Dr Marlene Kanga recognised in Public Leaders exhibition

Media release

9 May 2018

Sydney Water Director Dr Marlene Kanga AM features in the Blaze: Working Women, Public Leaders exhibition, a new exhibition project produced by NSW State Archives.

The exhibition celebrates some of NSW’s strongest and most important women.

Each of the women featured in Blaze are pioneers in their field and telling their stories acknowledges their outstanding contributions to their communities.

Dr Kanga has had a distinguished career spanning four decades, working in the more traditionally male field of engineering.

Dr Kanga migrated to Australia from India in the late 1970s. The bias that she experienced in her early career was clearly visible:

When I arrived in Australia the Anti-Discrimination Act had just been passed. But jobs were still being advertised for engineering under ‘Men and Boys’ in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was applying for these jobs and it was extraordinarily difficult. I had people say when I called them up, ‘Are you somebody’s secretary, are you somebody’s sister?’ I said ‘No, I am applying for myself’, and they said ‘Oh, we never knew a woman could be an engineer.’

Today, women make up 62.5% of the NSW public sector workforce, yet they represent just 36.1% of leadership seniority and 41.2% of government board and committee appointments.

Spanning a 150 year timeframe, Blaze looks to a selection of women from the past who were trailblazers in carving out roles for females in the NSW public sphere. They were the first women to hold positions that had been traditionally occupied by men. These ‘past’ Blaze women led the way for others to follow and they re-shaped the institutions of the state from within. As ‘firsts’, their leadership enabled future generations of women to pursue opportunities that they themselves might have only imagined.

Blaze also engages with the stories of fourteen women who currently hold senior positions in NSW government agencies, departments, boards and/or related initiatives.

The past Blaze women faced a stark choice: if they married, they gave up their professional careers. Wives were excluded from permanent employment in the public sector. Single women were forced to give up permanent employment once married.

As President of Engineers Australia (2013), Dr Kanga was the second woman in 97 years to hold the position. As President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, she represents 30 million engineers from 100 national and international professional engineering institutions.

Dr Kanga was the first Australian to be made an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (UK) as well as an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia, and the first Australian and first woman to be made a Foreign Fellow of the ASEAN Academy of Engineering and Technology. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Dr Kanga was named a Top 100 Women of Influence by the Australian Financial Review (2013) and the Federation of Engineers in Asia and the Pacific’s Professional Engineer of the Year (2014), the first woman so awarded.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2014.

The Blaze exhibition has recently opened and will conclude on 27 July 2018 Margaret Whitlam Galleries at the Whitlam Institute within University of Western Sydney.