Kellee Ireland: Women in utilities


Kellee Ireland is the Victorian Business Development and Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Spookfish Australia, a company that provides utilities with state-of-the-art aerial imaging and geospatial data. Digital tools that enable accurate asset location and real-time project updates are becoming an essential part of the utility industry’s day-to-day operations so we caught up with Kellee to find out more about the growing spatial sector.

For the past nine years until August 2017, I headed up the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA). SIBA is the leading member based association representing the spatial industry. Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) show where, how and why things happen and the impact of that activity on the past, present and future. The purpose of SIBA is to promote the industry’s role in growing a prosperous and sustainable region; being the trusted partner on matters of importance for a growing spatial community and ensuring the role and value of spatial industry in the broader economy is recognised and utilised.

My role at SIBA quickly grew from a part-time role (four days per week) to full-time, moving on to hiring, managing, mentoring and coaching a team of five people, all of whom worked remotely. Working remotely had its challenges, however we had some great systems in place, such as online video conferencing, to ensure that operations ran smoothly. I left the position of Executive Director to take up a new role with Spookfish as their Victorian Business Development and Stakeholder Engagement Manager.

I also volunteer on the board of Victorian Women for ICT. As a board member I am able to run and participate in programs that support gender diversity and equality in STEM careers. In 2016 I accepted the position of Chair of Destination Spatial which is an industry committee that I established a few years ago to promote spatial careers and pathways to school students.

In 2017, I was nominated for the Telstra Business Women of Year and progressed to become one of five finalists for the Corporate and Private category. I was deeply honoured to be nominated by one of my colleagues, who herself is an alumni of the Telstra Business Women of Year award.

On the 1 November 2017, I was also awarded the Women’s Leadership award by the Surveying and Spatial Scientist Institute (SSSI).

This award recognises women who have demonstrated a significant contribution to the spatial industry and have shown potential to achieve and deliver benefits to the profession. It also recognises any member of the spatial industry who has contributed to the advancement and career development of women in the spatial industry in a way that has had a positive and long-term impact. It was a huge honour to be recognised by my peers and colleagues for the work I have done over the years.

Can you tell us about your current role?

Spookfish helps businesses get a detailed and accurate view of current conditions on the ground, slashing the time you spend on site and saving money. Spookfish capture high resolution, accurate aerial imagery and data over Australia’s cities and regional centres, delivering current and frequently updated locational insights to your web browser or streamed directly into your mapping or design apps, giving you the cost-effective, uncapped access your organisation needs to save money and make more informed decisions.

How did you first get involved with the spatial sector?

In 2008 I was working part-time for the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) as their Executive Officer when SIBA invited me to apply for their vacant position of Victorian Executive Officer. After two years, the CEO advised that he would be leaving in 18 months and he suggested I apply for the CEO position, which I did. I sent a letter into the board highlighting my relevant experience, spatial industry
knowledge and what I would bring to the association and the board appointed me as the General Manager.

What are the main things you enjoy about working with spatial technology?

I once read that inspiring leaders love what they do. When I started at SIBA I had little understanding of the sector, let alone what the spatial industry was. I was terrified that I would have to speak publicly. Within six months I was hooked on working in the spatial industry. It is a great time to be involved in the information industry. My vision is for the industry to have more awareness and recognition in the day to day.

I love that the spatial industry is at the cutting edge of digital disruption. Spatial is driving today’s digital disruption, people are using spatial technology and don’t even realise it. Spatial technology has put maps in the palm of our hands, it is underpinning the internet of things and smart cities. Without knowledge of space and place these technologies just would not exist. Spatial is creating new businesses and disrupting industries; car share, Airbnb, Uber etc. It is creating more jobs and more efficient ways of doing business and managing assets.

New technologies are bringing down the costs associated with doing day-to-day business.

What are some of the main challenges facing the spatial sector as a whole? What opportunities can come out of these challenges?

The spatial sector is one of the key industry growth sectors in Australia with a global competitive advantage. The forecasted global growth of 30 per cent per annum in geoservices provides us with a great opportunity to be the leaders in the location intelligence arena. The 2026 Agenda initiative highlights the need to drive the future growth of the spatial industry, to coordinate efforts, and to deliver on the roadmap to transform the sector over the next decade. Yet we are experiencing a skills shortage and have issues around diversity, in particular gender diversity.

Can you tell us about some of the mentors you’ve had throughout your career?

I have had both male and female mentors in my career within the IT and spatial industries. They have provided guidance and sound advice that has enabled me to grow the spatial industry as a whole and advice around strategies that support the promotion and support of women in these sectors.

Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such male-dominated sectors – have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?

I think the challenges that I have faced in the spatial and IT sectors are similar across all engineering and STEM careers. It is challenging to avoid falling into the trap of unconscious bias. I think we are all guilty of it but if we keep reminding ourselves that it exists then we will have a greater chance to affect change. We need to think outside the square for speakers and experts and actively seek out women to put their hands up for these roles.

Do you see yourself continuing to work in the spatial sector?

Professionals who work in the spatial industry tend not to leave and the people I have met love what they do. My value is my contagious energy and enthusiasm that I can bring into a conversation. Creating, building and growing relationships are some of my key strengths. I love working with innovation and the innovation coming out of the spatial industry “blows your socks off”.

Spatial innovation creates solutions that deliver liveability, attract talent and investment and encourage inventiveness that can solve problems that in turn creates jobs and economic growth. At the end of the day, it is the innovation in STEM of which spatial is part of, that truly drives me, I definitely see myself continuing to work in STEM related industries.

Can you provide a bit of background on your life outside of work – any hobbies or interests? Any activities you enjoy to balance the demands of a challenging professional life?

My friends may describe me as a little outrageous. One day, I received an anonymous gift in the mail with the tag “free to a good home”. It was a lime green lycra, all-in-one, full-body, retro cyclist outfit. Immediately I put the suit on and rang the friend who I knew would send me such a gift. She knew I would be wearing the green suit just as I knew she was the person who sent it to me.

I love my life, my family, my friends and my job. Spending time with my husband and three children is important to me. It is important to me that my children learn, have fun, read as much as they can and keep the house clean. I am passionate about supporting gender diversity and celebrating the successes of women in business and leadership which is why I am a Board member and volunteer mentor with the Vic ICT for Women program. 


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