I’ve been in IT for the last 16 years, nearly two of which have been in cybersecurity. I was recently given public platforms to discuss my views on diversity in the industry. The crazy part is how close I came to never actually having a career in tech.
The first opportunity came following my recognition as Minority Practitioner of the Year by the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP). And most recently, I joined over 100 women at the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) Cybersecurity Women on Capitol Hill.
The day-long EWF event was a chance to meet dozens of women in both the private and public sector leading the way in cybersecurity. The night ended with a speech from Tenable CEO Amit Yoran, where he discussed his commitment to improving diversity through public and private sector partnership.
More than anything, these opportunities lit a fire under me and motivated me to learn more, stay active in the field and engage with other women in cybersecurity.
Women form only 11 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce
But taking a step back, I realize just how close I was to never stepping foot in the tech industry. Funny enough, my career in IT was coincidental. It all started while I was an executive assistant for an IT director. Although I didn’t actively pursue a position in IT, I was recognized for my tech savviness, and was given the opportunity to join the end-user support team.
Since then, I’ve gone from helpdesk support to customer support, to working on a full scale security team. Seven of my last years in IT have been at Tenable, where I’ve seen the company grow from a 100-person startup, to a global cybersecurity leader.
I’ve often wondered how different my career path and life would have been if I hadn’t been noticed by that manager. Would I have eventually found my way to tech? Or would I have been too timid to step outside of my comfort zone and pursue my dream?
A lack of early exposure to STEM programs, mentorship and inclusive company cultures have created hurdles for women
Unfortunately, my situation isn’t unique. A lack of early exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, mentorship and inclusive company cultures have created hurdles for women to join the cybersecurity industry – hurdles that have resulted in women forming only 11 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce, according to a study done by EWF.
While increased awareness of this problem has helped to close the diversity gap, we need to do more to ensure women and minorities entering cybersecurity isn’t by chance.
Exposure to new ideas, thoughts and opportunities is what enables us to grow. That’s why access to and encouragement of STEM education is so important. Without early childhood exposure to math, science and technology, girls can quickly become hesitant and discouraged from exploring these fields.
Growing up, I was never exposed to technology in school. But unlike many years ago, advancements have brought computers and mobile devices to virtually every classroom — an opportunity we need to jump on. While there is currently strong momentum around STEM, we need to continue to bring well-funded programs to every school, and ensure that young girls and minorities are encouraged and motivated to pursue the field.
One of the key factors to a long and successful career in tech is strong mentorship. But women who enter the cybersecurity workforce are often left without mentors to help them navigate a male-dominated industry.
One of the key factors to a long and successful career in tech is strong mentorship
It’s no secret that women have long been overlooked by customers, colleagues and even managers, simply because of our gender. This is something most, if not all, women experience in IT and elsewhere. And it’s one more reason why promoting female leadership and mentorship is so important.
You often spend more time at work than you do at home, which is why company culture is critical to success. I’ve been lucky enough to spend my work hours at Tenable, a company that is committed to its employees, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard.
Although the industry has leaps and bounds to make when it comes to diversity, we can start by fostering an inclusive company culture where diversity of thought and approach is celebrated and embraced.
The road ahead
There’s no doubt that the industry has a long road ahead when it comes to closing the diversity gap. But I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction. Change won’t happen overnight, but we need to stay focused on the areas that matter most: encouraging young girls to pursue STEM, mentoring the next generation of women in cybersecurity and developing inclusive work cultures that promote creativity and diversity.
Continued support and collaboration of industry and government leaders, such as those at the EWF Cybersecurity Women on Capitol Hill event, is critical to tackling this issue.
This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn.