Celebrating innovative New Zealand women on International Women’s Day

Article  \  8 Mar 2019

Us Kiwis are known for our ‘number 8 wire’ approach to problem-solving. Because of our isolation, we’ve always had a knack for improvising and inventing things with what we’ve got on hand. We all know of AJ Hackett, Richard Pearse, John Britten and Glenn Martin, but how many of us can name a famous Kiwi woman inventor?

Today is International Women’s Day, a day where we celebrate the achievements of women worldwide, raise awareness against bias, take action against inequality, and recognise that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to flourish.

Women account for over half of New Zealand’s population, yet they make up just 23% of employees in New Zealand’s tech sector [1]. Recent patent figures also show that less than 15% of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications filed from New Zealand that included at least one woman as an inventor [2]. This begs the question, why is this the case given the huge economic growth potential gender parity brings? (Bridging the gender gap could add up to US$28 trillion—equivalent to the combined economies of the USA and China—to global GDP by 2025 [3]).

So today, we take the opportunity to celebrate some of New Zealand’s women inventors.

The first woman to appear on the New Zealand patent records is Matilda Lang, from Melbourne. In 1871, Matilda was granted NZ patent number 137 - an improvement for ‘washing, scouring, or cleaning clothes, wool, or fibrous manufactured goods’ to reduce the cost of labour and materials used. The second patent application made by a woman was by Elisabeth Barton of Dunedin in 1884 for a new bedspread. Barton’s invention was widely reported as the first patent by a New Zealand woman.

In 2003 Norma McCulloch was recognised as one of the top 10 women inventors in the world at the Global Women’s Innovator and Inventor Awards. Norma originally developed a hand pump which was used to take the air out of freezer bags, allowing food to keep better in the freezer. Norma then went on to develop a hand-held resuscitator which acts as an alternative to mouth-to-mouth and was used by St John’s and the United Nations.

Beatrice Tinsley completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Canterbury in 1961. Tinsley created models of galactic evolution, showing how populations of stars age and affect the observable qualities of galaxies. Her work had far-reaching effects in the field of astrophysics and allowed for the determination of the size of the universe and its rate of expansion. In 1978 she became the first female professor of astronomy at Yale.

More recently, Shama Lee founded Sunfed Meats® in 2017. Shama created a new meat substitute,  ‘Chicken Free Chicken’, which cooks, feels and tastes just like chicken, but is made from pea protein, which requires 18 times less water and produces 93% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than beef.

While there is still a gender gap, women are leading the way to close it. These days, you don’t have to search hard to find women inventors and innovators. At AJ Park, we continue to embrace and support the ingenious women who are driving change and making history. 

[1]  http://files.myob.com/news/MYOB-women-in-tech-report-2018.pdf?_ga=2.215703639.1367319217.1551921063-1042615328.1551824723&ajs_aid=46d43bcc-fe93-4b11-9d0b-190982eaea09
[2]  https://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/pressroom/en/documents/pr_2018_817_annexes.pdf#annex2
[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth