Women In Innovation: Ripley Stevens and Sita Sargeant

"For us, innovation requires stepping outside of your comfort zone, embracing different perspectives, and challenging standard models of running a business."

We interview women in our community about innovation and what drives them to make a difference in their industries. This week we spoke to Ripley Stevens and Sita Sargeant, founding directors of She Shapes History.

What are you working on?

She Shapes History is a Canberra-based social enterprise dedicated to sharing the stories of the women who have shaped Australia. When we aren’t in lockdown, we run walking tours in the National Triangle, sharing the stories of incredible Australian women.

We struck on the idea for She Shapes History after reconnecting at the start of 2021. We were both frustrated at the lack of visible women in Canberra’s cultural and physical landscape and in narratives about Australian history. We were also frustrated and upset at the general lack of respect for women and their contributions in Australia. The months of outcry and calls for change in the treatment and representation of women both Australia and globally told us that we weren’t the only ones feeling this way.

Sick of constantly feeling frustrated and powerless, we decided to reclaim our city through walking tours. Our walking tours recover and remember the stories of Australian women who have been ignored, marginalised, and forgotten. Our walking tours foster respect for women one step at a time.

Why is innovation important to you?

She Shapes History is a queer-owned and led business. Queerness is rooted in liberation. Being a queer business means challenging the status quo. We operate within and are acutely aware of the tension that arises from pairing these two words together. It’s like mixing oil and water. For us, being queer is about more than gender or sexuality. It is about someone’s willingness to define what we understand as “normal.” It is about embracing and making space for the possibility of new, innovative, radical ways of existing. To be a queer business means to challenge the status quo. To be a queer business means to innovate.

For us, innovation requires stepping outside of your comfort zone, embracing different perspectives, and challenging standard models of running a business. So many of the stories we tell on our tours are about how Australian women have challenged the status quo in surprising and impactful ways. Their stories have taught us that courage is central to innovation, especially when working against the grain of convention.

What drives you to make a difference?

We are driven to challenge sexism, racism, and transphobia. We do this by sharing a fuller version of Australian history. Growing up in Australia as people of colour, we rarely saw ourselves reflected in the history taught at school. We believe by uncovering our diverse past, we can imagine a more diverse future. This is because we believe that the invisibility of women and people of colour in our nation’s story subtly fosters disrespect. It implies we are not worthy of having our achievements known and our names known. We hope that our tours play a role in promoting respect for women by championing the stories of diverse Australians.

Do you have any advice for getting more women into the innovation ecosystem?

It can be challenging to speak up and share your ideas when you are the only person who looks like you in a room. So our advice would be to create respectful and safe places where women, gender diverse people, and people of colour are meaningfully heard and valued.

What are you proud of right now?

We are currently developing a street sign scavenger hunt. During this lockdown, we got curious. We wanted to find out how many street signs in our local regions were named after women. When we discovered that less than 10% of signs are named after women, we felt compelled to share the stories behind the signs that do celebrate them.

This scavenger hunt encourages Canberrans to explore a familiar landscape to discover an unfamiliar history. We hope these stories inspire you as much as they do us! There are stories to unearth in every region of Canberra. Our scavenger hunt includes all regions: Belconnen, Central Canberra, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, Woden and Weston Creek-Molonglo. Head to our website to find a map that you can use to explore your region and discover the stories of the remarkable women behind Canberra’s street signs.


Follow Ripley and Sita on their She Shapes History Linked In

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