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2024 Women in Leadership Awards Launch: Shifting Focus to The Great Retention

November 28, 2023 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm AEDT

In-person tickets are SOLD OUT. Join waitlist.

(Online tickets are still available)

Our sector is transitioning from “the great resignation” to embracing the concept of “the great retention”, an attitude and approach to leadership that benefits both employers and employees.Progressive leaders need to cultivate workplaces that retain top talent and nurture emerging and diverse staff. By developing local talent pools, leaders can effectively address skills shortages, positively impact company growth and contribute to Victoria’s long-term economic recovery.Join us for a keynote address by STEM Sisters Founder and Director, Dr Ruwangi Fernando, a passionate advocate for an intersectional approach to diversity and inclusion in the Australian STEM sector.Following the keynote, Caroline Ryan, Partner at Allens, will open a panel discussion with Ruwangi and our 2023 Women in Leadership Awardees.This event marks the launch of BioMelbourne Network’s 2024 Women in Leadership Awards and officially opens the nomination period. Find out more about the awards.

Date: Tuesday 28 November 2023
Time (AEDT):
3:45pm: Guest arrival and registration
4:00pm: Welcome, keynote and panel discussion
4:55pm: Award nominations officially open for 2024
5:00pm: Networking function
6:00pm: Close
Format: Hybrid – In person and online
Venue: Allens, 37/101 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Keynote: Dr Ruwangi Fernando, Founder and Director, STEM Sisters; Co-founder and Director, iSTEM Co.; and Sessional Lecturer, Victoria University
Video message: Professor Sharon Lewin, Director, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
Rima Darwiche, CEO, Central Pharmacy Logistics Pty Ltd
Dr Ruwangi Fernando, Founder and Director, STEM Sisters; Co-founder and Director, iSTEM Co; and Sessional Lecturer, Victoria University
Professor Susie Nilsson, Director, Biomedical Manufacturing, CSIRO
Facilitator and host: Caroline Ryan, Partner, Allens
BioMelbourne Network host: Jeff Malone, CEO, BioMelbourne Network
Registration: Free to attend for Members and Non Members (In-person tickets are SOLD OUT)

This event is delivered in partnership with Allens.


Women in Leadership Awards homepage2024 Women in Leadership Awards nominations pageFor additional information, please see our FAQsBioMelbourne Network’s top tips for a successful nomination

Rima Darwiche, CEO, Central Pharmacy Logistics Pty Ltd

In 2019, Rima made the bold move of leaving academic research to establish and lead her company, Central Pharmacy Logistics Pty Ltd (CPL), a trailblazing company making the novel concept of decentralised clinical trials a reality in Australia. Frustrated by patients’ lack of access to innovative therapies, Rima identified a significant gap and major opportunity in the local clinical trials sector. This move turned out to be remarkably prescient and positioned Rima and her business to have significant impact during COVID, facilitating continuity of clinical trials and ensuring patients maintained uninterrupted access to trial medications throughout the pandemic. CPL, employing 11 people and growing, provides a direct-to-patient model including services such as project management, in-home nursing, pharmacy and specialised logistics. Furthermore, CPL has a TGA-licensed state-of-the-art warehouse for global distribution in Coburg, Victoria, and was the first facility in Australia licensed to supply investigational product directly to patients. CPL’s contribution to the local and regional economy has been recognised by recent nominations from Merri-bek Council for an Innovation and Enterprise Award and the SYSPRO Customer Innovation Spark awards (APAC region).

Underpinning Australia’s biotechnology industry, the clinical trials sector employs around 8000 people and worth $1.4B annually (MTP Connect, 2021). Decentralised clinical trials remove barriers for both sponsor and subject participation and are strategic priority for the sector. Through CPL, Rima is contributing to Australia increasing its position in the global clinical trials market, elevating our local biotechnology industry and ensuring patients are at the centre of trial design, execution and outcomes.

Dr Ruwangi Fernando, Founder and Director, STEM Sisters; Co-founder and Director, iSTEM Co; and Sessional Lecturer, Victoria University

Dr Ruwangi Fernando is an Information Technology specialist with experience in broader IT technologies, including Artificial Intelligence. She holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Victoria University, a master in Strategic IT from The University of Wolverhampton, UK, another master in Human Resources and a bachelor's degree in IT from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Having worked as an international academic in Sri Lanka, the UK, and Australia and a consultant for top-tier companies internationally, she is now a changemaker for Women of colour in STEM and advocating for an intersectional approach to diversity and inclusion in the Australian STEM sector.

Dr Fernando completed her PhD at Victoria University in collaboration with Data61, CSIRO and the Department of Transport in Victoria. She has received many accolades for her research, including the winner of Three Minute Thesis and Visualising Thesis, which focused on how computer algorithms can predict and plan for traffic disruptions caused by major events, such as football games or concerts. She received the 2021 Victoria University Postgraduate Student Spirit Award and was a finalist for the Victorian International Research Student of the Year 2021 award for her exceptional leadership skills.

Dr Fernando founded STEM Sisters, the first organisation dedicated to empowering women of Colour in STEM, delivering seven award-winning structured programs, events, workshops and advocacy campaigns. She was recognised for her efforts and awarded STEM Women Changemaker by the Australian Academy of Science, Victorian Lead Scientist, Pro Bono Australia and Women's Agenda. She was also awarded Asian Australian Game Changer Award in 2022 by the Asia Society Australia. Under her leadership, STEM Sisters won many awards, including the 2022 Techdiversity Business award, Victorian International excellence award 2022, and multicultural excellence award 2022 and recognitions from Hon Minister Pulford and Victorian Chief Scientist Dr Amanda Caples. Since March 2022, Dr Fernando is also the co-founder of iSTEM Co. research, consulting and talent-sourcing company whose core objective is to enable the employment of women of colour and women from CALD backgrounds in Australia’s STEM organisations. To date, iSTEM Co. won BETA Pre-Accelerator Award and the Impact Award by Lift Women and is a finalist for the Women in Digital awards in November 2022.

Dr Fernando is a born leader, academic, researcher, consultant, entrepreneur, AI specialist, and speaker. She is devoted to advocating for diversity and inclusion in STEM and the importance of intersectionality.

Professor Sharon Lewin, Director, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Sharon has made a significant impact to the industry, internationally, nationally and for Victoria. Internationally, she is renowned as a leader in the field of HIV Cure, most recently being appointed as the President of the International AIDS Society and leading some of the biggest HIV cure initiatives across the world.

Her expertise was applied to the COVID-19 Pandemic, where she led the Doherty Institute in many aspects of Australia’s response. During this time, Sharon was the public face of our response to COVID, appearing almost daily in the mainstream media, explaining every aspects of COVID and its consequences to individuals and communities. In addition to this public role, Sharon was involved in discovery of the effects of SARS CoV-2 on the immune system, development of vaccine candidates, application of new technologies to treatment of COVID and working closely with industry and government, to support the roll-out of testing and treatment for COVID-19 in Victoria and nationally.

Sharon was instrumental in securing $400 million in funding for the new Australian Institute for Infectious Disease (AIID), a major investment in Victoria’s biomedical future.

Sharon’s public role and leadership of the Institute was one aspect which attracted Geoff and Anna Cummings to invest in Melbourne, providing long-term research support to the next generation of scientists.

These high profile and innovative investments, in part, have helped to attract international industry partners, such as Moderna, and will continue to attract, retain, and grow the best scientists and industry partners to and in Victoria.

Professor Susie Nilsson, Director, Biomedical Manufacturing, CSIRO

Susie has transformed how Australia’s biomedical sector works with CSIRO. By integrating chemistry and biology capabilities into one large cross-disciplinary program, she now leads a collective filling the translation gap in the Australian research ecosystem. By focusing outwards and understanding the needs of the local industry, Susie has overseen countless success stories across vaccines and therapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics and psychoactives and cannabinoids.

Recent major achievements include the launch of CSIRO’s National Vaccine and Therapeutics Laboratory and expanding CSIRO’s Botanical Extracts Laboratory where the team are now accredited to work with psychoactives and cannabinoids.

Susie’s leadership success comes from a forward-thinking approach, challenging her teams to think about future industry needs and market drivers. In this vein, she has just secured funding for a new microbial production laboratory. The Lab will see CSIRO boost its biomedical manufacturing capability and produce vaccines and therapeutics – including mRNA vaccines – and psychoactives for clinical trials.

Susie’s break-through science achievements include the rapid translation of two COVID vaccines into clinical trials over the past 3yrs and the manufacture of a cancer vaccine that is bioconjugated to allow the attachment of a radioactive molecule and is scheduled to enter Phase I clinical trials later 2023.

Susie’s strategic direction has meant that Australian businesses no longer need to go overseas to scale up, and sees CSIRO supporting start-ups, SMEs and larger organisations to grow locally and set their sights on global markets.

Caroline Ryan, Partner, Allens

Caroline is a partner of Allens.

With the Allens Intellectual Property and Patents and Trade Mark Attorneys’ team, Caroline works with clients from research, technology and brand-based industries, ranging from associations to multinationals, and sectors that include biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

Caroline has over 15 years’ experience advising on all aspects of intellectual property law and has acted in court proceedings involving patents, trade marks and copyright infringement, misuse of confidential information, misleading and deceptive conduct and passing off.

Working closely with clients to develop strategies for the protection, commercialisation and enforcement of IP rights, Caroline has conducted and defended urgent applications for preliminary injunctions, ex parte search orders and expedited substantive proceedings.

Most recently, Caroline acted in Australia’s first preliminary injunction application and expedited patent infringement and revocation proceedings in relation to monoclonal antibody biosimilars.

Caroline has consistently been recognised as a next generation partner for Intellectual Property in Australia by Legal 500 (2017 to 2021 inclusive), Best Lawyers and as a Rising Star in Intellectual Property by Doyle’s Guide.

Caroline is a recent past Chair of the Stella Prize which champions gender equality and awards an annual prize celebrating Australian women’s writing.


November 28, 2023
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


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