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How to Get More Women in Tech

International Women's Day and Women's History Month is a time to reflect on how far we have come as women, and also how far we still have to go. Women in tech, for instance, still represent the minority in the industry. The industry has made some progress, but what more can be done? Forescout CIO and Chief People Officer Julie Cullivan shares her views as a woman in tech and as a leader of people.

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How do you view the state of women in technology in 2020? 

I think we have made some great progress when it comes to encouraging more women to get into technology, but the reality is that there is much more work to be done. Women in the IT sector, for instance, still represent only 17% of the workforce. That’s an extremely low percentage that all of us in technology should be committed to growing. 

That said, I am encouraged to see many companies taking steps to encourage more diversity in their ranks, as well as investing in educating and inspiring future generations of technology leaders in elementary school, high school, and college. I think these are small steps in the right direction and I am hopeful we can build on them over time. 

What do you see as some of the causes of women staying away from the technology field?

There are many reasons for this. First, I think gender stereotypes for computer science jobs still persist. Many young girls I talk to are still afraid of being labelled as a “geek” and are intimidated to enter a male-dominated field. In schools, I think we also need to do a better job of encouraging young women to get excited about STEM activities, ones they may not choose to expose themselves to on their own.

Our industry has done a much better job at reaching out to young women to inspire them about the potential of technology. Many of my peers, as well as myself, have gone to speak to young girls at schools to share what we do for work and why it is such an exciting field to be in. These efforts are all about improving the pipeline of women interested in getting into the field, though it is certainly a push that will take time to fully show its impact. 

But, while it’s important to focus on getting more women into technology, we also need to focus on keeping them there. It’s an unfortunate reality that many women face sexism – or even sexual harassment – at work. My heart aches for these women. There is still much more our industry can do to prevent these behaviors and make technology an industry that women want to build a career in. 

What female leaders inspire you? 

A few weeks ago, news broke that Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician whose calculations were essential in the conduct of American space shuttle missions, including Apollo 11, had died at the age of 101. Her story is an incredible one of breaking down barriers and showing the incredible capabilities that women can bring to the table.

There are many more women in technology that I look up to as early pioneers in the space: Ada Lovelace, creator of the first computer program in the 19th century; Joan Clarke, who alongside Alan Turing decrypted the Enigma machine; and Hedy Lamarr who developed an encryption system in the 1950s that is still used today in defense.

All of these women were pioneers in computer science. But they aren’t necessarily the names my daughter would hear about in school. I would love to see them talked more about in the classroom. They are fantastic role models whose stories could inspire more women to get into IT. 

What was your path into a leader in IT?

I had a somewhat non-traditional [SK1] path to the CIO role. I studied corporate finance in school, but started my career in technical sales at Oracle. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I took a risk and it’s led me to where I am today. 

I’ve been lucky to lead sales, marketing, and operations at a number of fantastic technology companies, including Oracle, McAfee, Autodesk, FireEye, and now at Forescout. Now, in addition to being CIO at Forescout, I am also Chief People Officer, meaning I lead all of HR for the company. 

I think it’s common for women to talk themselves out of taking a risk on a new job or role because they feel they aren’t 100% qualified to do it well. But I’ve found if you’re willing to learn and ask questions and work hard, that you can be successful. Don’t sell yourself short!  No IT jobs are reserved for men. As the CIO of Forescout, I am proof of this. Back-end developer, front-end developer, business analyst – all of these jobs are accessible to women. It’s up to us ladies to seize them!

What advantages would increased diversity bring to the technology sector?  

The technology industry is all about coming up with new, innovative ideas. The best way to do that is to bring all the best and brightest minds to the table. To do that, we can’t ignore 50% of the population! On top of that, having a more diverse team means getting a broader range of viewpoints and life experiences, which can open your eyes to new ways to look at things that you may not have considered before. 

We recognize these benefits at Forescout, so we’ve made it a conscious part of our hiring process. We signed the ParityPledge in 2018, where we committed to interview at least one woman for every open position, vice president and above. We also named two new women to our board of directors in 2019, as well as named Theresia Gouw as our chair, giving us the most diverse board of directors in the cybersecurity industry. These are steps that I am super proud of and ones I am encouraged to see at other companies, as well. 


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