Women in IT Security? Of Course "We Can Do IT"

An Interview with Carolyn April by Selena Templeton

Rosie the Riveter became a cultural icon of female empowerment during WWII. When much of the American workforce, which was male, disappeared to fight in the war, women were called upon to fill those jobs, especially in factories and shipyards. Not only did they show the world just how capable they were, but they paved the way for the women’s liberation movement two decades later (which resurrected the “We Can Do It” poster).

Now, thanks to CompTIA, you can create your own personalized Rosie the Riveter avatar at Make Tech Her Story like the one I made of myself (with great artistic license!). Share yours on social media with the hashtag #MakeTechHerStory to “show girls everywhere that anyone — regardless of gender, race, or age — can work in IT.”

Below is an interview with Carolyn April who discusses the findings of a study that CompTIA did to determine how to encourage more girls to pursue jobs in IT.

Selena Templeton: What is CompTIA and what is your role is there as senior industry analysis director? 

Carolyn April: The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a non-profit trade association for the technology industry that is dedicated to advancing industry growth through educational programs, market research, networking events, professional certifications and public policy advocacy. More than 2,000 technology companies around the world are members of CompTIA and we also have 3,000-plus academic and training partners and 80,000 registered users. With more than two million IT certifications issued to technology professionals around the globe, CompTIA is the world’s largest provider of vendor-neutral skills certifications.

As senior director of industry analysis, I spend the bulk of my time conducting market research studies about the IT industry, with a heavy focus on trends happening in the indirect IT channel and vendor communities. Projects include quantitative and qualitative research that results in long-form written reports, presentations and other content that is made available to CompTIA’s members as a benefit, as well as to the news media. I speak frequently at industry events, as well as conduct webinars and write thought leadership-driven blogs.

ST: Who were your role models (if any) that inspired you to get into a career in IT?

CA: My path to IT wove its way from a conventional journalism career covering city government and typing on green screen terminals to the then-blossoming world of tech publishing. Technology journalism was booming in the late ‘90s when I decided to make the leap at the behest of fellow colleagues who had switched focus areas themselves. I would count Pat McGovern, the late founder and CEO of International Data Group (IDG), where I took my first IT-related writing job, as an inspirational role model.

ST: CompTIA launched a new study and campaign to determine how to encourage more girls to pursue jobs in IT. Can you share more about the study's key findings? 

CA: Conversations about creating gender parity in IT professions aren’t new. Industry leaders, educators and the media recognize that attracting women to the field depends largely on encouraging them to think about technology subjects and careers at a young age. But beyond making this connection, few have uncovered specific reasons why girls aren’t drawn to IT.

We conducted focus groups and a survey to gain some insight into why this is, and we identified several critical factors:

  • Parents play a key role in introducing technology: Girls and boys agree that parents and guardians are the primary source for finding out about careers.

  • Girls’ interest in technology lessens with age: Among middle school girls, 27 percent have considered a career in technology. By high school this figure drops to 18 percent.

  • Tech classes alone aren’t enough: Girls who have taken a technology class are only slightly more likely to have considered an IT career (32 percent). Less than half of girls who’ve taken these courses are confident their skills are right for the job. The high school curriculum of today is all about college prep. Hands-on technology skills are no longer seen as college prep. Programs in hardware-focused tech skills have been eliminated or relegated to after-school programs.

  • Girls lack awareness about career opportunities: Of girls who have not considered an IT career, 69 percent attribute this to not knowing what opportunities are available to them. More than half (53 percent) say additional information about career options would encourage them to consider a job in IT. When it comes to careers, kids want to understand why you love what you do. We’re not doing a good job in the tech industry of telling kids why we love what we do.

  • Girls need role models: The most important lesson we’ve learned through the research is the importance of role models in the process of choosing a career. Just 37 percent of girls know of someone with an IT job. This rises to 60 percent among girls who have considered an IT career.

ST: How can we (parents, teachers, society) encourage girls to consider a tech career? How can companies recruit more women into the tech field?

CA: If your daughter shows even a hint of interest in technology, encourage her to explore and learn more about it. The same is true for teachers who might have female students curious about technology. Encourage students to use the digital resources available to them when completing assignments, homework and projects, and that doesn’t mean using Wikipedia as the sole source for information when researching a paper. But the more comfortable young people get using apps and collaboration tools, the better prepared they will be when they enter the workforce, whether it’s in tech or some other field.

Look for opportunities to engage with tech businesses and professionals in your community. They can be a great resource for learning how businesses use technology today, and how that can be translated into the way tech courses are taught.

The tech community can also provide the role models and mentors that are so lacking. A list of roles and responsibilities about a particular job only goes so far. When it comes to careers, kids want real-life stories from people who can convey their passion about their occupation, why you love what you do.

Don’t pigeonhole tech as a career option for males only. Companies in the technology industry, and in other industries, are struggling to close a gap between the number of tech jobs they have open and the number of qualified applicants. Through the first nine months of 2016, employers had posted more than two million job openings; in Q3, they had 600,000-plus openings. And on the horizon you have the pending retirement of Baby Boomer generation workers.

So companies facing a current shortage of workers, one that’s only going to get worse in the coming years, can no longer ignore one-half of the pool of prospective employees. More companies realize that the only way to get great people is to invest in workforce diversity and social responsibility.  

ST: What is some advice you have given or would like give to other women in tech/infosec? Or to men in tech/infosec? 

CA: Professionals in infosec roles, as well as cybersecurity professionals generally, are in a good spot when it comes to employment. These jobs are at or near the top of the list of the most in-demand jobs in the economy. There are nearly 350,000 open positions for cybersecurity workers across the county. That’s according to data from CyberSeek™, a free, interactive online tool available to anyone interested in the nation’s cybersecurity workforce that was unveiled this week by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

About Carolyn April

Carolyn April is Senior Director of Industry Analysis at CompTIA, a non-profit association tasked with conducting primary research on all aspects of the IT industry.

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About Selena Templeton

Selena Templeton is the Column Editor for the Equal Respect column on ITSPmagazine.

More About Selena