Young women who are open to opportunities and hungry to learn may end up in successful STEM careers that they never dreamed possible.

That was one of the major themes of the Girls in Tech event held today at the Foundry, Commonwealth Bank’s headquarters in South Eveleigh, Sydney.

Co-hosted by Telstra, Girls in Tech aims to inspire female high school students to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Hundreds of young women attended the 2021 event, both in person and virtually from across the country.

The event opened with a keynote presentation from three inspiring speakers — businesswoman and activist Wendy McCarthy; Lumachain founder and CEO Jamila Gordon; and visual science communicator Dr Kate Patterson — who all explained the surprising turns their lives and careers have taken.

Wendy McCarthy

“The first thing I really want you to know about life is the only game in town is education. It’s one of the few things you get that no one can ever take away from you,” said Ms McCarthy, revealing how her humble beginnings as the only pupil at a remote NSW school led to distinguished roles including university chancellor and prime minister’s advisor.

“You can do anything when you’re ready to learn,” McCarthy said.

Dr Kate Patterson used her keynote address to implore her young audience to “keep an open mind” about their career. Starting out as a vet, she later completed a PhD in cancer biology but realised her true passion was combining science with art and design. She now creates remarkable animations and virtual reality displays, which demystify the complex molecular chemistry that happens inside the body.

“I didn’t want to work with computers, I didn’t want an inside job – and that’s basically what I do now, and I absolutely love it,” said Dr Patterson.

The opening speeches were followed by live and virtual events, as well as exhibition booths that provided the young students with opportunities to hear from more women who work in STEM and learn more about emerging fields and technologies.