Meet three Australian women leading the way in health, science and technology

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Meet three Australian women leading the way in health, science and technology

From fighting COVID-19 to developing social robots, these three Australian women are leading in their sectors and all have strong connections to the meetings industry:


Professor Lewin

Hailing from Melbourne, Professor Sharon Lewin AO is the inaugural Director of the Doherty Institute, a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. Professor Lewin has become a regular on Australian TV lately as the Doherty Institute work at the forefront of Australia’s efforts to fight Covid-19. The Doherty Institute was also the first organisation globally – outside China – to grow the novel coronavirus from a patient sample and the first to share their findings with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Known internationally as a leader in HIV research, Lewin oversees a large team that focuses on understanding why the virus persists on treatment and how HIV interacts with other common co-infections, including hepatitis B virus. Lewin and her team collaborate widely with research groups across Asia, the United States and Europe.

Her knowledge on antiviral drugs is now being applied to a clinical trial for Covid-19 that is currently underway in Australia. The trial, ASCOT, is testing two treatments using drugs that are currently used to treat HIV (lopinavir/ritonavir) and arthritis (hydroxychloroquine).

Professor Lewin is a Club Melbourne Ambassador and works alongside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) to encourage the decision-makers behind international health conferences to choose Australia. The Club Melbourne Ambassador Program is owned and led by Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, with support from Melbourne Convention Bureau and Victorian State Government.

She has given over 100 major presentations on the topic of HIV cure and was the local co-chair of AIDS 2014 – the largest health conference hosted in Australia with over 14,000 scientists, campaigners and politicians attending. According to congress organisers, the strength of Melbourne’s scientific community and expertise in HIV-related research, clinical care and community partnerships together with Professor Lewin’s national and international leadership and profile were major factors in Melbourne’s successful bid for AIDS 2014.


Mary-Anne Williams | Image courtesy of BESydney | Photographer: James Horan Photography

In Sydney you’ll find a fellow female thought leader, this time in technology, Mary-Anne Williams. Williams is the Director of The Magic Lab in the Centre of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Here, she is currently working with the United Nations to uncover the impact of artificial intelligence on human rights, sustainable development, peaces and securities.

She specialises in social robotics – making robots that are socially and emotionally intelligent as well as functional. Australia’s largest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and property group giant Stockland are both exploring the potential of social robots to improve their respective businesses.

The Innovation and Enterprise Research Lab Williams founded is so well regarded internationally it has drawn the attention of global companies and scientists including Apple and Sweden’s top cognitive scientist Peter Gardenfors who have both paid visits to the Sydney lab.

In 2019, Williams won a Google Faculty Award in Machine Learning and the Australasian Distinguished Artificial Intelligence Contribution Award.

And she is also no stranger to the meetings world. Williams chaired the 2014 International Conference on Social Robotics and is co-chairing the Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in December 2021. She also led the UTS Social Robotics team to win the 2019 RoboCup World Championship in Social Robotics, when it was held in Sydney last year.

In addition, she has given numerous keynote addresses at scientific conferences, government and business events including the United Nations, World Science Festival and the Sydney Science Festival.

As a proud Sydneysider, she works alongside Business Events Sydney as a Global Ambassador helping to highlight the city’s knowledge, experts, events infrastructure and delivery capabilities. At present, Williams is working with BESydney on bids for future events.


Dr Cathy Foley

In Australian science, you will find the top job of Chief Scientist at the national science agency also belongs to a woman – Doctor Cathy Foley – at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Dr Foley’s area of expertise is solid state physics such as semiconductors, magnetics, superconductivity and nanotechnology.

Dr Foley is working to help Australia be increasingly competitive by assisting with the translation of scientific research for economic prosperity.

She has a long list of accolades and awards for her contribution to physics including a Clunies Ross Award from the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering and the Australian Institute of Physics’ Outstanding Service to Physics Award.

Like Professor Lewin, Dr Foley was selected as a Club Melbourne Ambassador to work alongside the meetings industry to promote the city for international science conventions and conferences. As part of her Club Melbourne role, Foley was involved in securing the 7th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics 2020 (now postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19). The conference was established to help foster the participation of women in physics and has a history of making a positive difference for gender equality in the science community. The upcoming seventh conference will assist in the development of deeper research collaborations by setting up links between relevant researchers visiting from overseas and those based in Australia. Dr Foley together with Professor Sarah Maddison from the University of Melbourne, and Australia’s track record of gender equality, helped win this bid for Melbourne.

Discover more about Australian expertise for business events.



Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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