How tech leaders at enterprise companies can be more inclusive

Cisco's Michele Guel, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Security Architect, explains how to recruit women into STEM and cybersecurity.

How tech leaders at enterprise companies can be more inclusive

Dan Patterson: You have worked in technology since the early '80s. You've worked in cybersecurity since 1988. Help us understand not just your journey, but the evolution of security and women in cybersecurity.

Michele Guel: I was always interested in STEM. I did science, and my original goal was to be in the nuclear navy. I didn't end up there, but I ended up studying physics, and I got into computers by way of asking my karate instructor if he could help me with a calculus problem. He said, Well, are you taking any computer science? I said No. He said, Well, you know, in this day and age, which sounds funny, coming from the '80s, he says, you need programming.

Took my first programming class. I was super talented at it and it all began from there. I started working full-time in tech, and at the time, I didn't really look around and see, like, hey, I'm the only girl in the class. That sort of came later. My start in cybersecurity was with the Morris worm incident, which was really the first incident that put cyber on the map in 1988. I knew it was going to be an exciting, fun field, and I had an opportunity to get into it at the ground floor, and I said yes.

Dan Patterson: There are many ways that the technology industry has now kind of caught up with the trends of inclusion. What are ways that tech, not just consumer tech, but enterprise tech and the business of technology, can be more inclusive without saying, Hi, this is a big flag we're putting around inclusion, and instead, actually practically execute?

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Michele Guel: Great question, also, because obviously... not obviously, but it's... you go out and you look anywhere, you look at conferences, you look at RSA, you look at some of the bigger conferences, or you go to anywhere, you're going to see more men than women. You can actually count the women in the room and know, hey... there needs to be a greater focus on this. So companies have had to intentionally, myself intentionally, focus on how do we reach the women? How do we help them understand that this is a very exciting space to play in, to work in, and that they can bring a lot to the table?

So it has been focused efforts, not saying, Hey, we want you to be in cyber because we need more girls in cyber, it's like, Do you know about this field? There's great opportunities in this field, and there's a lot of things that you can bring to the table as a woman, because we do things differently, our brains are wired differently. So it's from that vein, like, There's opportunities. Did you know there's opportunities?

And more recently, the different organizations who are focusing on increasing diversity understand now that not only... it's not just good enough to do college and high school, but we need to now go down to middle school, because today, kids at 6th, 7th, 8th grade, already know what they want to be when they grow up, and if they haven't heard about cybersecurity, they're going to make their choice before they know it was an opportunity.

SEE: Photos: The women who created the technology industry (Tech Pro Research)

Dan Patterson: That's kind of fascinating. I understand how science and technology could be relatable in junior high and middle school. How do you talk about cybersecurity and digital vulnerabilities to younger people?

Michele Guel: Well, I actually get to practice that because I have grandkids, all the age groups, and caught them shoulder surfing. Or they're telling me, Hey, Grandma, I know what your password is. I'm like, Hey, you're not supposed to be watching me...on my phone.

So in class, they do, fortunately, the younger kids are taught some basic security stuff, but if you can relay it... I mean, I've spoken a number of times to middle school. I've even done some younger girl scouts, and they don't get it yet, at elementary school, but by middle school, kids have a lot of... their parents work in tech, or they hear things on the news, they get that security is important. They may not understand that there's pen testing and there's operations, there's application security, but they get that our world is impacted by security vulnerabilities and they need to be careful about it.

So if we talk about the... the younger kids, what they can do, how you can help. Women like to save the world. We're very nurturing, and the opportunity, like, Here's the impact you can make, right. You could do something in the medical field. You can do something in the science field. You can help a financial institution be more secure, and that's appetizing for women.

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