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IWD 2024: Mentorship, diversity, and effective communication
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

With just 24% of women comprising the cybersecurity workforce, this severely underrepresented sector often goes unnoticed and, in my view, underappreciated for its capabilities. Over the decades, the tech industry has predominantly favoured a male presence, reflecting wider societal norms, possibly even rooted in historical perspectives on traditional female roles. However, the focus should shift towards recognising the valuable skills and capabilities that women can contribute to the sector.

Navigating the complexities associated with outdated stereotypes can pose significant challenges when facing them alone. How can we break free from these constraints, help our careers and create a more inclusive environment that nurtures diversity?

Always ask questions

One thing I always like to remind myself is the importance of acknowledging that no one knows everything. Quite often, I find myself reminding others, and occasionally myself, that it's perfectly okay not to have all the answers. This struggle is particularly evident, I believe, in individuals who may have a more reserved nature, common among many females. Confidence levels tend to fluctuate, making it challenging for us to step outside our comfort zones.

As women in the workplace, it's crucial to recognise the significance of overcoming these reservations. One way is by asking questions and seeking help when needed. I've experienced this firsthand. Upon joining my current job, I found the male colleagues more than willing to assist, guide, and spend time with me, generously sharing their knowledge. The key here lies in the willingness to put oneself out there, establish allies, and make connections.

When we push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, it may feel strange to start with, but embracing the discomfort and reaching out for assistance helps with growth. It's essential to remind ourselves not to hesitate when seeking help. 

Nobody knows everything, and by engaging in conversations with others, we often unearth valuable insights that can drive personal and professional development. Additionally, this approach creates a reciprocal dynamic where we can also contribute our skills and knowledge, forming a mutually beneficial exchange. Ultimately, being comfortable with the idea of asking for help is a powerful tool that can unlock new opportunities for learning and advancement in the workplace for yourself and work colleagues.

Finding a mentor and embracing previous experience 

Building a support system, especially as a female in tech, involves finding like-minded individuals within the same professional circle. One individual who has played a significant role in my career was a lady I met at a conference, someone I’ve stayed in touch with. When she was moving to a new role she reached out and asked, "Would you like to join me?". The specific job role wasn't clearly defined at that point, but she discussed various options for me to consider.

Ultimately, this led me to a role in customer success, which, though not overtly technical, involved elements of product involvement and onboarding. Dealing with a diverse customer base in this role proved instrumental in me honing my interpersonal skills. Often, technical degrees focus primarily on the intricacies of technology, leaving little room for developing the equally crucial skill of effective interaction and communication.

The art of interacting with people is quite a different skill set from understanding technology. It's a skill that isn't always explicitly taught but is vital in roles requiring customer interaction.

I truly believe that women in tech should embrace previous job roles and experiences, plus the profound impact a mentor can have on your professional journey. The guidance received and the ability to leverage interpersonal skills learned in unconventional roles can significantly contribute to personal and professional growth in the field of technology.

Translating tech 

In this industry, one of the most invaluable skills is the ability to translate technical jargon into easily understandable concepts that resonate with everyone. This skill isn't confined to any specific gender but resonates effectively across diverse individuals, be it from female to male.

In a technical role, possessing the skill to translate technical jargon into basic, comprehensible language is invaluable. The capacity to communicate complex ideas in non-technical terms is not just a valuable asset; it's a necessity at times. This skill set goes beyond mere gender distinctions and becomes a key factor in creating effective communication channels, facilitating understanding between the technical and non-technical spheres.

Breaking free from the constraints of outdated stereotypes is a collective challenge. The journey towards a more inclusive environment that nurtures diversity demands proactive steps, and one powerful strategy is to always ask questions. Embracing the discomfort of seeking help and initiating conversations can lead to valuable insights, fostering personal and professional growth.

Forming a support system and seeking mentorship are essential components of a successful career. Embracing previous experiences and leveraging the guidance of mentors can significantly contribute to personal and professional development. 

Essentially, encouraging more women to participate in the tech space requires an emphasis on mentorship, diverse experiences, and a heightened awareness of the importance of effective communication. Through these concerted efforts, we have the potential to create a tech industry that is both inclusive and dynamic, harnessing the full spectrum of talent and capabilities.