On International Women’s Day, four women in tech recount the challenges they faced throughout their career and how they overcame them and talk about the support system that they think companies can provide.
Like many industries, the IT industry is still struggling when it comes to gender diversity. The events of 2020 have forced everyone to slow down, making this International Women’s Day the perfect time to reflect on the progress of equality initiatives.
As per AnitaB.org’s 10th annual report – Top Companies for Women Technologists, women technologists make up 28.8% of the tech workforce today. Even though this number is a steady increase from 25.9% in 2018 and 26.2% in 2019, the data shows that if numbers continue to rise at the current pace, it could take almost 12 years before women see equal representation in tech.
Recent research from Accenture in partnership with Girls Who Code shows that having an inclusive culture is crucial to retaining and advancing women in tech roles, but many enterprises do not recognize its importance. Along with taking actionable steps to reset tech culture, the report shows that learning from the voices of the women in tech drives innovation and transformation every day.
Meet three women at various stages of their technology careers, working in a swiftly growing industry landscape where diverse viewpoints are the lifeblood to innovation. Learn how these successful women are driving their career paths forward in new and exciting ways.
They share some crucial advice they wish they had received before starting their journey.
Sr. Manager, Security Research, SpiderLabs at Trustwave
From personal experience, I had minimal resources at my disposal when I first got a job in cybersecurity 15 years back. The number and type of resources available to anyone wanting to get started in cybersecurity, women, in particular, has evolved in recent years. A lot of organizations have started highlighting women achievers in order to motivate and inspire more girls. The number of opportunities for women workforce in security has also recently grown. There are definitely more options today than there were, say ten years back, and there is more awareness to attract and build a more diverse workforce. In terms of where it is heading, I am hopeful that the industry strives to achieve gender parity not just for entry-level roles but also for executive and leadership positions.
The best advice I would give young women looking to enter cybersecurity is to have passion towards security or willingness to explore security, and technology is one of the most important factors for anyone looking into entering the field of cybersecurity. However, networking events have helped me quite a bit over the past few years. For the past six years, I have been attending Girl Geek X talks when time permits. I would recommend attending to women looking to enter cybersecurity.
Women in Cybersecurity is another great resource, particularly for students and even for women looking to start or advance their careers in cybersecurity. And finally, I would recommend following influential women leaders on social media platforms to get insights, stories of struggles, and advice that they have shared to get to where they are.
Senior Director of Engineering, Illumio
When I started my career, I made an explicit choice to get into tech. While in undergrad, I realized that tech touches everything. I knew that if I worked in this space, I would have endless opportunities and could be geographically flexible.
I joined Illumio five years ago – in fact, this month is my work anniversary! I chose cybersecurity because I see the value in protecting organizations from high-profile breaches. People know how to secure their valuables in the physical world but are still learning how to protect their online data. This is a rapidly growing industry that will keep growing over the next 15 years.
I have been lucky to be part of Silicon Valley, where there is a lot of awareness on that front – at least at the junior level. It is important to set career goals and have regular conversations with your manager about them. Early in my career, I learned to identify and ask for opportunities, and that made a huge difference.
At more senior levels in the tech and cybersecurity industry, there are certainly more challenges, and it is important to raise visibility and work through them to pave the path for others. But I think the industry at large is slowly learning to judge people based on their work rather than who they are or where they come from.
My main advice for women who are currently looking to start a career in tech is to be intentional about the area they choose. The tech industry is so large that you can choose to specialize in a myriad of sub-areas, such as backend, UI or AI, cybersecurity. You have many options, so do your research and find what interests you. And again, an important piece of advice is to actively seek out opportunities – don’t assume they’re going to fall in your lap. You have to make it happen!
We are at an inflection point, and there is a lot of awareness about diversity. The way I see it is that, at the junior levels, there already is a lot of motivation to progress, and opportunities exist. As you climb up the career ladder, it gets harder, and there are fewer women at the top. There will need to be a conscious effort to evolve at the executive level, and I do believe the industry is ready to do more and do it better. To that end, diversity in recruiting, active coaching, and mentoring of employees for growth is key.
Senior Incident Response Consultant, F-Secure
I started my career out in Johannesburg in the travel & tourism industry but, after some introspection, I realized I needed to make a career change to a field that made me feel more alive. I applied to the vacant “operations administrator position” at an information security company, then known as MWR InfoSecurity (later acquired by F-Secure, where I currently work).
In the interview, I was honest that my long-term goal was to do something technical. I enrolled in a part-time Bachelor of Science degree in Informatics. After two years, I had learned a lot as part of my degree studies and had gained some great mentors who guided me along the way. I internally applied to the company’s Security Consultant internship while working in the operations role, and in that placement, I worked very hard, spending every possible moment trying to figure things out, suffering from insane imposter syndrome and dizzying anxiety. But I pushed through, and it paid off; after the internship, they offered me a role as an associate consultant in the security consultancy. I’ve since worked my way into leading F-Secure’s UK Incident Response team in London, where I specialize in corporate incident response and digital forensics.
I am very blessed that I work for an organization that has never made me feel any differently for being a woman. I’ve been given the same opportunities, and I’ve been held to the same high standards, and I have always appreciated that. I do, however, appreciate that this isn’t necessarily true across the broader industry and urge women to remember that what is important is your hunger for knowledge and your drive to succeed in figuring things out and solving new problems in novel ways. Don’t ever give in to the inner voices of doubt.