“Do you think you’re going to be able to handle working with all these men?”
One of the few questions over the course of my career that momentarily stunned me during the interview process, this happened over 20 years ago when I was interviewing for a more technical role in my current company at that time. I say stunned because the question had never occurred to me and this is in spite of growing up during a time when I knew I could be an astronaut (thank you Sally Ride!), but had resigned myself to the fact that “girls can’t be President”. It sounds ridiculous now to type it, but these were the facts of my life growing up in the southern part of the US, in a very conservative, church-going family and long before the Internet was a thing.
As I ponder our upcoming International Women’s Day and think about the path my own life has taken, I am truly both in awe of how far we’ve come and simultaneously, how far we have yet to go. It has only been in the last few years that I’ve realized a lot of my behaviors have been influenced by unconscious bias, from my parents, teachers, friends, peers and colleagues so I am encouraged to see the dialogue continuing today through the various movements around the world.
This year’s IWD theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. I have long looked up to the many amazing and inspiring activists who tackle these challenges on a daily basis. I also think many others are hesitant to call themselves “activist” for fear of reprisal or challenge and I throw my own hat into that ring – I’ve never thought of myself as an activist, despite leading my university’s chapter of N.O.W., marching in “Take back the night” rallies and turning down opportunities for IT employment that had “females must wear dresses” requirements (yes, this really happened). What I’ve learned over the years is that it is less important about what you call yourself – just as our actions shape our destiny, so too do they describe our aspirations and capabilities. For all my male and female friends and colleagues who are nervous about taking up the title activist or feminist, I challenge you to simply “do”. Call out the derogatory jokes when you hear them, challenge your peers to leave discrimination behind them, and turn an eye to your own unconscious bias.
Lastly, in light of the recent RSA keynote conversation and ongoing challenges around having enough women in the cyber security industry, if I could turn the clock back and tell my younger self anything, it would be to build the technical capability, competency and confidence that goes along with that, but also to be open to taking leaps of faith. It took me a long time to realize I could apply for the next challenge or next role without being 110% qualified.
As for that interview question? My response: “I hope they can handle working with me!” I’m happy to report I got the job.
Interested in reading more on Women in Security? Read my colleague’s blog post, Women in Security: Where We Are And Where We Need To Go.