Women in STEM careers: Just do it
By Lum Ka Kay March 30, 2016
- Family encouragement and support are crucial
- Women can help fill projected shortfall of cybersecurity pros
HAVING spent over 25 years in cybersecurity, IBM executive security advisor Diana Kelley (pic above) has three words for anyone – including women – who wants to pursue a career in technology or, more specifically, cybersecurity: Just do it.
“Get involved. Don’t read about it too much, just start doing it already. There’s nothing like managing systems and writing code to gain real-world experience,” she says.
Speaking to the media in Petaling Jaya recently, Kelley says that family encouragement can be key in getting more women to pick up STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.
“Many say that family encouragement drives success. And this applies specifically with getting more women to go into STEM because it really matters what the family is encouraging them to do,” she said.
For Kelley herself, it all started the day her father brought home a programmable calculator when she was nine.
“My brother wasn’t interested in programming but I was. And I went on from there to help build a computer with my father, and also started going to computer clubs with him.
“I never heard my father say anything like, ‘Oh, it’s weird that Diana likes doing this because she’s a girl.’
“I like computers and technology because I’m me; I’m Diana. Not because I am of a specific gender,” she adds.
Kelley says her childhood experience and her father’s encouragement helped her to approach the tech industry by viewing herself as an individual first and foremost, rather than a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“I never think of myself as a woman but I think of myself as me, as an individual. I just do what I like.
“I’ve been very lucky in this career where I’m getting jobs with increasing responsibility, and I love every minute of it.
“It never occurred to me that it’s weird for a girl to venture into this field,” she declares.
Making the cybersecurity leap
Kelley’s fascination for computers and technology saw her landing a tech support job before she worked her way up to network administrator (admin).
“I wasn’t thinking of cybersecurity specifically, but one day somebody – a bad guy! – got into one of my servers, causing it to not work properly,” she recalls.
“I realised that to keep the bad guys off my servers, I had to become a security admin – you need to outthink the bad guys in order to create a strong, resilient system.
“And I loved that more than being a network admin. It [cybersecurity] is the most interesting part of the networking and applications space,” she adds.
However, Kelley says that the bigger leap in her career was venturing into applications security.
“When you look at how networks and applications interact at different layers, you understand a network layer is different from understanding an application and writing security code.
“So that was the bigger leap for me when I decided to not only work on network security, but applications security as well,” she adds.
For Kelley, the proudest moments in her career was when she managed to change people’s perception on cybersecurity.
“It is bringing cybersecurity to life with non-security people so that they can start to learn about it,” she says.
“Believe it or not, this is harder than you might think.
“I was talking to a bunch of executives who thought cybersecurity was something that had nothing to do with them, or was something they could never understand.
“But I had them realising that cybersecurity is something that they can understand, and that it can protect the business,” she adds.
The Global Information Security Workforce Study 2015 by Frost & Sullivan projects a shortfall of 1.5 million cybersecurity professionals internationally by 2020.
Kelley says this is a clarion call to encourage more women to take up a career in cybersecurity.
“When you look across the globe, only about 10% of the cybersecurity workforce are women.
“If we could get more women into this, we might be able to move the needle on the 1.5 million shortfall,” she argues.
Kelley says that IBM itself has collaborated with 300 higher education institutions around the globe to get more people into cybersecurity by providing relevant training, software support, as well as organising cybersecurity awareness campaign within campuses.
When asked what’s holding women back from securing a career in technology or cybersecurity, she says, “It may be because they don’t see many women in this field, so they might think that the legacy in this field is male-dominated.
“It may also due to the fact there are not many women role models in the field. But as more women are coming out to talk about this, I hope we are changing this perception,” she adds.
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