STEM Leaders In Focus – A Conversation With Lynette Clunies-Ross

STEM Leaders In Focus – A Conversation With Lynette Clunies-Ross

Day of STEM recently interviewed Lynette Clunies-Ross, Chief Operating Officer at SAS-Australia/New Zealand to discover her personal STEM journey and perspectives on mentoring, the millennial generation, what’s next for the STEM movement in Australia and SAS’s engagement with Day of STEM.

Day of STEM: Can you give us the background on what sparked your initial interest in pursuing a career in STEM?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: At an early age my mother encouraged me to become a doctor, which in turn led me to focus on studying maths and science subjects in school. Not knowing what I wanted to do when I matriculated, I took a clerk’s exam and landed a job with the Commonwealth Department of Finance. My big break came when I applied for a cadetship as a Computer Systems Officer In Training with the newly formed Northern Territory Government. To be honest, I was really motivated financially as these positions were earning nearly four times what I was making at the time. That set me up to work full-time on the government’s new mainframe computing bureau, while simultaneously studying my business degree part time with a major in computing.

Talk about being thrown in the deep-end, I was studying programming at night and coding at work during the day. It’s really made me an advocate for having professional industry experience as an integral component of any computing degree. It was a fantastic training ground for me, as I entered at a time when computing was an emerging profession in really what amounted to a start-up government administration. The program also served to keep talent in the Northern Territory and avoid the ‘brain drain’ of students leaving to study at University ‘down south’.

Day of STEM: Can you describe any challenges or breakthroughs that you’ve had over the course of your career?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: Throughout my career I’ve always put myself in a position where I’m challenging myself, so many of these challenges have been self-created. Learning and improving myself has always been my motivation to keep moving forward. I’m an analytical thinker, so when I encounter a challenge, my process is usually to study the theory, and then come back to the practical application

From an early age, my mother instilled in me a keen sense of resilience. She taught me never to think about my gender or the color of my skin, only to strive to be the best that I can be. As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to appreciate her influence on shaping my career. That influence came from her own experience of being denied a career when she married and had children. She was brave enough to travel alone to London to study for a theater directorship in her 60s to fulfill a life-long dream.

Day of STEM: How have mentors influenced you professionally over the course of your STEM career?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: I’ve had number of great teachers and lecturers, intermixed with some really smart peers and managers who have helped shape my career and learning. My view towards mentoring is that if you open yourself up to challenges and learning, you’ll open yourself up to a range of great mentors. One of my chemistry teachers in high school noticed that I had an inclination towards analytical thinking and that was probably an early indication that I might be successful in a computing career. It’s important for teachers to plant those seeds in the minds of students.

Day of STEM: How does SAS foster a culture of mentorship? How have mentorship relationships changed given advancements in communications technology?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: We’ve recently introduced a new program at SAS for our graduate hires in 2016. My opinion personally, which I’ve alluded to earlier, is that mentoring is more effective when it happens naturally. It shouldn’t be regimented or assigned. As we drive a culture on innovation at SAS where anyone can become a mentor or leader depending on the task at hand, we expect mentors will naturally emerge and be selected as our people continue to challenge themselves. What I love about the LifeJourney-Day of STEM platform is that it allows students to choose their own mentor based on their personal interests and the right encouragement. It’s also a virtual platform, which allows it to be scaled, eliminating one of biggest barriers to traditional mentoring when you have a limited number of critical experts

Day of STEM: Can you comment on the millennial generation and how businesses might attract them to come work for a company like SAS?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: Recently, I attended the World Business Forum and heard from Tammy Erickson who teaches at the London Business School. She characterised Millennials as living in the moment and living life to the fullest, which I think sometimes people can misconstrue as selfishness. However, if you put it in the context of a generation that watched the twin-towers go down on live television, they understand that there is a possibility that they might not be alive tomorrow. Tammy implored the audience to question tenure-based practices and focus on building a strong employment brand that Millennials desire to work at. Millennials are purpose driven, so aligning our core business to something they are passionate about is a way of attracting them. As a software analytics company we are constantly looking for analytical talent that has a strong STEM background, but also the right cultural fit. The intersection of Big Data, Machine Learning and IoT are also emerging fields where there’s huge potential for growth in terms of business and job value creation.

Day of STEM: Given that SAS is a company driven by data analytics, how will the Internet of Things impact your workforce and the skills you’re looking for in employees?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: The millennial generation is surely the best equipped to take advantage of the IoT as they are always online and connected. Applying analytics to the Internet of Things promises to open up a whole new set of products and services, which will lead to great opportunities especially in the sharing economy. Millennials are comfortable borrowing, sharing and renting instead of owning high-value assets. They are already pre-disposed to the factors that drive IoT innovation. More importantly though, we need to equip them to be the shapers and makers of a new range of products and services that haven’t been invented yet.

Day of STEM: The STEM movement has gained considerable traction throughout the country. What’s your perspective on the specific steps needed to drive this momentum into tangible outcomes?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: Tangible outcomes to me for the STEM movement come down to creating meaningful employment and meaningful jobs that contribute to the prosperity of individuals, families and Australia as a nation. We are only talking about STEM because we know it’s a vital skill base for the future. STEM education provides that fundamental background for jobs that don’t exist yet. In terms of how we advance, I think we need to re-engage our students in STEM and give them line of sight to the types of careers they can pursue. This again brings me back to the value of the design of the LifeJourney-Day of STEM platform. Introduce them to real STEM mentors and the connection relevant to their interests. When our CEO & Founder, Dr. Goodnight, talks about STEM he truly believes it’s what countries need in order to compete in the new economy. Also, the rapid availability of digital learning platforms to pick up a skill like coding, or hear the best lecture on computational thinking, are incredibly value for developing STEM skills in the next generation at scale.

Day of STEM: SAS has partnered with our team for Australia’s Day of STEM! How does the Day of STEM fit into your larger STEM strategy at SAS? Can you give us insight into the SAS mentors and tell us why they were chosen?

Lynette Clunies-Ross: When our team was exploring ideas on how to scale our academic outreach programs and get more students engaged earlier in STEM and analytics careers, LifeJourney-Day of STEM, really became a central component of the strategy. One of our mentors, Chief Analytics Officer-Evan Stubbs, has a fascinating career journey to share and is a sought after mentor within SAS. Sandra Hogan, who leads the Business Analytics Advisory team, has also had an amazing career with Telstra, Ernst & Young and now with SAS. She really had a passion for Maths that she’s parlayed into an Analytics career and will be a terrific role model for girls and boys. It’s incredibly important for SAS to share the journeys of our women professionals in order to inspire more girls towards careers in STEM. The LifeJourney-Day of STEM platform, gives us the opportunity to share these two powerful narratives with thousands of students across Australia. Evan and Sandra are incredibly excited about the opportunity to engage with students for Day of STEM.

About Lynette Clunies-Ross:
Lynette Clunies-Ross joined SAS in 2012 as the Chief Operating Officer for SAS Australia and New Zealand. With over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry, Lynette is a proven and innovative business leader with a unique blend of deep technology, business and operational expertise.

Lynette has strategic priority ownership of the SAS Innovation Agenda and Academic Outreach Program. This ownership ties in with her passion of seeing a greater adoption of STEM in Australia, which will underpin the innovation required for our future prosperity.

About SAS Australia-New Zealand:
SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative analytics, business intelligence and data management software and services, SAS helps customers at more than 80,000 sites make better decisions faster. Since 1976, SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW®.

To succeed, organisations must find new ways to put analytics into action and unlock the most value from their data. This is where SAS comes in. With the world leading capabilities of SAS, companies and government agencies in Australia and around the world are making sense of their data faster than ever before and with greater depth of insight.