With women staffing less than 20 percent of technology jobs in the United States, despite making up more than half of the United States workforce, the gender in technology gap continues to be a growing concern. In spite of this, there are still increasing opportunities for women, especially in the cybersecurity industry, for rewarding and enriching careers.
This Sunday is the 95th annual International Women in Engineering Day, a global day created to raise awareness and the profiles of women in engineering by focusing attention on the countless career opportunities available to women in the industry. To celebrate the achievements of women engineers throughout the world, we are looking to our own talented pool of women engineers at WhiteHat Security.
Below several women engineering experts of WhiteHat Security have reflected on their experiences, and advice to women seeking to be involved in cybersecurity, and technology in general.
Ruth Iverson, senior software engineer, WhiteHat Security
“In high school, I found computer programming hugely interesting and was hooked immediately. Despite that initial interest, I didn’t go into computer science in college. Instead, I majored in music. That sounds like quite a different direction, but many people in the tech industry have suggested that musicians actually make good coders as they can pair an analytical, logical and disciplined mind with creativity and originality.
These days, I’m on the frontline of the development side in the application security space, with a strong focus on customer success. My team does a lot of bug hunting, and we move quickly to implement solutions for problems that can be a real pain points for customers.
To be a successful coder, you need a sense of curiosity and a desire to know how things work or why they fail – even down to the smallest detail. It also helps to have a love of fixing problems and the tenacity to solve them. Most importantly, you need to be a team player.
If you like working with computers and technology, and enjoy seeing the results of the code you write, go for it! Also, don’t be intimidated by men in the field – it’s an industry that’s still male dominated, so you have to be strong enough to push when you know you are right and be sufficiently open to accept valid feedback when you are wrong or struggling. The good news is that the number of female coders is increasing each year, which is hugely inspiring. And there are strong peer support groups including, Girls Who Code, that organize regular meet-ups. This is a great way to meet like-minded people and build a network.”
Lauren McCaslin, vulnerability verification team lead, Threat Research Center at WhiteHat Security
“As a female engineer in the cybersecurity space, I am aware that unconscious bias is always present. This refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions without us even realizing it. While diversity brings various unique perspectives that can foster more creativity and collaboration, people tend to gravitate toward likeness because it builds comfort. But homogeneous teams often under-deliver and are over-confident, while diverse teams are often under-confident but over-deliver. While it’s tempting to gravitate towards people similar to you (or as a leader, to group similar people together), working with individuals from different backgrounds and genders encourages us to challenge one another and work together to identify and solve issues more rapidly.
My team, for instance, is responsible for finding dangerous vulnerabilities in companies’ application code and offering advice on how to remediate it – which could be critical in preventing a major data breach. It’s very high stakes, and we’d be cheating ourselves and our customers by not being inclusive and inviting all personalities and backgrounds to collaborate. Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance. Companies can encourage this by identifying and updating company policies that may unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes, explicitly defining and sharing criteria for advancement, offering exciting assignments, and most importantly: expecting, reinforcing and rewarding intentional inclusion.
For individuals, knowing your worth and being your best advocate will help to move you forward in your career. It’s important to regularly check in with superiors on your career aspirations and what it takes to get there, track your own progress, and ensure you are receiving feedback. No one will go to bat for you more frequently or effectively than you will – so be confident, go forth, and conquer.”
Shilpa Narsikar, senior engineering manager, WhiteHat Security
“As a woman in engineering, who has risen up to a senior management position, I have encountered my fair share of difficult interpersonal situations while on the job. These have ranged from encouraging a frustrated engineer who is stuck on a problem, while building out a product, mediating disagreements between colleagues, and even comforting someone while at work after they’ve received upsetting personal news.
In all of these cases, there is one invaluable skill that has helped me to handle each instance with grace, build professional connections and advance my career: empathy. Sadly, however, it is often overlooked in fast-paced businesses where individuals just want to get ahead at any cost.
A recent study found that 87 percent of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and
business performance, productivity, retention and general business health. In short, promoting empathy—either as an individual or as a company—actually aids in career and business success.
In my role, when I get on customer calls, empathy is a constantly useful tool. It helps to bridge the gap between the engineering/implementation side and solve real world use cases, on how our customers are using the product. The more I fully listen and understand, the easier it is for me to propose a better solution to the customers. And it helps me encourage harmony within my diverse internal teams as well. That is one ability all professionals regardless of gender, background or industry, should prioritize and work on to achieve success. ”
Krista Delucchi, engineering program manager, WhiteHat Security
“I enjoy working specifically as an engineering program manager because I get to help shape the digital world in which we exist, and I know that the influence provided by women creates a product that better serves its users. Working in technology has provided me with countless opportunities to witness the incredible support that women provide to one another (and to the rest of their peers), find role models in the brave, brilliant, and inspiring females around me, and learn to be a fair leader both in the workplace and in my personal life. Diversity in engineering (whether it’s gender identity, race, culture, age, orientation, or any other factor that makes people wonderfully unique) directly translates to its day to day success in the field.”
Kanthi Prasad, VP of engineering at WhiteHat Security
“The gender gap in the technology industry still exists. When I started working I did not expect equality, but instead started with the assumption that I have to try to work harder than people around me in order to gain equal footing. Nobody can stand up for you better than yourself, so learn how and when to verbalize what you need. Don’t be the one who gets easily offended by things around you.
That does not mean it was easy, but I choose to concentrate on the long-term outcome than the short-term pain. The right mentor or sponsor in the engineering field can support and guide you through even the most difficult situations. Make time for the women in your organization to support, mentor and appreciate each other as much as possible.”
For more advice, read our blog post on “Women’s Day at WhiteHat Security – Top Takeaways from Women in Tech” here.