Spotlight on Women in Tech: Dr Claire Mason
We’re talking to Principal Research Scientist Dr Claire Mason from the CSIRO’s Data61’s Inclusive Socio-Technical Innovation team on her career journey, why she pursued career in tech, and the advice she’d give to someone wanting to pursue a career in STEM.
What led you to choose a career in tech? Please provide us with a brief overview of your career journey so far.
My journey has been a bit circuitous. I loved computer maths at school but when I enrolled in an introduction to computer science course at University, it seemed like the lecturer was speaking a different language. There was a lot of assumed knowledge and no effort to bring people along.
I ended up changing my enrolment and studying psychology. Psychology might not be a traditional STEM subject but it gives you an excellent grounding in statistics, experimental design and analytical thinking. After graduating and working as a lecturer in the field of organisational behaviour, I took a job at CSIRO in a social science team. From there I gradually migrated into the digital domain through projects exploring the social impacts of new technologies.
I’m now lucky to work with a great, multidisciplinary team and we use our combined skills to achieve new insights into human and organisational behaviour from the wealth of data generated by digital technology. In the meantime, I’ve taken advantage of free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and completed an introductory subject in computer science but using material generated by lecturers at Harvard University.
It was fantastic to see how the culture of STEM education has changed since the days when I was an undergrad, with educators now working to ensure that their classes are accessible and inclusive.
How did you end up at Data61? What inspired you to join the organisation?
I think the reason why I ended up in Data61 was because I find the potential of digital technology inspiring. Digital technology has its downsides, but it offers the potential to produce more with less and add value in new ways. I wanted to be part of the digital transformation.
What are some of the projects you’re working on at Data61? Can you tell us about some of the most impactful?
The project I’m most excited about at the moment is the Data61 Skills Dashboard that we have developed in collaboration with Adzuna Australia. As new technology is applied in workplaces, we see workers being asked to deliver products and services in new ways and this requires them to develop new skills.
Australia doesn’t have any official statistics on the skills profile of its workforce. By applying natural language processing we can mine millions of online job ads, using employers’ descriptions of the skills they are looking for in new workers to understand what skills are becoming more sought after in the Australian labour market. We publish this data on our Skills Dashboard so that it can inform Australia’s educational offerings and individuals’ career choices.
What do you love about working in tech?
I love the potential of digital technology to circumvent traditional barriers such as limited resources, geographic distance or social isolation.
Why is gender diversity important in tech?
All forms of diversity are important in tech, both surface diversity like gender and race but also more intangible forms of diversity, such as values and personality traits. We need to ensure that the application of STEM skills and technology is informed by the range of uses and users in our society and marketplace. That means that we need a wide range of people involved in the development, application and evaluation of STEM projects.
In your opinion, what’s the single biggest change that needs to happen in order to encourage more women to pursue careers in tech?
Maybe we need a better label for the field? STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths but really what we are talking about is people who want to apply technical knowledge and skills to solve real world problems. This involves graduates and workers from a wide range of fields.
How can colleagues, organisations and industries within tech better support and enable women?
Having an open and inclusive culture makes a big difference. Using problem-focused, multidisciplinary teams in an organisation is also useful because it gives people the opportunity to combine their skills, learn from their colleagues and expand their view of what is possible.
What advice would you give to women and girls wanting to pursue a career in tech?
Go for it! There are so many pathways and careers in STEM, there is bound to be one that would fit you.