Empowering Women in IT
It’s common knowledge that the tech world is an industry of mostly men and their big ideas. In 2016 predictions, Deloitte Global revealed some stark but not surprising statistics about gender parity in the fields of information technology when they took on the burning question: How many women work in tech? By the end of 2014, women held only 24 percent of all available IT positions and even fewer of them worked in upper management and executive-level jobs. That’s a relatively low portion, considering that back in 1985—when many of today’s industry veterans were pursuing their educations—37 percent of graduates with a four-year tech industry degree were women.
By the end of 2017, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) uncovered in their Global Survey Report that women held just 25 percent of industry jobs. These slowly rising numbers beg the question: Why aren’t there many women in tech? And just as importantly, how can we support and empower women and girls as they join the ranks of IT experts? We caught up with Lisa Jiggetts, cyber security expert and the founder, president, and CEO of the nonprofit organization Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), to help us tackle these questions.
Why aren’t there many women in tech?
According to ISACA’s survey, there are three leading barriers to women joining and succeeding in the tech industry:
- 48 percent of subjects said a lack of mentors was a key factor
- 42 percent listed the lack of female role models in their field as a major barrier
- 39 percent have experienced gender bias in the workplace
If women aren’t represented or able to make connections in their field, they may not have an interest in joining—or staying—and it can also affect hiring patterns. If you can’t see someone like you thriving in a career, why would you choose that path for yourself?
Lisa Jiggetts echoes these concerns, and points out, “There are a myriad of obstacles women face in this field,” including the fact that workplaces are only recently starting to include family leave for new parents, which will make a positive difference particularly for women. And if we dig a little deeper, we find that early education is also huge factor. In fact, Deloitte Global found that fewer young girls (17 percent) are taking advantage of computer science electives, like coding, than their male peers (33 percent).
What can we do to empower women and girls in IT?
We’ve gathered practical advice for women in the workplace and anyone who wants to help empower women in IT.
1. Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor
You don’t have to choose between finding or being a mentor—you can do both! These supportive and challenging relationships are rewarding for everyone involved. Jiggetts says, “[Finding a mentor] doesn’t mean going around and asking people if they’ll be your mentor. Mentors can be informal, even friends. My first mentors were men in IT. They advised me on which certifications to get, which job path I should take, even how much I should ask for my salary. To find a mentor, you have to build a relationship, and it may take some time, but it’s just another way to stand out among other people trying to make it in this field. Having multiple women and men as mentors is ideal.” Mentorship is at the heart of the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, and it’s one of the most direct ways to break down the highest barrier women face in the tech field.
2. Join a Network or Organization
Your current or future cyber security employer may have a community of supportive women and some equity-building practices in place. No matter where you are in your career, which gender you identify as, or what your own workplace is like, joining or supporting a nonprofit organization can help you connect with role models and mentors. Volunteer, attend educational events, and make new friends who share your experiences and goals. Plus, getting involved with an organization is a great way to give back and help future generations of savvy and empowered women in IT jobs. In addition to the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, Women in Tech International (WITI), Girls Who Code, Women in Security and Privacy, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is are among the top organizations in the country.
3. Take an IT Course with the Younger Women in Your Life
You don’t have to be a woman to be a positive role model in a young woman’s life. But if you are, think how powerful it can be to expand your knowledge and career options side by side—for both of you. Even if the girls in your life are undecided about their careers, modeling the work and creativity involved in pursuing classes like Introduction to Cryptography can make a huge difference in their self-esteem and professional development. When asked which skills set people apart in cyber security, Jiggetts tells us, “I believe the way a person thinks and the ability to communicate are the most valuable qualities that someone can offer.” Celebrate young women’s other traits as well, and let them know that their talents open doors to this field.
Facing these obstacles head-on, organizations, employers, and cyber security authorities are working to make IT a welcoming and career-building space for women. Building gender equity and awareness into your cyber security career will help bring new insights and innovation to this growing field, and build a stronger, more successful industry.
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