Address to the Women in Venture Capital Forum
23 February 2017
[Check against delivery]
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’d like to start by thanking InnovationAus for inviting me to address this forum.
I took over the reins of the industry portfolio a few weeks ago, and hear some coverage has billed this speech as a major one on innovation.
My message is very simple: thank you for what you’re doing in the field of innovation.
You inspire me.
Celebrating your efforts and successes is vital in giving our fellow Australians, particularly women, the confidence to follow their dreams.
Woody Allen said that 80 per cent of success is showing up, and you’re testament to what can be achieved when you not only show up but make things happen.
You’re the entrepreneurs with the confidence and courage to start your own businesses.
You’re the investors with the risk appetite and business nous to turn smart ideas into commercial realities.
You’re the leaders who instill in others the conviction that their ideas matter and there might be a better way to do things.
If there’s one thing I want to mark my stewardship of this portfolio, it’s ensuring that the innovation mindset you embody every day is adopted across Australia.
State of Play
My conviction is that the more female entrepreneurs and investors there are, the more successful we’ll be not only at the business level but as a country.
We cannot afford to miss out on the brainpower and imagination of half the population if we want to realise our potential.
This isn’t pious sentiment—it’s backed up by study after study.
For example, a recent report by Innovation and Science Australia pointed to evidence showing that gender diversity is important for innovation performance.[i]
Research both in Australia and overseas has also found that gender diversity in leadership and entrepreneurship improves profitability.[ii]
Other research has found women-led private tech companies are more capital-efficient, achieve higher returns on investment and bring in more revenue.[iii]
I learnt about a very practical example of this when I attended the opening of Chinese e‑commerce giant Alibaba’s Australia New Zealand headquarters in Melbourne earlier this month.
The company’s chairman, Jack Ma, spoke compellingly about why he believes three specific groups will be most important to business success in the future.
He said small business will be the centre of innovation, young people will be the prime users of data technology, and women will be the most crucial leaders and employees.
Women make up 48 per cent of Alibaba’s workforce and the company has both a female CEO and a female CFO, and that’s been key to their success.
I’m pleased the situation is improving in Australia when it comes to female representation, but I am not complacent.
We should be proud that we’ve been ranked second best place in the world for female entrepreneurship by two global studies—the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard and the 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index.[iv]
We should also celebrate the fact that the number of women operating their own businesses, the number of women sitting on ASX 200 boards and the number of female start-up founders have all increased in the last decade. [v]
But we’ve got a lot more work to do.
Women are still under‑represented in several parts of the innovation ecosystem.
Disappointingly, women make up only a quarter of our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths—or STEM—workforce which delivers so many of the breakthroughs that entrepreneurs and investors turn into marketable opportunities.
As the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, I can assure you the Government is committed to overcoming the gender imbalance.
We launched a new Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship initiative as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda to improve career opportunities for women.
This includes an $8 million grants initiative for programs to boost women’s participation and increase the number of women in leadership positions.
We received more than 200 applications for the first round of funding and are investing $3.9 million in 24 successful projects around the country.
There’s a project to teach drone programming to female high-school students, especially those from regional areas in Northern Australia.
There’s another project supporting women in manufacturing and engineering careers in Geelong.
And here in Sydney, there’s a project to help female researchers and students to develop business ideas with assistance from scientific experts.
We’re also investing $2 million to establish a new group of ‘Male Champions of Change’ in STEM-based and entrepreneurial industries.
This home-grown model has already driven cultural change across many sectors, and increased the number of women in senior executive and leadership positions.
The CEOs of two agencies within my portfolio—CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation—are members of this new group.
We’re also investing $2 million to expand the Science in Australia Gender Equity—or SAGE—pilot to cover more science and research institutions.
I’m delighted that 40 organisations have already signed up.
This represents almost half of the Australian research sector, and includes CSIRO and ANSTO, showing that my portfolio is actively involved in the initiative.
These organisations submit plans to improve their gender equity to an external peer review body which decides if they meet the criteria for SAGE accreditation.
SAGE accreditation is a very public signal to prospective students, employees and the wider community that the organisation is serious about gender equity.
Since being launched in 2015, SAGE has moved the issue of gender equity from the sidelines of the research sector to being the target of concerted action.
For example, some universities have had recruitment rounds targeted at women—like in engineering at Swinburne and maths at the University of Melbourne.
And I’m confident that, in the longer-term, the SAGE initiative will help to narrow the pay gap as women advance in their careers.
Our work to promote gender equity complements our commitment to giving young Australians the tools they need to succeed as inventors and entrepreneurs.
It’s important to empower people who are already in the workforce but it’s even more important that we instill an innovation mindset in the next generation.
We don’t want a school student to arrive on day one of her first job a decade from now without the skills, curiosity and imagination to transform her workplace.
That’s why we’re investing $99 million through the National Innovation and Science Agenda to improve students’ digital literacy and STEM skills.
We’re running national computing challenges, developing early-learning STEM resources, equipping teachers to deliver the digital technologies curriculum, and supporting partnerships between schools and industry.
Three in every four future jobs will require expertise in STEM disciplines and nine in ten will involve digital literacy so this is a vital investment in our future.[vi]
Private Sector Collaboration
Many of you here are doing incredible work to support the next generation of female entrepreneurs and investors, and create opportunities for women across the entire workforce.
For example, Jo Burston’s Inspiring Rare Birds movement aims to inspire one million more women to become entrepreneurs by 2020.
I was pleased my ministerial colleagues Julie Bishop and Michael McCormack attended the launch of its Canberra branch at Parliament House last week.
Another great example is Scale Investors, a network led by Laura McKenzie that’s equipping women for success in the male-dominated angel investor sector.
There’s also Springboard Enterprises—founded by Kay Koplovitz and with an Australian arm chaired by Topaz Conway—that’s supporting women-led technology and life science companies.
These leaders—and many more—will be sharing their insights this morning.
The success of the grants initiative I mentioned earlier is largely due to the consultations we held with businesswomen, entrepreneurs and scientists including two of today’s speakers in Jo Burston and Topaz Conway.
By drawing on their experiences, we developed a well-targeted program that’s delivering more opportunities for women in STEM and entrepreneurial fields.
I’m committed to building on this sort of collaboration.
Entrepreneurs and investors are at the centre of the economy, and I am very interested to hear your views on what is and isn’t working.
That’s why I intend to establish a Women’s Advisory Roundtable to provide advice on growing opportunities for women in industry, innovation and science.
I envisage it being made up of representatives from the private sector, research institutions and government, including senior executives and actual practitioners.
It will deliver feedback on existing initiatives and inform the design of new policies and programs to nurture more successful female innovators.
I am committed to taking on board your advice and expertise, and anticipate chairing the first meeting in the second half of this year.
As I said at the outset, you’re the people with the innovation mindset I want to see embedded across the whole economy.
We’re used to being a commodities economy, but today ideas are our most important resource.
And if our ideas are the coal and iron ore of the future, then you’re the people charged with uncovering them, refining them and turning them into products that will make our lives better.
You know this requires collaboration between governments, researchers and the private sector.
You know this means we have to think globally so not just Australia but the world is our market.
And you know as well as anyone that we can’t afford to miss out on the immense talent and expertise that women bring to entrepreneurship and venture capital.
We need people like you if we want to boost productivity, raise incomes, create jobs and remain a globally-confident, outward-looking country that can match it with the best in the world.
I look forward to working with you to realise this vision.
[ii] http://www.kauffman.org/~/media/kauffman_org/resources/2015/entrepreneurship%20policy%20digest/july%202015/women_entrepreneurs_are_key_to_accelerating_growth.pdf; http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/asx-500-companies-that-employ-more-women-make-more-profit-study-shows-20160307-gnccnz.html; https://piie.com/newsroom/press-releases/new-peterson-institute-research-over-21000-companies-globally-finds-women?id=241
[iii] Padnos, Cindy (2010), “High Performance Entrepreneurs: Women in High Tech”, white paper, www.illuminate.com; http://tech.co/7-percent-investor-money-goes-women-led-startups-infographic-2015-05
[vi] The Senate, Economics References Committee, Australia’s Innovation System, December 2015 at [2.59] (available at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Innovation_System/Report).