Affecting change within an organization can feel like pushing a giant boulder up a hill. The temptation is to put your head down and get the work done. Sometimes it also means flexing some underused muscles, which means we have to do things differently and be willing to take risks.
The statistics below showcase where women stand within cybersecurity, the technology industry, and in general professional jobs right now. Women make up more than half of the population and hold 51.5% of all professional jobs. The foundation may be strong, but here's where we need improvement:
- At S&P 500 companies, women fill only 25% of executive and senior-level positions, only 20% of board seats, and just 6% of CEO positions.
- Just like the CEO position, only 6% of CIO positions are held by women.
- Of all professional computing jobs in the US workforce, women hold only 26%.
In cybersecurity, the numbers are even worse. There's a massive shortage of cyber jobs, yet women make up only 20% of the cybersecurity workforce. One way to change the numbers is to change the way we work. This means providing women the flexibility to get things done from home and, yes, sometimes even when the kids are there.
The majority of women working in IT believe that having a family places them at a disadvantage professionally, according to a 2018 Harvey Nash Women in Technology report. Why then, with so many technology tools available to connect us globally, are we still required to show up in the office every day from 9 to 5, or longer? As an executive at a cybersecurity company, I work remotely, with the trade-off that I must travel to our headquarters from time to time. Still, as part of a mostly remote team, we are consistently delivering very positive results.
Conversely, when companies fail to trust teams with the flexibility of working remotely, they are losing out on significant opportunities. It's time to ditch demeaning work cultures and change how business gets done so women and men are able to choose family and career.
My experience in the cybersecurity field is unique because I work for a company that embraces remote work; however, it hasn't come without challenges. Working in a male-dominated industry among a male-dominant executive team means broaching uncomfortable topics.
The team was flexible with my maternity leave in 2018 and open about giving me as much time as I needed. But I still had to educate the male staff about breastfeeding, why travel was out of the question for the first six months of my daughter's life, and why sometimes I had to rearrange meetings due to pumping sessions. I chose to provide explanations because I don't think enough women are sharing this information.
Women in cybersecurity are slowly starting to make inroads, according to several recent studies. But there are still many institutional barriers, such as burnout, lack of career advancement opportunities, and an industry culture of sexism. Another reason for the continuing gender disparity in our industry is because security professionals are not willing to talk about many real, practical issues that get in the way. In my case, I found my male colleagues to be receptive to my candor. Now I'm proud to say we've added another female executive to the team, which is a testament to how contributing to the conversation can help change the numbers.
When you're intentional about your goals, you will get there in time. But it doesn't happen overnight. Here are some valuable lessons I've learned:
- Be your own champion. Ask for the respect and for the salary, but be willing to put in the hard work required. Your boss is more likely to trust you with a flexible work model if your work ethic is unwavering.
- Don't let the stumbling blocks discourage you. When it comes to our careers, the pressure to be perfect often leads us to be far too conservative with our aspirations. Instead, be brave! Your stumbling blocks will be moments in your career that highlight your perseverance.
- Advance yourself so that you can advance other women. The Harvey Nash survey found that 31% of women in tech left their last job because they had no opportunities for advancement. Advancement happens when you take initiative. Don't wait for it. Instead, create the opportunity you're seeking.
What have you seen that helps champion women? Have you been with a company that did this well? Ask yourself these questions, and if the answers fall short, take time to discover why. Creating a culture of supporting and advancing women is no small feat, but it's worth the challenge. Start with yourself.