International Women’s Day is a great time to reflect – and since I wound up becoming a leader in cybersecurity, an area still dominated by men, I have several things to say … mostly good, by the way.
As the headline indicates, I was one of three girls. My dad would have liked to have had a boy as well, but he and my mom never raised us to believe being female should hold us back from anything. In fact, thanks to my Dad, at age 7 I was the first girl to play t-ball in my town, paving the way for several others to join the following year. The mantra I was raised with was if you want to do something, work hard and get it done. That’s all there is to it. Gender was not a part of it – ever.
Maybe I’ve been blind to some things, but I honestly feel that being female never got in my way – not that it was always smooth sailing. Fortunately, I have a strong personality, so if people acted inappropriately, I called them on it and moved on. No question, it helps to be working at Accenture, which understands the benefits of diversity and inclusion, as proven by our public commitment to achieving a 50/50 gender split globally by 2025.
Naturally, there are things Accenture still needs to work on. It’s challenging for women, as we move through different phases of life, to achieve the right mix between career and home – when, for example, staying on a path toward becoming a Managing Director might mean a heavier travel schedule. This is true for men as well, of course. Regardless of gender, not everybody wants to be on the road most of the time, and a lot of people want to be with their families and friends as much as possible. We haven’t fully cracked the code on that, but strides have been made and it’s definitely part of the conversation.
Those chips can weigh you down
This brings me to the Number One thing I tell women who come to me for advice: Don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder and automatically believe when you feel you’ve been wronged that it’s because you are a woman. Maybe something happens in a meeting, or your performance review isn’t as good as you think it should be, or you were bluntly corrected due to a misstep at work.
If you go “there” first, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Instead, first seek to understand. If you take the time to dig deeper, there’s a good chance it had nothing to do with your gender.
But of course, there’s also a chance that you’ve just run into conscious or unconscious sexism or bias. If that’s the case, by all means stand up and address the issue. Fight that fight and use all the channels your company provides.
I don’t believe that seeking to understand makes one weak. In fact, it could be a way to avoid destroying a relationship unnecessarily.
One weapon I try to use is humor. For example, there was a time when a couple of male colleagues would always ask me to set follow-up calls as meetings ended. I didn’t mind doing it, but were they trying to take advantage of me because I’m female? Hard to say. I truly don’t believe it was malicious, but it could have been unconscious bias. My response was to throw it back at them, as in, “Man, I would make a really good admin for you guys.” It made them think, and pointed out their behavior without sacrificing an important working relationship, which is precisely what I was after.
Carpe diem, no question
It also goes without saying that when we get our chances, we have to seize the day. One example of this was when I was asked to fill in at the last minute to take part in a Digital Fight Club – a fun debate that resembled a game show, with cheering, some razzing, some gamesmanship and a lot of good-natured one-upping. (I won, by the way). It sounds easy now, and it turned out to be fun, but getting there took some gumption: I got a call from a marketing person on Monday, and the ‘fight’ was Wednesday. That’s not a lot of prep time.
As far as the number of women in security goes … well, it’s still a challenge, no question. Whether it’s about technology in general or security, it’s partly a pipeline problem. Historically, a lot of young girls self-select out of math and science early, and once they do that it’s difficult to get them on the technology track later. Notice I said difficult – it may be hard but it is entirely possible. (I particularly love that the Girl Scouts have recognized this and have added STEM related badges – including 18 in cybersecurity!) We also need to decouple the belief that a technology degree is required for security.
One of our security analysts has a degree in theology. The moral of her story is you don’t have to be an engineer or a computer science major to be successful in security or technology, but you do have to have an interest.
So in a nutshell, don’t play the female card first. In my experience, more often than not, that’s not the problem. And DO pursue what you love – whatever it is. In my case that’s cybersecurity. It’s an important job. We have a sense of mission. And it’s so cool. That’s right – cybersecurity is really cool.
Whoever you are, whatever you are, come aboard and dig in. Find a company that understands, stand up, take chances and by all means, keep your eyes open. But throw that chip in the recycling bin.
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