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Digital Security

The Myth of the IT and Cybersecurity Meritocracy

Lora Vaughn

Chief Information Security Office, Simmons Bank; Member, Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS)

As a woman in IT, especially cybersecurity, I’m an anomaly.

Even before I started my career, I was one of three girls in my high school computer science class. I was one of less than a dozen women in my undergraduate computer science program. 

For most of my career, it’s been me and a bunch of men. Even today, when I walk into a meeting, I will often be the only woman in the room. I haven’t been asked to go get coffee in years, thankfully, but it has happened. 

I have always felt that I had to prove that I should be in my role; that my knowledge and skills were on par with that of my male peers. When I would bemoan this fact to trusted (male) co-workers, they would claim that it wasn’t just me. Everyone had to prove themselves in this field because it’s a meritocracy. They’re equal-opportunity jerks, using their terms. 

So no, Jim, this is not a meritocracy. It’s a world that veils its sexism as weeding out those who aren’t good enough. A world where different is bad, fitting in is key, and outside views aren’t welcome. A world that views the status quo as The Way.

Now hiring

Amidst all this, there is a shortage of cybersecurity talent and women are uniquely poised to bring new, unique perspectives to interesting challenges. 

I’ve spoken to many women who are interested in the field, but they discount themselves and their capabilities. They fall into the typical traps of not having confidence to apply for the job they want because they don’t have every single listed skill. Without an advocate, a support system, and a mentor, these women may never break in. 

Let me tell you, these women are qualified, more so than many men I know who are confident in their ability to do any job. But because of the cultural challenges, I worry they may never get the proverbial foot in the door. Because they’re female. Because they have imposter syndrome. Because they guy who has more in common with the hiring manager has a leg up. 

To solve this shortage, we need the people who are already in the field to stand up for us. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be talked over, passed over, and frustrated. We all need to be the change we seek. 

Let’s make the field a meritocracy where all viewpoints and perspectives are valued, different is good, and diversity means success.

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