Women account for 35% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, according to the National Science Foundation, and even worse, only 24% of security professionals worldwide are women. And yet companies where women hold 20% or greater of management roles generated 2.04% higher cash-flow ROI than those with 15% or less, based on a report from The Wall Street Journal. At the T&I APAC ForrWomen session, we discussed this dichotomy and found an urgent need and enormous opportunity to become not just an ally but an outspoken champion for women in tech and cybersecurity. Organizations and allies need to:

  • Make diversity a key performance driver. Start by establishing key performance indicators for diversity, equity, and inclusion, both within the organization and within technology and security teams specifically. Next, set cultural change goals. An inclusive culture not only benefits women and underrepresented groups but also transforms the business, with organizations twice as likely to meet or exceed financial goals, three times more likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
  • Be a champion to influence change. You don’t need a fancy title to make a difference. The simple act of up-leveling a colleague’s point of view (such as when saying “As Michele said … ”) amplifies voices that often go unnoticed. This also has a scaling effect through which others will feel comfortable raising their voice. Another way is highlighting and celebrating the achievements of your colleagues. Mentioning a colleague’s accomplishment or job well done to their manager, other leader, or peer provides a level of visibility for underrepresented groups.
  • Expand your hiring and retention practices. Hiring managers, please know that women are hesitant to apply for certain roles and are concerned about being treated fairly, so be strategic in your hiring practices. For example, require that at least two women or nonbinary applicants are interviewed for every role, ensure that the panel of interviewers is diverse, and structure the role with inclusive language using tools such as Gender Decoder and Textio.

Meanwhile, women and underrepresented groups need to:

  • Seek out sponsors. Sponsorship is when more senior or influential people in the organization advocate for colleagues who are not as senior. One attendee noted that she sought sponsorships by setting up one-on-ones with stakeholders, leaders, and peers on other teams. The agenda could be to review the status of a project, ask advice on a business challenge, or a more informal “coffee talk” catch-up.
  • Engage support where needed. Mentors provide guidance, feedback, coaching, advice, and help as mentees navigate the business, the organization, or a career progression. Some organizations have formal mentorship programs that will pair mentors with mentees. If your organization doesn’t have one, consider a grassroots initiative to start one. Look to leaders who you admire and feel that you can learn from, and ask for their time to be a mentor. As a mentee, setting the agenda is on you. Be mindful of time, and come prepared with topics that you’d like advice on or a description of where you are hoping to progress in the business.

Everyone can make a difference to advocate for women to go beyond surviving in technology to truly thriving.