Spotlight on Women in Tech
A Q&A with Lucy Cameron from the Data61 Insights team on her career journey and why she decided to get involved with Hopper Down Under, taking place in Brisbane on 29-31 July. #WeAreHere
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN SCIENCE AND TECH?
My Dad was a maths and economics teacher, and at home he always tinkered, fixed his own car and made things. He valued science, and he wanted his daughters to value it too, so he was always asking about our science lessons and what we’d learnt. In Year 8 I got an awesome and inspiring science teacher – Ms Burrows. She was a complete contrast to the uncommunicative, buttoned up older men who generally taught science at my school in the 1980s. Ms Burrows was dramatic, funny and you could tell she stayed up at night thinking about how to make science classes interesting, engaging and relevant. Our school started to excel in science subjects and national competitions. That was all because of her.
I did a science degree at Sydney University because I wanted to change the world. I studied ecology which was very maths and stats-based. We spent a lot of time out in the field trapping and shifting through the undergrowth, and then doing population estimates, studying physiology and habitat ranges. I’d love to do it now with the new digital tools available. I moved to the Northern Territory to do a MSc in feral cat ecology. I studied the impact of feral cats on the wildlife for years, but it was hard to get funding.
Eventually, I moved back south and worked in universities until the opportunity arose to do a PhD. Regional telecommunications was a big issue accompanying the sale of Telstra, so I wrote a proposal to study broadband in the country and its impacts on regional economics. The scholarship got funded and I completed my PhD in Social Science in 2007 at University of Queensland. I then worked in policy in the Queensland Government for 10 years, before moving to the Insights Team at CSIRO, where we use both sides of our brains to imagine medium term futures. My interest is now in encouraging innovation, and the geographic components to innovation development.
WHY IS DIVERSITY IMPORTANT AND HOW CAN IT IMPROVE TECH?
Women have amazing science abilities, and we also have very different needs to men. For decades design (urban design, furniture design, tech design, organisational design) was done almost exclusively by men, and it neglects the needs of women. As the world becomes more digital, being excluded from the knowledge to design algorithms and be involved in tech will increasingly play a part in gender power relationships – including wealth and freedoms. We need diverse knowledgeable and powerful voices in a world where decisions will increasingly be made by technology.
Diverse teams with a variety of perspectives have also been shown to out-perform teams with more uniform demographics. It’s probably because these teams are better listeners of ideas.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WORKING IN TECH AND HOW CAN WE DISPEL THEM?
The biggest misconception is that women are less skilled or able to do maths and engineering. The underrepresentation of women in tech is a cultural issue, as time and time again women are proven to be equal if not more skilled at many of the quantitative or mechanical tasks associated with a technology career. The tech fields however have been neglecting the needs of women, including tenured jobs, maternity and paternity leave, facilities at sites, childcare, and job mobility. These matter, because one of the only big differences in the maths or tech abilities of men and women is that women carry most of the reproductive burden, and this means we can drop out for periods of our lives when men (or other women) progress above us. We can dispel the ability myth by promoting the research on gender abilities, and we can dispel the gender inequities in the field by supporting the real measures that help.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO GET INVOLVED WITH HOPPER DOWN UNDER?
Grace Hopper was an amazing woman (all those computational NASA women were), and I admire the efforts of people like Sue Keay who want to help inspire women in the field through showing how super-good and world-changing women are in these fields.
My career demonstrates that role models and early encouragement are vitally important to the careers of women in science. Hopper Down Under is there to showcase the most amazing women changing the world with their science. I can say that without big believers in science in my life (both men and women) I would never have ever pursued science as a career.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE PROJECT YOU WILL BE PRESENTING AT THE EVENT.
I will be reporting on work I did at the Smithsonian Museum in 2015, which looked at government’s role in the creation of innovation hotspots. It’s something governments obsess over, but I believe they’re asking the wrong questions. My paper, titled ‘Creating an innovation-led economy in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ will focus on what is an innovation-led economy, why it’s important and how we can achieve one through reforming government itself.
WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING MEN CAN DO TO BE ALLIES OF WOMEN IN TECH?
It sounds simple but learn to LISTEN to women, ENCOURAGE women of all ages to advance, and form CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL PARTNERSHIPS with women.
LISTEN: Even the most sensitive new-age men have a terrible habit of not listening when women speak. You see it time and time again in meetings because they repeat the same thing a woman has just said two minutes before – only in their minds it was their idea, and then the other men at the table comment on it as if it was the man’s idea. It’s infuriating. It’s called ‘gender-deafness’ and Julie Bishop recently commented on it in relation to her experience in Federal Cabinet. White House staff in the Obama administration countered it by always repeating and reinforcing points made by women. But it’s such commonplace that I think it just subconsciously impacts on women’s expression and confidence in the workplace. Men need to do active listening courses run by women.
ENCOURAGE: Women are often set back by part-time work, demands on them as home workers and carers, and the lack of facilities in the workplace. They lose confidence, so men can assist by actively putting forward and working with women both above and below them.
CREATIVE PARTNERSHIPS: Most breakthroughs occur in creative partnerships. I think there’s a bit of a fear of working with women for some men, that could be worked through, and then we might have more Nobel-prize winning teams with diverse views – like that of Elizabeth Blackburn.
WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR WOMEN IN TECH?
Hopefully bright, but women have got to understand that it won’t happen if they aren’t making it happen. It really is up to us to change it.