Ensuring Australian women are the innovators of the future

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Successful female visionaries from the University of Newcastle (UON) will share their experience navigating a career in innovation at the 2017 Women in Innovation event next week

Dr Yolanda Surjan

Featuring UON as a key player in the innovation space, the event is part of the ten-day Hunter Innovation Festival (16 – 26 May), which aims to inspire Hunter business, industry and community to act on advances in technology and thinking.

An expert panel, including Dr Yolanda Surjan, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences and CSIRO’s Breakout Female Scientist, are set to provoke debate around ‘The Sponsorship Effect’.

The panel will explore whether women need sponsorship rather than more mentoring to succeed in Australia’s innovation ecosystem. Research has demonstrated that whilst women are more likely to have mentors than men (83% vs 76%), that effort is not translating into the same career benefits, with fewer women achieving career success (72% vs 65%)*.

“A sponsor is generally someone senior in your field who has influence and is able to act as an advocate, ensuring their protégé is considered for exciting opportunities they may not otherwise have access to,” Dr Surjan explained.

“A mentor acts as more of a role model for emotional and professional support by providing advice on a personal level.

“I’m lucky enough to have a very involved sponsor and, as a researcher, her presence has been absolutely vital in the last 18 months of my career.

“Having a recognised leader place their trust and confidence in you and what you can achieve really makes you rise above and beyond. You go that little bit harder to make sure you don’t let them or yourself down,” she said.

Dr Surjan emphasised females working in STEM fields can find it difficult or intimidating to reach out to key influencers, but that the connection can be a vital turning point.

“It’s like I’ve been trying to jimmy open doors for years now and all of a sudden someone comes along and says ‘I think you can do it, let me help you’,” she said.

Hosted by UON’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Deborah Hodgson, the event will be an opportunity to hear from new arrivals to Newcastle in the innovation space, including UON Pro Vice-Chancellor (Industry Engagement & Innovation) Dr Sarah Pearson, RDA Hunter CEO Susan Wilson and AusIndustry Entrepreneurship Facilitator Cheryl Royle.

The Women in Innovation panel will place a strong focus on gender equality and the promotion of equity in the workplace, issues Dr Surjan stressed still need attention.

“Being a part of the panel is really important to me, as I can see those barriers clearly and sometimes they become so significant that we stop trying to push through them.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my journey in the hope it helps someone else,” Dr Surjan said.

Women in Innovation – The Sponsorship Effect is a free event at The Crowne Plaza on Monday, 22 May at 5pm. Find out details of all the festival events and register here: www.hunterinnovationfestival.org

*Ibarro, H., Corter, N.M., SIIvo C (2010) Harvard Business Review September 2010