This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress’.

When Kim McKay AO, current Director and CEO, was appointed to her role at the Australian Museum in 2014, she became the first female Director and CEO in the museum's 190-plus year history.

Since then, important progress has been made at the museum and across the sector, ensuring more women have opportunities to lead. Today, the Australian Museum boasts an Executive Leadership Team where 67 percent of positions are held by women.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, we wanted to share a snapshot of some of the outstanding women who work in our museum, in diverse areas, such as climate solutions, cultural collections, and science.

Ms Kim McKay AO, Australian Museum Director & CEO
Kim McKay AO, Australian Museum Director & CEO. Image: Ross Coffey
© Australian Museum

Dr Jenny Newell

Curator, Climate Change – Climate Solutions Centre

I help people understand climate change and step up to tackle the crisis. At the Climate Solutions Centre (CSC), we collaborate with a diverse range of people and communities who are advancing solutions on the ground, and communicate these powerful stories for positive futures. We produce exhibitions, design and publish programs and digital resources, research, and present talks.

What I love most about what I do is learning from other people, and helping people learn how we can better care for each other and other species.

Dr Jenny Newell, Curator, Climate Change at the Australian Museum
Dr Jenny Newell, Curator, Climate Change at the Australian Museum. Image: Anna Kucera
© Australian Museum

Take the leap

I’ve had a lot of people invest with kindness and generosity throughout my career. I remember clearly being in a senior colleague’s office when I was a research assistant at the Australian National University’s Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, talking about next steps, when she suggested I pursue a PhD. I laughed and said something about a PhD not being something that I could do – and she said, ‘Of course you could do it.’ I remember the leap of hope and excitement. My PhD was by far the most wonderful phase of my career – all that time and support to pursue my own area of investigation and discovery. It opened the door to a life of wonderful experiences -- thanks, Julie Gorrell! I also appreciated being appointed as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York despite being pregnant with my third son -- thanks, Dr Laurel Kendall!

Make a difference

My advice for women and girls interested in climate change is to throw yourself into learning more – join a group that appeals to you, my choices are 1 Million Women, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, or Australian Parents for Climate Action. Talk about climate change and take action at home, in your community and the wider world. It’s rewarding stepping up. There’s so much you can do that can make a difference.

Miriama Simmons

Pasifika Consultation Officer – Cultural Collections Enhancement Project

I am privileged to work with the Pasifika Collections at the AM.

Last year, I worked on the special exhibition, Bilas: Body Adornment from Papua New Guinea and our new permanent Pasifika exhibition, Wansolmoana.

This year, I am excited to be working on the Cultural Collections Enhancement Project as the Pasifika Consultation Officer. In this role, I research the collections and consult cultural knowledge holders to return Indigenous names to objects and enhance the Australian Museum's records.

Miriama Vasiti Simmons, Pasifika Exhibition and Collection Enhancement Project Officer at the Australian Museum.
Miriama Vasiti Simmons, Pasifika Exhibition and Collection Enhancement Project Officer at the Australian Museum. Image: Abram Powell
© Australian Museum

Reconnect with culture

As a lifelong history lover with a Master of Museum Studies, I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love every day. What I love most is the opportunity to work with my own culture and community – I am of Fijian and Anglo-Australian heritage – it has been amazing to be able to reconnect and learn about my culture. I also love the opportunity to engage with other Pasifika communities and cultures to learn more about our part of the world.

I’m fortunate to be a part of the Australian Museum’s First Nations Division, which has so many amazing women managing and working within the team. From Director, Laura McBride; to Head of Pasifika Collections & Engagement, Melissa Malu; and Cultural Collections Enhancement Manager, Meredith Lynch Underwood, I’ve been fortunate to receive continued support in my career and opportunities to work on exciting projects to gain more experience and skills.

Miriama with glong (headdress) from the Maring Glong Culture of Meingik, Koinambe Community, Jimi District, Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea. Made by Chief Marsiel Aikun.
Miriama with glong (headdress) from the Maring Glong Culture of Meingik, Koinambe Community, Jimi District, Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea. Made by Chief Marsiel Aikun. Image: Supplied
© Australian Museum

Acknowledge your responsibility

It's important to recognise the privilege and responsibility that comes with working with culturally significant collections. These collections hold deep meaning and importance for living communities. I would encourage any women or girls interested in cultural collections to delve into the history of how these collections came to be in museums. Understanding this history is crucial for comprehending the legacies we are working with. Many of the people I work with come from diverse work and education backgrounds – there are lots of different paths that can be taken to work with cultural collections.

Dr Jodi Rowley

Lead Scientist for FrogID & Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology

In one way or another I’ve been involved at the Australian Museum for more than 20 years. I became a frog biologist – a herpetologist – when I fell in love with frogs. I saw these amazing creatures at university – they looked like plastic, sort of shimmery, with big eyeballs. Then, when I realised how much trouble they were in and how much they needed our help, I began to do what I could do to help frogs.

Dr Jodi Rowley
Dr Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology (Herpetology) with a Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

Follow your passion

The Curator of Herpetology is a diverse role. Day-to-day, I could be teaching students in the morning at UNSW Sydney, or out in the field across Australia studying frogs. I’m passionate about making NSW, Australia and the world a better place, to make sure that future generations get to inherit a planet with as much awesome biodiversity as we’re lucky to have right now.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a lot of people invest in me and my career, including Kim McKay AO – who trusted me to be the face of and the scientific lead of the FrogID Citizen Science Project. It’s been a massive opportunity and a real privilege.

Frog Pond launch with Bunnings
Australian Museum and Frog ID staff joined with Bunnings for the launch of our frog pond partnership at Camdenville Public School in Newtown. Image: Nick Langley
© Australian Museum

Break new ground

Women in STEM still experience major issues. I am the first non-assistant female in the Herpetology department at the Australian Museum in 190 plus years.

A lot of women enrol in STEM degrees, however, we tend to lose women over time. By the time you reach my level, you tend to see a lot of men in these leadership roles. Hopefully, I can be a role model, but I am also trying to make it easier for women to stay in science – that’s hard to do because a lot of scientific funding is short-term. It’s incredibly important we try to fix the 'leaky pipe' to stop losing women as they move up the ranks.