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IWD 2024: Empowering women in tech - Lessons in supporting progress in diversity
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

Every year, when International Women’s Day rolls around, it prompts us to reflect deeply on where we stand and where we aspire to be in terms of gender equality. We often find ourselves pouring over statistics, such as the fact that while women make up nearly half of Australia’s workforce, they hold significantly fewer full-time positions, occupy a small fraction of chair positions, and face substantial pay gaps in industries like Information & Communications Technology (ICT), as revealed by the recent Workplace Gender Equality Agency report. Despite these sobering figures, they do indicate progress. 

Yet, progress can be frustratingly slow. Instead of feeling discouraged, it’s crucial to not only acknowledge the progress we’ve made but also to focus on concrete actions that can accelerate our journey.

Recognise progress
Change is underway. In the past, I've often been the only woman in the room, but recently, at a Qualys training event, I was thrilled to see more women participating. Instead of just one in the room, there was a woman at every table. This progress is worth celebrating, but I want more of it so that we stop feeling the need to scan a room to see if there are other women present every time we go anywhere. So, what can we learn from that?

Promote inclusivity and take action for diversity
I was impressed by the deliberate efforts to ensure diversity at the event. It's time for more of this intentional inclusivity. Every leader needs to recognise the need for diversity and take deliberate steps to include and invest in women and other minority groups. 

I would love for hiring practices to require that a woman be included in the candidate pool. I would love each manager to have goals associated with female diversity on their teams. I would love for the industry to ensure women are included in advisory boards, executive panels or speaker opportunities.

It may sound basic, but there's still so much room for improvement. We need concrete plans and consistent follow-through from leaders to truly make a difference.

Support women’s growth
Let’s talk more about investment. It’s clear that women have not received the same level of investment as men in developing their skills, advancing professionally or getting promotions. I believe it’s time for tech companies and industry groups to make targeted investments in women’s education, events and career development.

When it comes to leadership, progress is being made, but there's still work to do. While women now make up about a third of board members, the representation of minority women is still far too low. Companies need to actively support women's advancement to executive positions by providing support through things like mentorship and opportunities for growth.

Pay it forward
Whether you admire her or not, Margaret Thatcher had a point: women should all be helping each other out. At Qualys, we're proud to have women in top leadership positions, including our CFO, CHRO and board members. But it's not just about having women in these roles—it's about actively supporting other women through the process.

I've been mentoring women for nearly two decades, within my company and through organisations like Women in Technology and initiatives like Leading Like a Lady. It's incredibly rewarding to see these women grow and succeed in their careers.

I'm calling on others to join me in paying it forward and investing in the next generation of female leaders. Together, we can create a more equitable future for all women.

What’s your superpower?
We all have something special about us. For me, it's the knack for "warping time," a term my teammate coined to describe my efficiency and ability to rally teams for faster goal achievement. I believe women, in particular, excel in masterful time management, multi-tasking and the ability to see long-term impacts. 

I urge women to highlight these talents, emphasising their ability to build relationships and how they can help their organisations with speed to market, competitive differentiation and be the time warp to success.

Embrace resilience
Raised in a blue-collar family with traditional values, just before my 18th birthday I took matters into my own hands, moved out of home, juggled two jobs and earned enough to attend college part-time in the evening. It was tough, but it led me to a breakthrough in my career with a woman-owned start-up in video conferencing.

I was fortunate to have supportive mentors who invested in my professional development, guiding and promoting me, while teaching me the importance of resilience. What this experience showed me was that you can’t let new challenges, whether it is learning a new technology or tackling unfamiliar tasks, intimidate you. 

There's plenty of training available, and the cybersecurity field offers diverse career paths from sales or channels, to project management, or customer support roles. Figure out your strengths and business skills and what you enjoy doing and jump in! Identify your strengths, dive in and leverage networking—especially among fellow women eager to support newcomers.

Be open-minded
Recognising my own struggles for equality, I realised the added challenges faced by women of colour, or that intersect with other minority groups. This awareness prompted me to initiate "Courageous Conversations" with my team during the COVID era, creating a safe space to address global injustices.

These discussions shed light on the unconscious biases and lack of support experienced by many minority female colleagues. It made me appreciate the investments others made in my early career and recognise my privilege as a white woman. Let's stay open-minded and advocate for inclusivity, ensuring all voices are heard and valued.

A Call to Action
International Women's Day is not just a celebration; it's a call to action for change.
Let’s commit to fostering a culture of inclusion, investing in women's empowerment, and amplifying their voices in the tech industry. Together, we can pave the path for a gender-equal world - one where every woman has the opportunity to thrive, lead and inspire future generations.