#IWD2021: Women in Tech Discuss Success, Setbacks and the Future of Diversity

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate women and their successes in the workplace. This day is particularly important for the women who have made careers in the tech industry, a space that is known to be predominantly male-dominated, and recent research by Kaspersky shows that 44% of respondents still believe men working in tech progress faster in their career than women.

Despite inequality within the tech workplace, the industry has taken great steps to become more equal. According to the Kaspersky research, 70% of women believe their skills and experience were considered to be more important than their gender during the interview process for their first IT or tech role. The tech industry has offered rewarding and successful careers to many women who, in turn, are becoming the female leaders and faces that provide representation to those who are looking to start a career in the industry.

Why the Tech Industry?

For many women, the tech industry offers a compelling choice of career from a young age. Therese Mendoza, senior security consultant at Trustwave SpiderLabs, has always been fascinated with computers. “I continued to take this path into university until I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in information technology,” she said. “I started as a Java programmer, but opportunity knocked when there was a job offer for penetration testing. This really caught my attention and I decided to pursue this field.”

For others, the tech industry represents more than just a career and offers unlimited opportunities. For example, Patricia Prince Taggart, general counsel at Digital.ai, made the move into technology because she believes that “technology is an equalizer,” and “technology should be accessible to everyone, no matter their gender, race or sexual preference.”  

Haripriya Rajagopal, senior director of engineering at Illumio, said she “realized that tech touches everything” whilst still an undergraduate. I knew that if I worked in this space, I would have endless opportunities and could be geographically flexible.”

Making Yourself Heard

The industry has provided many opportunities for women who have created a career in it. However, many have faced prejudices and had to overcome obstacles in order to get to where they are today. Maya Gershon, CRO at Vade Secure, stated that “unfortunately, to be as successful as a man in tech, women need to be at least twice as good as men. In addition to their job, they also need to fight the prejudice that women are not techie enough., and they need to prove that they are techie enough and very often, they are being tested.”

“Unfortunately, to be as successful as a man in tech, women need to be at least twice as good as men”

This is unfortunately a common theme, where women have had to prove themselves in order to be taken seriously. Justine Siebke, product marketing specialist and cybersecurity researcher at Skurio, said: “I have also experienced the frustration of doing the same job for less money than male colleagues on multiple occasions and been passed over for promotion because employers could not see past my family commitments. I took seven weeks of maternity leave with my eldest so that I didn't lose a promotion and took a 62% pay cut when I returned to work after my youngest. Yes, I have had #metoo moments too.”

Seeing Change

This is a story that many people share but, fortunately, one that appears to be changing. Siebke stated that having spent the last two-and-a-half years in cyber, she’s “proud to say I see change happening daily.”

“Half of our hires this year so far have been women!” she adds. “I hope and pray this generation of girls experience the highs I have, without the lows, and implore the NCSC to pressure Gillian Keegan to reverse the decision to relax penalties on gender pay gap reporting this year.” This change is happening daily and many women have had an easier experience than the female pioneers of old. Kay Baines, operations security manager at A&O IT Group, added: “I know many women have faced prejudices throughout their career however I, very positively, cannot say that I have faced any. In fact, I’ve had quite the opposite experience as all the people I have worked with have gone out of their way to help me understand the industry and have also given me advice on how I can better my career.”

How to Get into the Industry

Female representation in the industry is growing and there is a multitude of advice on offer for women looking to build a career. Rajagopal suggests that her “main advice for women who are currently looking to start a career in tech is to be intentional about the area you 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 and cybersecurity,” she recommended. “You have many options, so do your research and find what interests you. 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!”

This guidance is echoed by Prince Taggart who believes women should never undersell their capabilities. “When mentoring women at career crossroads who are doubting themselves, I often say that no man ever says he isn’t qualified for the project, next role or promotion,” she said. “So, ask for the job, take the job, and worry less about how it fits into your future; get the experience and prove your value.”

There are many resources that can help women looking to get into the industry. Prutha Parikh, senior manager, security research at SpiderLabs at Trustwave, suggested attending events such as Girl Geek X which shows talks from companies that focus on product security and application security which can open up lots of opportunities for women. She went on to say: “Women in Cybersecurity is another great resource, particularly for students and even for women looking to start or advance their careers in cybersecurity. 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.”

Joani Green, senior incident response consultant at F-Secure, believes women should never “give in to the inner voices of doubt.” Being a woman is not a hindrance, and it certainly is not a barrier to your success.

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