Cicada Innovations names Dr Katherine Woodthorpe as its first female chair

- September 28, 2023 3 MIN READ
Dr Katherine Woodthorpe & Sally-Ann Williams
Incoming Cicada Innovations chair Dr Katherine Woodthorpe & CEO Sally-Ann Williams
Cicada Innovations has appointed Dr Katherine Woodthorpe as its new chair, the first woman to lead the board in the 23-year history of the Sydney-based deep tech incubator.

The non-executive director (NED) replaces Andrew Rothery after nearly eight years in the role.

Dr Woodthorpe has more than three decades of experience in commercialising technologies across a broad range of critical industries, including environmental and climate science, renewable energy, and healthcare.

She’s been a director of a range of scientific organisations, including the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Antarctic Science Foundation, the Commonwealth Government’s National Climate Science Advisory Committee which developed the “Climate Science for Australia’s Future” report, and Fishburners. She also recently became the first woman elected President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

She currently has NED roles at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, RACE for 2030 CRC, AnteoTec Ltd, and Bioplatforms Australia.

Her relationship with Cicada Innovations dates back to its genesis as ATP Innovations, providing a key advisory role in the deep tech incubator setting up shot in the South Eveleigh precinct back when it was known as the Australian Technology Park.

Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams, who’s been busy delving into diversity in the STEM sector in a review for the federal government, said Dr Woodthorpe’s appointment demonstrates the strength, capabilities, and critical role women can and must play in deep tech and STEM.

“Having a female trailblazer join Cicada’s board with the sheer breadth and depth of experience Katherine brings is a strong signal to everyone that there is a critical role for women to play in leadership in this crucial sector,” she said.

“Katherine understands the architecture, leadership and advocacy needed at a national level to facilitate growth in complex economies founded on science and engineering businesses. I believe she will help to elevate Cicada Innovation’s role not just nationally but also internationally.

“We need more women and people from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM and deep tech, because their skills, capabilities, experience, and different ways of thinking drive better decision-making and outcomes. Creating visibility around this also helps to remove the stereotypes and artificial barriers that tell the world there isn’t a place or role for women in STEM. This is patently untrue. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is needed.”

Dr Woodthorpe said Australia is still struggling to find enough scientists and engineers for the nation to hold its place in an increasingly tech-orientated future and women are vital to the solution.

“If we don’t encourage half the population to view STEM as a fulfilling career – and then create an environment where this is actually the case – then we are wasting half of our nation’s brain power,” she said.

“As the adage goes, you can’t be what you don’t see. In this context, the more normalised and uncontroversial we make it for women to occupy senior roles in STEM, the more girls and young women will see that there are genuine career opportunities awaiting them too.

“I look forward to the day when no one actually notices that there are two women at the helm of deep tech because it has become commonplace, a fact of life. As we strive towards this, I look forward to working with Sally-Ann to enable more deep tech entrepreneurs to achieve their full potential, while cementing Cicada Innovations as the leading deep tech incubator in the region.”

Looking back on his eight years as chair of Cicada Innovations, Andrew Rothery said women have been under-represented in so many areas of business and public life, and that needs to be addressed for the nation to achieve its full potential.

Women are in 23% of senior management roles in STEM, but that plummets to just 8% in the C-suite.

“In my time here, I have had the privilege of working with two exceptional CEOs, Petra Andrèn and Sally-Ann Williams,” Rothery said.

“Both of these extraordinary women have excelled in their role of advancing the interests of deep tech commercialisation in Australia. It’s difficult to speak about deep tech commercialisation in Australia without referring to Cicada Innovations in the same sentence.

“If there is a place for women to be championed and encouraged into deep tech and STEM more generally, it’s undoubtedly in this organisation.”

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