As a woman in tech, I am often asked what we need to do to get more women interested in tech jobs and cyber careers. Previously, my response might have been something along the lines of doing away with the traditional 40-hour work week, stop trash talking “part-time” work, be real on job requirements, and be open to Boomerangs (people with gaps in their resumes from time spent taking care of other parts of their lives). But I now think it starts much earlier in life.
About four years ago, I found myself at my son’s football practice. One boy in particular caught my eye. A September baby, he was the second smallest kid on the team, but damn if he hadn’t volunteered to play defensive nose guard in practice to get extra reps. For more than two hours, I watched him get hit, again and again, each time shaking it off and getting right back up to face our pretty stellar front line (our boys did very well—straight wins all season). I’ll be honest, tears were dripping down my face as I sat and watched him take the hits for the team. My first thought was “they never should’ve let him watch Rudy.” But then I realized this was a teaching moment for me, not him. He was showing me that perseverance wins over perfection ... and he is right.
You see, as a woman that is easy for me to say but hard to accept. Like many women, I was taught to strive for perfection. From makeup to manners to homework. Play to win but practice for perfection. I have always struggled with imposter syndrome—feeling less than worthy. For many years I hid behind manners, protocol, and humility.
Becoming an entrepreneur changed me.
I learned to value perseverance over perfection. I learned to accept that you can’t truly win until you have failed many times. And that failure is not bad. Perfection is not the answer. Perseverance—the ability to keep trying new things and mentally coach yourself through stumbles—is the key to achievement.
This struggle is real for women. We are taught early to value perfection. But it’s a hindrance if you want to innovate and keep pace with technological change. If we want to encourage more women to embark on careers in tech and climb the ranks, we need to start by teaching our daughters and future women leaders how to mentally accept mistakes and persevere. It is not an easy trait to learn.
Sports teach this innately but we don’t always highlight it like we should to show its value. I have noticed that with boys the coaches often say things like “fight through the fatigue” but with girls it’s “practice, practice, practice.” And not every kid plays sports.
Enter Cyber as a Sport. Maybe you’re not in the field and have no idea what “cyber as a sport” means (read about it here) but I strongly believe it is a way we can bring more diversity into our field. Let’s use hacking and defensive techniques to teach curiosity, innovation, and perseverance. Give young women the opportunity to get their practice time in at “nose guard.” In cyber competition, maybe that’s being the black hat for a session in order to make the team better. Invite them into our world to see that things will get past your defenses, stuff doesn’t always work as planned, and yet a team can still find ways to bounce back and triumph. We can help shatter the myth of perfection and instead build her core of resilience.
Do me a favor. Spend time talking with your daughter, or nieces, or mentees, about why oftentimes perfection is the enemy of good, and growth, and progress. Teach them to value bouncing back, working through the pain, persevering through the hard times, and believing that we will learn, get stronger, and win. Teach them it's not always about taking that next step when you think you are ready, but more about taking the opportunity when it presents itself and sticking with it until you get a handle on things.
So how do you grow the number of women in tech and cyber? Change her game. Free her from the pursuit of perfection, and equip her with confidence and resilience and perseverance. And learn more about organizations that help increase diversity in tech.