaugural Smart State Senior Fellow, a professor in Life Sciences and leader of the Tissue Repair and Regeneration Program in the QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. Prof. Upton is also technical founder and consulting chief scientific officer for Tissue Therapies Limited. Her diverse expertise in growth factor protein, molecular and cellular technologies underpinned her discovery of VitroGro, a growth factor-extracellular matrix protein complex that stimulates cells to grow and migrate.

The only make to accept an award on the night, Mining Industry Skills Centre (MISC) CEO Derek Hunter said on receiving the WiT Employer of Choice Award, sponsored by the Office for Women, that his organization had no special policy on employing women. Rather, he said, MISC employed on skill and merit - which meant more than 70 percent of his employees were women and the majority of the MISC board was also made up of women. MISC is a Queensland based, not-for-profit organisation that partners with industry and informs government to maximise the skills of workers in the resources industry to assist in the sustainability of the industry.

Katherine Dann of the Department of Education and Training was awarded the WiT ICT Professional Award, sponsored by UNISYS. Ms Dann's knowledge and experience of enterprise technology is both broad and deep.  She holds a Masters of Commerce, majoring in information systems, and has contributed 15 strong years to the ICT industry working for government.  The judging panel felt that Ms Dann's ‘hands-on' approach, technical experience, and aspirations for the future provided an excellent grounding for a very successful career in ICT.

Therese Seldon, a PhD student at the Mater Medical Research Institute was awarded the WiT  PhD Career Start Award, sponsored by Griffith University. Ms Seldon is hoping to develop therapeutic DC antibodies to treat or prevent GVHD as well as develop antibodies for DC vaccination of patients against leukaemia and other cancers. She is using antibodies already developed at the Mater Medical Research Institute that recognise DC.  Ms Seldon has a promising future in the development of new diagnostics and therapies that will bring health and other benefits to all.

Barbara Tobin of the Queensland Youth Orchestra has taken out the WiT Executive Award sponsored by 3W. Ms Tobin has held a range of senior positions in the ICT industry, and has a proven record in the difficult field of sales, including growing the revenue of an IT distribution company from $7million to $38million in seven years.

While committed to her busy professional career and the demands of her extended family, Ms Tobin has found time to make extensive commitments to the community, including as immediate past-president of WiT and AWISE, and currently as vice-president of the Queensland Youth Orchestra. She was the founding project manager for the first WiT Board Readiness program, and a driver behind the development of many other WiT products.


The WiT Awards have been running since 1997 and have grown from three awards to nine this year. The WiT Awards have enjoyed tremendous support from industry, including from long-term sponsors such as Optus. 

In its lifetime, 88 awards have been made with the winners sharing in over $570,000.

Women in Technology  is one of Queensland's most respected and active technology industry associations.  Founded in 1997 by just 10 women, the association has now grown to a membership to over 400 women and men. 

In 2002 Women in Information Technology became Women in Technology; recognising the relationship between IT and emerging fields of science and engineering.

In 2005 WiT launched Women in Biotech and Women in Infotech, separate chapters to cater to the needs of the rapidly growing membership. WiT now offers cross-chapter and chapter-specific programs and events to members.

WiT represents the interests of all women working in the technology industries - from students to senior researchers, women working in micro-businesses to multinationals, the public and private sectors, the city and the regions.

WiT runs a range of programs and events including the much lauded Board Readiness Program, which prepares women for roles as directors on for-profit and not-for-profit Boards.


CUA's new CEO to drive growth

Credit Union Australia (CUA) has appointed Chris Whitehead as chief executive officer with a mandate to to drive its long-term strategy to become Australia's number one member owned financial institution.

Chris Whitehead.


Mr Whitehead, who was most recently regional director of Bank of Scotland, is aiming to offer new insight to the credit union with more than 20 years experience in information technology and financial services including nine years with Bank West.

CUA Board chair Kevin Ross said Mr Whitehead's experience and focus were aligned with CUA's future development.

"Chris's skills in developing retail banking products, services and management teams combined with his experience in systems and process improvement will help CUA evolve and secure greater market share," Mr Ross said.

Mr Whitehead said he was enticed to accept the role due to his drive to educate the market on alternatives to the ‘Big Four Banks'.

"CUA has a very strong market position and there is still immense potential to grow its membership and offer the community a solid alternative to the banks based on great service, fairness and value for our members -- which underpins CUA's differentiation in the market place," he said.

CUA is Australia's largest credit union and mutual financial institution, comprising 404,000 members, 800 staff and $7.7billion in assets under management.


Women too modest to nominate for awards?

Australian women are very modest when it comes to recognising their professional achievements, the Telstra Business Women's Awards nomination process has revealed.

Holly Kramer, group managing director for Telstra Product Management and Telstra Business Women's Awards Ambassador, said despite their remarkable achievements women were still reluctant to put up their hands and seek acknowledgement.

"Despite the fact that we are seeing excellent levels of nominations for this year's Awards, more than 86 percent of women who have currently been nominated have been put forward by someone else," Ms Kramer said.

"During the past five years we've seen more nominations for the awards but a decline in the number of women nominating themselves.

Image copyright Ross Coffey
Holly Kramer, Telstra. (Image copyright Ross Coffey)

"Whether this is because women are modest or they don't realise how amazing and inspirational their efforts are, we'd like to see more women putting themselves forward for the Telstra Business Women's Awards," Ms Kramer said.


The nomination data indicates the main reason women are being nominated this year is the passion they put into their work. Women are clearly inspiring others to take the time to nominate them.

Ms Kramer said in 2005 almost 36 percent of women who entered the awards were self-nominees, in 2006 it was 37 percent, but since then the number of women nominating themselves has slid gradually.

In 2007 only 19 percent were self-nominees, last year fewer than 17 percent of women nominated themselves, and to date this year fewer than 14 percent of the nominees put themselves forward.

"Programs like the Telstra Business Women's Awards offer successful business women the opportunity to raise their business' profile and be recognised for their success," Ms Kramer said.

"We know that women are often busy multi-tasking and balancing work, life and family so sometimes highlighting their achievements falls by the wayside. The awards provide the much-needed recognition for women in business all over Australia.

"This year we celebrate the awards' 15th year and so far we've recognised more than 400 exceptional business women. We are calling on all Australians to nominate both themselves and other deserving women, whose business journey, hard work and dedication to their chosen field have been an inspiration to others."

2008 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year Leanne Wesche encourages women to nominate for the awards immediately.

"I would encourage all women in business to participate in the program. Completing the entry process is a learning experience that will help you grow professionally," Ms Wesche said.

"The Telstra Business Women's Awards provide participants with the acknowledgement of the great job they are doing and provide your business with valuable publicity and recognition."

In 2009, there are five award categories open to Australian business women:

Commonwealth Bank Business Owner Award - for owners with a 50 percent share or more in a business with responsibility for key management decision making;

Hudson Private and Corporate Sector Award - for employees in the private and corporate sectors, or owners with less than a 50 percent share of a business;

White Pages Community and Government Award - for employees in government departments, statutory bodies and not-for-profit organisations;

Nokia Business Innovation Award - for eligible business owners, private sector employees and entrepreneurs who answer the Innovation questions in the Entry form; and

Marie Claire Young Business Women's Award - for entrants who are eligible in one of the three qualifying categories who were born on or after July 30, 1974.

Awards are offered in each category in every state and territory with the winners eligible for the national finals in November. Nominations close on July 10. 


Women in Technology Profile: Maree Smith

This Q&A with Women in Technology (WiT) Queensland Award winner, Maree Smith is from a recent WiT newsletter interview.

Professor Maree Smith is executive director and co-founder of TetraQ, the commercial arm of the Centre for Integrated Pre-Clinical Drug Development at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Prof. Smith is the recipient of the 2008 WiT Biotech Outstanding Achievement Award.

Maree Smith, TetraQ.

What impact will this award have on you personally and professionally?


Personally, I feel very honoured and privileged to receive this professional recognition from my WiT peers and colleagues.

Professionally, the award will undoubtedly raise my profile and that of TetraQ, the commercial arm of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development UQ. This award also has the potential to bring increased recognition to the biotechnology industry in Queensland and Australia and contribute to a better appreciation of the long timelines and hence commitment required to discover and develop new medicines that are suitably safe and effective for the improved treatment of human disease.

What led you to work in the biotechnology industry?

I wanted to contribute to the development of new medicines for the treatment of pain as a means of improving pain relief in patients but with reduced side-effects.

Who/what has been your strongest professional influence?

Prof. Tess Cramond has been a strong professional influence. I did a postdoc with Prof, Cramond in the late 1980s as a means of entering the pain field as a young researcher and to gain an appreciation of the unmet clinical needs in the pain field. I am in awe of her professional achievements including establishment of the first Multidisciplinary Pain Centre in Australia 41 years ago at the RoyalBrisbaneHospital, the training of several generations of anaesthetists and pain specialists in Australia as well as introducing CPR to the Surf Life Saving Movement of Australia.

Have you encountered a particularly valuable mentor along the way? What did they do for you?

Prof. Mervyn Eadie introduced me to Prof. Tess Cramond and she introduced me to the field of pain and pain management when I was a young postdoctoral fellow in her laboratory 20 years ago.

Is there a specific professional achievement that you are the most proud of?

Successful supervision of more than 40 PhD, Research Masters and Honours students.

Discovering the intellectual property that led to the formation of two UQ spin-out companies, viz QRx Pharm Pty Ltd which raised $50million when it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in May 2007 and Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, both of which are commercialising my new pain medicine discoveries.

Establishment of TetraQ, Australia's first integrated preclinical drug development organisation, with my three co-founders, Profs Dickinson, Toth and Minchin in May 2005 as the first provider of integrated preclinical drug development services to the biotechnology industry in Australia.

If you were to pass on one lesson to other women seeking a long-term career in your industry what would it be?

Focus on being the best that you can be and have a ‘can-do' attitude; discern and follow your own path; don't be too hung up on ‘the' career plan; allow things to evolve as circumstances change and opportunities will arise. Ask what you can contribute rather than being focused on what you can get in the short term. Opportunities come to those who are seen as contributors rather than being driven by self-interest alone.

The use of technology has evolved over they past 20 years, have you noticed any significant changes to the industry and for women? If so, please provide an example.

Over the past 20 years in the biotechnology industry, introduction of new technology has changed the ways that things are done with many previously laborious laboratory tasks now able to be done in a fully-automated manner, the footprint of many items of equipment having shrunk dramatically and the power of personal computers has increased exponentially. The wide availability of high speed broadband internet has revolutionised the way that people work making it easier for women who work long hours to do so at home rather than in the workplace so they remain in contact with their families at nights and on weekends whilst still being able to progress important tasks/projects.

In general, is there anything you would like to see introduced to encourage biotechnology careers for women?

To encourage women to undertake careers in biotechnology, educational/promotional materials targeted to teachers and career counselors in schools are needed as many of them are unaware of the diversity of potential careers available in the biotechnology industry spanning agriculture, devices, diagnostics and pharmaceuticals.

Re-entry fellowships for women who have temporarily left the workplace due to family responsibilities; financial support to biotechnology companies to take interns during the university summer vacation; a biotech version of ‘CSI' for promoting biotechnology as an exciting and rewarding career option; availability of readily accessible childcare for women with young children.

What technology have you used lately that impressed you?

High resolution non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging at the Centre for Magnetic Resonance at The University of Queensland.

What qualities do you think women possess that make them good leaders and entrepreneurs?

Ability to multiplex and progress multiple complex tasks concurrently; can-do attitude and ability to think laterally; empathy and caring

Where do you think you will be in five years time?

Leading the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development incorporating TetraQ, our commercial arm, which will have grown considerably to become recognised in the Asia Pacific as the premier organization of its type in the region.




The following additional information is taken from the original Mere Mortal article:

TetraQ undertakes contract preclinical R&D studies for a range of biopharmaceutical clients. TetraQ commenced operations in May 2005. Assistance was provided in the form of $8.1M in investment funds from the Queensland Government's Smart State Research Facilities Fund, and seed capital from UQ. Under Maree's stewardship, TetraQ has grown to an organisation with approximately 30 staff and over 45 clients around Australia.

Maree's zigzag path to establishing a biotechnology services business is typical of many biotech careers. Maree followed up a first degree in Pharmacy at UQ with Honours, and then a PhD in Clinical Pharmacokinetics and Drug Metabolism in the Department of Medicine of UQ at the Royal Brisbane Hospital (RBH). Maree's PhD thesis was a particularly exciting piece of work which studied the impact of pregnancy on the way the body handled the drug, propranolol, used to treat hypertension in pregnancy. The results revealed that changes in its metabolism from the 1st to the 3rd trimester of pregnancy could explain the larger doses required clinically to maintain good blood pressure control.

She believes that the mentors and role models she had during these years provided crucial guiding advice. Mr Bill Harris, whose 3rd year lectures in the undergraduate Pharmacy Program were the inspiration to enter the Honours program, as well as Prof Mervyn Eadie, Prof Wayne Hooper, Prof Tess Cramond and Dr Ian Livingstone, all researchers and practitioners at the RBWH.

After further research in Pharmacokinetics, Maree changed fields and undertook a postdoc in pain management with Prof Tess Cramond (1988-mid-1989), Director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Centre at RBWH and then in mid-1989, she then took up a full-time lectureship in the Department (now School) of Pharmacy at UQ. Her research in the pain field together with her teaching and service achievements led to her promotion to a Professorship in Dec 2003. She is an inventor of two pain medicines that are currently being commercialised one by QRx Pharma Ltd, a UQ spin-out company that recently raised A$50M when it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, and the other by Spinifex Pharmaceuticals. While now in a management role, Maree remains engaged in research through her involvement in contract R&D studies at TetraQ, the commercialisation of her own inventions, supervision of PhD students and through research projects targeted to bringing innovation into the preclinical drug development toolkit.

Maree is a self confessed high achiever and is passionate about the work she does. "The opportunity to make a difference and play a small part in contributing to the building of an on-shore biotechnology industry keeps my passion alive", she said.

Maree has also contributed to society via voluntary positions such as being on the National Board of Directors of the Australian Society for Medical Research for four years in the early 1990's and involvement at State level in the ASMR for about a decade. She is currently the Chair of the PhD scholarships committee and a member of the Scientific Program Committee for the Australian Pain Society, and a member of the Queensland Government's Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals Industry Forum. She is an active and enthusiastic member of WiT | Biotech appreciating the opportunity to become a mentor to new up and coming biotechies.

Maree believes that she has managed to achieve an acceptable balance between work and other commitments and is the proud parent of two well adjusted young adults. Maree stresses that she is not a superwoman. She says "In hindsight, the key was in having a nanny who picked the children up from school, ran them around to after school activities and prepared dinner, so that when my husband and I got home from work we could share quality time with them. For example, I recall that they loved the nightly bedtime stories. I was always home for birthdays and attended most Saturday morning soccer matches and Friday nights at swimming club. I also enjoyed my stints on the parent reading roster in Grade 1 and attending most school sporting carnivals, concerts, etc". ♦

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