A Woman’s Place Is in Technology

Opinion

By Robin Saunders

Some years ago, I earned a college degree in cybersecurity and healthcare information technology, becoming the first woman in the U.S. with such a degree. This wasn’t an accomplishment I set out to achieve — I just always had a driving interest in technology, so it was the natural thing for me to do.

I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the sciences. It never occurred to me at the time that these fields were considered the domain of males, or that females were hard to find in industries related to technology.

I describe myself as a geek, though stereotypically the word ‘geek’ tends to conjure a male. But I learned early that the description fit me to a T.

My fascination with technology started in my childhood. My father loved electronic gadgets and would arrive home after a long day in his New York office with “something wonderful” that he found to increase his productivity. When he retired his cool gadget, I loved taking it apart and studying it.

It was my dad who took me on my first trip to Radio Shack, which was famous for its electronic kits. I would purchase these kits with money earned from babysitting. By the time I was in college, I was able to build a quadraphonic stereo — making the woofers and tweeters, back when the word ‘tweet’ meant something different.

Technology and technology-centered careers were never mentioned as career choices in the all-girls school I attended. The closest to a technology career was ‘medical technology.’ MD pathologists had been assisted for many years by medical technicians, mostly men, but the field of medical technology was just beginning, and women started to enter the field.

When I enrolled in a master’s program in 1980 and took my first computer programming course, I was one of five women in a 30-student class.

It is no secret that males have filled most of the jobs and careers having to do with technology and its offspring — the new careers emerging in the cyber arena.

The statistics are quite stark when it comes to women in technology and cybersecurity. Today, only 9% of cybersecurity jobs worldwide are filled by women. And jobs overall in the realm of cybersecurity abound, with 2 million such jobs worldwide going unfilled, some 200,000 in the U.S. alone.

If job fillers in the cyber economy were reflective of the gender ratio in the larger population, that would mean 1 million jobs waiting to be filled by women around the globe and 100,000 jobs available right now for women in the U.S.

Today, I’m director of Graduate Programs in Communications and Information Management at Bay Path University, an all-women’s university in its undergraduate programs that serves both men and women in its online graduate programs. And while there are many male students in our graduate programs, there is no question more women are entering this field; from my perspective, it is about time.

In the Knowledge Corridor that runs north-south along the Connecticut River in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the need in the realms of technology and cybersecurity is growing. With global financial-services companies, research universities, and biotech startups, there is ample opportunity for work in this arena.

My experience in technology and in teaching has taught me one important lesson — that women have the ‘right stuff.’ Call it women’s intuition or a sixth sense. In my view, women possess exactly what the field of information security needs. Not only can women match their gender counterparts in mastering technical skills, but some studies have shown that they may be better at the interpersonal and communication abilities that account for the rest of the job.

In a nutshell, women want a stable job, want to do work that they are passionate about, want to be successful in their careers, want to give back to the community, and want to make a lot of money. The emerging field of cybersecurity offers the perfect fit.

Women have been taught from a young age to be aware of their surroundings and to be very security-conscious. I think women intuitively grasp the need for security.

High employer demand, fabulous salaries, great promotion prospects — what’s not to love about cybersecurity?

If information security is a man’s world — as it is so commonly declared — then how do you explain the wonderful women who continue to perform and succeed just as impressively as the next man? And how to explain the increasing number of women earning an undergraduate or graduate degree in cybersecurity and related data and technology programs?

Many of the pioneers in computer science were women. Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, Grace Hopper built the first compiler, and a team of six female mathematicians created programs for ENIAC, one of the first fully electronic general-purpose computers. In fact, programming and operating computers was once seen as women’s work.

We have all discovered the great opportunity and connectivity that the Internet has brought into our lives, but it also adds to the complexity of the cyber threat. That threat of security also offers an opportunity to little girls who may have a fascination with all things technological, like me.

Calling all women: the cybersecurity field needs you, and there are a million jobs waiting.

Robin Saunders is director of the MS in Communications and Information Management program at Bay Path University.

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