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On the front line: Perspectives from women in the tech industry

11 Oct 2019
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October 8 marked Ada Lovelace Day, a memorial for the first computer programmer. But it was a lot more than celebrating one woman’s achievements; it also recognised women all around the world who are working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

There is still an imbalance in gender equality; particularly when several industries are in the midst of a skills shortage.

Two women in technology – Skybox Security threat intelligence team leader Sivan Nir and MathWorks senior user experience team lead Janet Macmillan – share their thoughts.

Skybox Security threat intelligence team leader Sivan Nir

“It’s a numbers issue. There is a huge talent gap. We need all types of people in cybersecurity – not just women. Cybersecurity in particular is a field that thrives on diversity. If you think about who we are up against, cybercriminals come from diverse backgrounds, so it is crucial our teams have different points of views and a variety of thought processes. Diversity helps beat the bad guys.

“Social norms also have a big role to play in holding women back. Interestingly, the percentage of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in homes in significant numbers. When the computer became a household item, it also became a boy’s toy. With other STEM roles we are seeing a steady rise of women going into the field. But this is simply not the case for computer science, but cybersecurity vitally needs this talent.

“Another problem is that education from a very young age diverts girls from going after STEM subjects. Learning patterns are a huge factor here. Boys have more rigid learning patterns, whereas girls have a more complex way of absorbing information. Until now, education has tended to fit boys’ needs more than girls, heeding their progress in STEM subjects.

“To solve the problem, we need more role models who go against the grain for girls to look up to. People like Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace triumphed in the face of adversity to be a female voice in a male world. We need to see and celebrate more everyday heroes and highlight more “normal” women in STEM to ensure that girls can have somebody to relate to. The ultimate goal would be to cultivate a world where women in STEM wasn’t considered an anomaly.”

MathWorks senior user experience team lead Janet Macmillan

“More women in tech means more diversity and creativity. Having female team members brings different perspectives, and ones that better reflect the people we serve. I work in a cross-functional team with both male and female colleagues. I’d like to think that the diversity has contributed towards the success of the team and the products we design.

“Growing up I was fortunate to have a father who was a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering and did not mind getting his hands dirty at home. As a child I observed how he came up with ideas and used them on a day-to-day basis. Having a parent like that gave me a forum to ask questions, and I realised that I enjoy problem solving and I am interested in building practical things. That’s why I believe role models play an incredibly important part in shaping peoples’ lives.

“Given that the presence of a strong role model can strongly influence what people will do later in life, I am trying to do my part by sharing my knowledge and experience with women through conferences I present at. For example, I recently delivered a deep learning workshop, demonstrating how to use a cutting-edge deep neural network to detect real-world objects. The workshop was attended by women from different backgrounds, some young professionals and others studying STEM degrees.

“Software engineering skills are needed in almost every industry, not just software companies. Therefore, the opportunities are numerous – and we need more women to take them.”