There are times when I believe women are held to a higher standard than men. We’re expected to juggle multiple roles every day: a great mom, a loving daughter, a supportive spouse, a career ninja, just to name a few. With all of this, many women must balance the rigors of the workplace. For example, in my position as a service delivery manager at Palo Alto Networks, I juggle managing customer focused programs across multiple technologies, resolving all customer escalations adequately and driving results at every customer interaction.
On days when I’m struggling to keep it all under control, I remember the advice offered by Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo. She points to a strong network of support from others in your life as the key to success. But she also famously disagrees with the idea that women can “have it all.” She believes we’re always going to be making sacrifices, either at home or at work — and that’s OK. I am mindful of my own choices and know that there are sacrifices behind each choice I make. And my own community of support makes it easier to wear my various hats and accomplish as much as I do.
Equally important is finding an employer who supports women in the workforce. I’m fortunate that I work for a high-tech company that not only actively recruits women and values the diverse perspectives women bring to the industry, but also encourages a healthy work-life balance. Palo Alto Networks knows this balance ultimately results in happier, more productive employees. Not every company operates this way, and it makes me appreciate my job even more.
The Winding Path to Happiness
As a young teen, I was always interested in technology, and my desire to pursue computer networking as a career option got stronger over the years. I started as a technical support engineer for a telecommunications giant. It seemed I was on the fast track to success, but I soon encountered difficulty on my career journey when I was laid off from one of my first jobs.
I still remember that day vividly: Our entire department had been outsourced, and the newbies, myself included, were the first ones to be let go. Devastated, I spent an hour in my car, crying my eyes out. But after that initial shock, I got my things together, drove home and immediately planned my job hunt. Within a month, I landed my next job, the one that helped me identify my passion for operations and defined my career.
I spent the better part of my career delivering customer-focused services to large technology organizations. When I had the opportunity to apply my expertise and experience in the cybersecurity industry, it felt like the natural next step. Today I’m with a company that values my contributions and fulfills me every single day. When I look back, I feel grateful to have been faced with that difficult challenge early on. I learned an important life lesson through that experience: We rarely unlock our true potential unless we are challenged with some kind of obstacle or are forced to overcome adversity. What’s more, is that I think that feeling of adversity is there for all of us. When you look at someone across the table, you see someone successful. But what you forget is that they might have had their own moment in their own car — crying their eyes out.
Bringing More Women to the Table
There is a massive shortage of cybersecurity professionals today, and the fight against bad actors, who come from disparate backgrounds, demands that the industry hire a wider variety of people to better our chances of success. Encouraging people from diverse backgrounds and with varying levels of expertise to enter the field will increase creativity and lead to better business outcomes. Women are natural multitaskers and bring such highly valued traits as empathy and team building to the workplace. Augmenting our workforce with women at the decision-making table will make us better at what we do.
Women should know that their skills and perspectives are wanted and needed in technology, and although it can be challenging at times, it also can be very rewarding. For me personally, as the mother of small children, I know that the work I’m doing in cybersecurity will affect their lives as they grow older, and I find that enormously satisfying.
I can also attest to the guilt of passing on “mom duties” to take care of job responsibilities — it’s very real and can be all-consuming. I recommend that any mother interested in a career in technology should find a supportive group of other moms who are in the same boat — women struggling with work-life balance — with whom they can share common experiences and seek advice. This can be hugely therapeutic.
For women just starting out in technology, I know how it feels. It’s not the easiest of paths, but it’s getting easier. Here’s what helped me:
- Identify a mentor or mentors, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them for direction. Make it a two-way street and offer your own assistance and feedback when it’s appropriate.
- Periodically do a self-analysis. Jot down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, just as any company’s marketing department would. Read a lot, and seek ways to enhance your skills in order to convert your weaknesses into strengths.
- Keep an eye out for opportunities that showcase your potential. Women can be extremely self-critical and are more likely to underestimate our own impact. Advocate for yourself and brush up on negotiation skills.
The strongest asset in my career is my ability to solve problems. I am a fixer and an extensive planner, and I’m persistent in reaching my goals. I am also highly competitive and want to be the best version of myself. Identifying my strong suits early on has helped me navigate my career and excel. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with other strong women who have exemplified that work-life balance and have been career champions, guiding me along my journey.
It can sometimes feel like you have to be a superhero to succeed at home and at work, but when things get rough, I remind myself of these words from my favorite superhero, Wonder Woman: “You are stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.” And when you’re feeling like everything is falling apart? Know there are others here waiting to lift you up.
This article appeared on our Medium blog, Diversity Unscripted