Glass ceilings abound in the information technology industry.
Several studies, including this one from the National Center for Women & Technology, show that women make up only roughly 25% of the IT workforce, with women of color represented even less. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, women have been forced to drop out of the workforce at a much higher rate than men.
Yet diversity has been shown to make companies more successful.
A recent YouTube Live panel discussion from CompTIA, the leading IT industry organization, brought together several women leaders in the tech industry to discuss how they got started and what advice they’d offer for breaking those glass ceilings.
The panel, moderated by Kelsey Blazaitis, senior manager of Digital Brand at CompTIA, included:
- Gabrielle Hempel, a Cloud security engineer who recently obtained her Certified Human Trafficking Investigator and Expert in Cyber Investigation credentials through the McAfee Institute. She works with law enforcement groups and task forces to combat human trafficking through digital forensics and analysis
- Alli Houghton, CEO of Learn CyberSecurity, which provides content on IT certifications and topics in the cybersecurity field. Houghton holds CompTIA A+, CompTIA Security+ and ITIL v4 certifications
- Gabriela Ariza, a cybersecurity specialist who has worked in the private and public sectors. As an IT pro, she has executed large web projects and expanded her knowledge in creating user-interfaces and using content management systems. She is CompTIA Security+ certified and has an interest in developing secure websites
- Amy Cliett, director of TechGirlz, a nonprofit program of Creating IT Futures and CompTIA that inspires middle-school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers
- Kanika Tolver, an IT project manager with CompTIA Security+ and an in-demand career coach and founder of Career Rehab LLC, which focuses on assisting career transformations for students, professionals and retirees
According to Cliett, the message that girls don’t belong in tech starts at a young age, even today.
“I think you would be surprised to find out how often girls are discouraged from pursuing tech,” she said.
She shared a story about a female member of a high-school robotics team who recently took part in the TechGirlz program. One of her male teammates told her she should only be taking notes, and he took the pen out of her hand as she was solving a problem.
A male ally spoke up on the girl’s behalf, Cliett said, “But there are still a lot of challenges out there for girls.”
Hempel shared an experience in which a male colleague told her she would never advance in technology.
“I had a lot of doubts about myself,” Hempel said. “(What) stopped me from advancing faster was I wasn’t sure if I was able to work in cybersecurity. Sometimes it was hard to ask for a raise or ask for an opportunity. My advice is to just go for it.”
Houghton agreed. “You need to know your worth. There’s going to be a lot of times that you’ll be in a job that is dangling a carrot over your head about pay raises and promotions,” she said. “You need to know that if the position doesn’t value you, then find something else. There are other organizations that will value you.”
Added Tolver, “I like the idea that the more you learn, the more you earn. Build your brand by dating jobs. Always know what is it that you want from the job. If the job’s not treating you right, then you need to move on to the next job.”
Blazaitis agreed: “Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be an expert in computers to be able to love tech, to have that curiosity and that drive to continue to learn. IT is something that I think will fuel passion for a lot of women.”
And taking time off from an IT career to care for families doesn’t mean that you’ve lost advancement opportunity.
“I understand there are a lot of women who are mothers, and they sometimes have to leave the workforce and then come back years later,” Hempel said. “But the very nice thing about IT is that you can jump back in. You can find your path and be able to grow from there.”
And regarding that colleague of Hempel’s who once told her she would never advance in technology? He recently came to her for advice and praised her technical ability and drive.
“Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something,” she said.
View the entire discussion here.