Kim Jackson wants to change the face of STEM
Kim Jackson’s journey from coastal Queensland to venture capitalist via ANU is driving her quest to change the face of STEM, Subu Shankar writes.
On her first day at ANU, Kim Jackson felt a bit out of place. Wearing a bright floral top and shorts, she was dressed like a Queenslander. But it wasn’t just the weather that was an adjustment for Jackson, who grew up in the small coastal town of Yeppoon in Central Queensland and now found herself 1500 kilometres from home living in student accommodation.
“When I look back, and I know this sounds crazy, I thought Canberra was a big city and it took a while to get used to traffic lights, big buildings, and so many people,” she says.
Jackson was also one of only a handful of women in her engineering degree — a ratio that hasn’t changed significantly over the years. Now, the successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist is hoping to encourage more women who love maths and science to pursue STEM careers.
“When you look at female representation in STEM, the numbers paint a fairly bleak picture,” Jackson says. “We had less than 10 per cent women in our engineering class, and even now I think it is just between 20 and 30 per cent.”
After studying engineering and commerce at ANU, Jackson worked as an investment banker, first at Citigroup, and then at Hastings Funds Management for more than a decade.
“And if engineering at university was heavily male dominated, the same was true of my time in investment banking and funds management,” she says.
I want to support the dreams of female students who have the smarts, but not necessarily the means.
Jackson has also served as Board Director of infrastructure companies Transgrid, the Sydney Desalination Plant, the Mater Hospital PPP, and ElectraNet. Four years ago, she founded Skip Capital to back high-growth technology start-ups and infrastructure projects.
Since 2018, Skip has invested more than $200 million into new technology start-ups, half of which were founded and led by women. These include graphic design platform Canva, co-founded by Melanie Perkins; workplace diversity start-up WORK180, founded by Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva; and digital skincare company MetaOptima, co- founded by Maryam Sadeghi.
In 2019, Jackson received the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award, recognising her work as an innovative leader who uses business to create change. Her success mantra as a business leader is to always stay inquisitive.
“I like to ask lots of questions — it’s the best way to open your mind to new solutions to problems,” Jackson says. “Fundamentally though, I still consider myself an engineer at heart. It carries through everything I do, in my thinking, and my problem solving.
“However, like many Australians today, I would not have been able to afford coming to ANU and studying my degree of choice if it wasn’t for a scholarship. It opened up so many options I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Jackson’s experiences inspired her to establish the Kim Jackson Scholarship in 2020 to support promising female-identifying engineering students at ANU who, like her, hail from a regional area.
“I want to support the dreams of female students who have the smarts, but not necessarily the means. Their challenges are the same ones that I faced. And I hope to give them the opportunities afforded me by studying engineering at ANU.
“The ANU degree has a multidisciplinary systems approach to engineering, which I believe is so important today.
“A lot of the exciting opportunities today sit between disciplines — like biology and data, software and hardware for robotics, and using environmental design along with computer science and mechanical systems.”
Ella Lord, the inaugural recipient of the Kim Jackson Scholarship, was keen on studying at ANU ever since she visited the campus with a STEM camp more than five years ago. The scholarship enabled Lord to move from her hometown of Cambridge, Tasmania, to study a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Science double degree at ANU.
“Starting a male-dominated degree at a university where you don’t know many people is scary,” Lord says. “It helps a lot to know that I am at the university that best suits me, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without the scholarship.”
Jackson’s vision inspired ANU to establish the Engineering Advantage Scholarship, to support women who were considered in the final stage of the Kim Jackson Scholarship. Kayleigh Sleath, Josie Bates and Dechen Clarke are the inaugural recipients of the award.
“These young women really remind me of the start of my journey — how exciting and scary it was to arrive in Canberra from a small town,” Jackson says. “Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of enthusiasm, ready to take on the world! I can’t wait to see what they achieve in the years ahead.”
She believes women role models can inspire more women to choose STEM degrees and careers.
“Australia needs more female leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries,” Jackson says. “And to do this, we need more female students studying technology, and creating and managing the technology of the future.”