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  • Writer's pictureJohn Debrincat

Leadership in STEM the Future Challenge


ACS Foundation Leadership in STEM

In today's rapidly evolving world, the significance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) cannot be understated. These fields drive innovation and economic growth, and they shape the way we approach and solve global challenges. STEM is no longer the land of the “geeks”. Some interesting STEM statistics:

  • STEM underpins around 65% of Australia’s GDP

  • 1% of Australia's workforce moving to STEM equals an increase of almost $60 Billion in GDP

  • STEM workers with a bachelor's degree or higher have a median salary that is over 45% greater than that of non-STEM workers with a bachelor's degree or higher.

  • 43% of the USA Fortune 500 companies’ leaders have a STEM background.

The success of STEM industries is not solely due to the technical skills of their workforce. Leadership plays a critical role in the advancement and impact of these sectors. The importance of leadership in STEM cannot be overstated, and how it fosters innovation, collaboration, and positive change. Information and Communications Technology, and many of the STEM disciplines, require proactive leadership in order to achieve a successful outcome.


Looking at some of the world’s largest and most successful companies, STEM plays a key role in their creation, development and growth. For example:

  • Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon, holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science.

  • Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX started with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics.

Without the use of the STEM disciplines there would be no internet, no mobile phones, no satellites in space, man could not have walked on the moon, we could not explore the deepest parts of the oceans, surgery and medicine as we know it today would not exist. The list of how STEM contributes to our lives is very long.


STEM is now a foundation pillar of the Australian and world economies.


"Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics has found the productivity dividend from digital innovations has resulted in a 6.5% increase in economic activity, equivalent to an additional $126 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the economy."

Source: ACS Australia's Digital Pulse 2022


STEM Innovation and Collaboration - ACS Foundation

Fostering Innovation


Effective leaders can inspire their teams and cultivate an environment that encourages creative problem-solving. They empower individuals to push the boundaries of what's possible and provide the necessary resources and support for their team members to take risks. In STEM fields, where innovation is paramount, strong leadership is crucial to stay ahead of the curve and developing groundbreaking technologies and solutions.


Encouraging Collaboration


Collaboration is the lifeblood of successful organisation and a cornerstone to successful technology projects. Complex problems often require interdisciplinary approaches, drawing upon the expertise of professionals from different backgrounds. Great leaders understand the importance of building diverse teams and fostering a culture of collaboration. They encourage open communication, information sharing, and constructive feedback, which ultimately leads to more effective problem-solving and innovation.


Developing Future Leaders


Leadership in STEM is about more than just managing a team. It is about inspiring and nurturing the next generation of STEM professionals. Good leaders invest in the growth and development of their team members, offering mentorship, guidance, and opportunities for advancement. By investing in the professional development of their employees, leaders help to ensure the future success of their organisation and the STEM industry.


Driving Change and Social Impact


STEM leaders have the power to drive change and make a positive impact on society. They can identify challenges, develop innovative solutions, and implement them to improve the world around us. By advocating for their work and engaging in important conversations, STEM leaders can inspire others to join their cause and contribute to the greater good.


Overcoming Challenges and Adapting to Change


The world of STEM is constantly changing, and leaders must be able to adapt to new information, technologies, and challenges. This means embracing uncertainty, learning from setbacks, and being willing to pivot when necessary. Strong leaders are resilient and adaptable, qualities that are essential for navigating the complexities of STEM industries.


Australia has talented and capable leaders that have helped solve many world problems and drive innovation and change. But we need to develop more now and into the future to respond to the challenges and opportunities. Our STEM leaders have excelled in their contributions to date.


Leadership in Quantum Computing


Professor Michelle Simmons is a renowned quantum physicist and the Director of the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the University of New South Wales. Her groundbreaking work in quantum computing has earned her numerous accolades, including the 2018 Australian of the Year Award. Simmons' leadership has driven the development of cutting-edge quantum technologies and positioned Australia as a leader in this field.


Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering


Dr. Marlene Kanga is an accomplished chemical engineer and entrepreneur with over 35 years of experience in the industry. She has held various leadership roles, including President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) and Engineers Australia. Dr. Kanga's leadership has been instrumental in promoting diversity and inclusion in engineering and advocating for sustainable development goals in engineering projects worldwide.


Australia's Science Leadership


Dr. Alan Finkel is an accomplished neuroscientist, engineer, and entrepreneur who served as Australia's Chief Scientist from 2016 to 2020. In this role, he provided high-level advice to the Australian government on matters related to science, research, and innovation. Finkel's leadership has been influential in shaping national policy and driving progress in various STEM fields, including energy, education, and research infrastructure.


Leadership in Sustainability


Professor Veena Sahajwalla is a materials scientist and the Founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales. Her innovative research in recycling and sustainable materials has earned her international recognition, including the Australian Prime Minister's Prize for Science. Sahajwalla's leadership has played a pivotal role in promoting sustainability and waste reduction in the materials science field.


Leading the Way to Mars


NASA Mission to Mars - ACS Foundation Blog

Dr. Abigail Allwood is a planetary scientist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of Mars. As the first Australian and first female Principal Investigator on a NASA Mars mission, she has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills. Dr. Allwood's work on the Mars 2020 rover mission, specifically the PIXL instrument, has advanced our knowledge of the Martian environment and the search for signs of past life on the planet.



Strong STEM Leadership


These Australian leaders in STEM have made significant contributions across a broad variety of fields and have demonstrated the power of strong leadership in driving innovation, collaboration, and positive change. They serve as role models for the next generation of STEM professionals and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. By recognising their achievements and learning from their experiences, we can continue to foster a thriving STEM ecosystem in Australia now and into the future.


Leadership in STEM is critical for fostering innovation, collaboration, and positive change. It drives the lifestyle improvements, grows our economy and drives industry forward which ensures continued success in the face of evolving challenges. By investing in the development of strong leaders, we can help to secure the future of STEM fields and create a better world for all.


Australia is home to a wealth of talent in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The country's commitment to fostering innovation and growth in these areas has produced remarkable leaders who have made significant contributions to the global STEM community.


ACS Foundation Challenge


ACS Foundation

STEM, and the knowledge that supports the technologies that we use today, has been around for 10,000's of years back to the beginning of civilisation. Early scholars such as Aristotle and Hippocrates laid the groundwork for many scientific fields. Our understanding in physics, astronomy, biology, and other areas of science, started with figures like Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Maybe they were considered "geeks" at the time.


But advances in knowledge that once took hundreds of years now are being exceeded and refined on a daily basis with new knowledge. STEM enables us to use knowledge to discover and invent new capabilities that we use now and into the future.


The ACS Foundation is committed to help develop our base of skilled STEM people. Our challenge, and the challenge for business and government alike, is attracting people to become the STEM leaders of the future.


Author: John Debrincat FACS, MAIDC

Director and Chair

ACS Foundation


For more information about becoming a donor or a scholarship participant contact us at the ACS Foundation.


ACS Foundation

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