Mentoring the Next Generation of Female Technology Leaders

Written by Samantha Sene, Channel Sales Leader, A10 Networks 

Technology surrounds us in today’s digitised age and as industry professionals, it is easy to assume that the path into the sector is clear. However, with women only representing 24% of security professionals worldwide, according to Forrester, more effort needs to be made to increase this ratio.

If we break this down further, PWC found that only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice, compared to 15% of males. Alongside this, 16% of females have had a career in technology suggested to them compared to 33% of their male counterparts. There is no denying that the situation is vastly better than the state of the industry fourty years ago and strong efforts are being made to equalise these disparities. However, it does highlight that we need to push harder.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘DigitalAll: Innovation and technology for gender equality’ is a great reminder of the work we all need to do to reach this goal. That is why I was keen to share my experience of working in the channel to inspire other women and suggest the practical steps needed to meet our collective objective.


Demystifying routes into the industry

I have been working in the channel for over twenty years, in both vendor and distribution roles and I am fortunate to have no regrets in my career choices. My first role, fresh out of university, was in a technology company as a sales support specialist which quickly transitioned into a full sales channel role. With a two-decade tenure under my belt, I have stayed in this industry because of its dynamic qualities, the ever-evolving nature of the work enabled by innovation, and the diverse career opportunities that it brings.

My experience with A10 Networks especially has proven a fantastic example of this innovative culture, exemplified through upcoming channel programmes and new product releases – it is always full speed ahead, which I find truly invigorating.


Finding inspiration through mentorship

Throughout this time, I have been fortunate enough to find strong mentors who have helped to guide and shape the professional I am today. One example that particularly stands out is in 2020 when I hired a business coach, recommended to me by my mentor at the time. She is truly inspiring as a three-time TEDx speaker who coached me in presenting and public speaking. As a member of the board of directors for Women in Cloud, a community-led economic development organisation for women entrepreneurs and professionals, she introduced me to a wide network where I was able to broaden my own connections within the industry.

When I reflect on my career, I find that mentoring has also become a true passion of mine. I mentor individuals both within my organisation, and outside of it, which I find is a great source of energy for me. I know that I am helping people, especially those new to the industry, by supporting and imparting my own knowledge, and most importantly by building their confidence as my mentors built mine.

One of my greatest pieces of advice for women entering the industry is to ask for help. Even the most adaptable and bright professionals can feel overwhelmed at the start of their career, and it is not a failure to admit this. It is hard to know where to start, whom to talk to and where to begin on the pathway to leadership. Female mentorship programmes work to inspire young candidates to aim high for themselves, allowing direct access to the women who have risen through the ranks before them. Programmes such as these are essential to drawing and retaining more women in the industry, by providing transparency into the female leadership makeup of an organisation.


Supporting the younger generation

Young people have had a lot to contend with as the subject of constant change and disruption over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, they have begun to show concern when thinking about their future. I am constantly amazed by the ambitious young people I see around me, and it always restates in my mind the importance of lifting other women up.

I act as the school governor for cybersecurity and safeguarding at my daughter’s school, so I see the first-hand efforts made by technology companies to engage with schools through careers fairs and presentations on apprenticeships. Equally, I believe we need to continue pushing for female leadership to be a larger focus of these initiatives, creating role models by bringing more women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to work with the education industry, speaking at fairs and workshops. Explaining exactly what it is they do, how they do it, and what they did to get there – further demystifying the route into the industry.

In this industry we often talk about the digital skills gap and cyber security burnout, validating that the onus needs to be on encouraging apprenticeships, pushing for careers in STEM, and proving that the work we do with young people is incredibly vital.

Ultimately, I see International Women’s Day as a source of celebration. My network and the women around me have shaped me into the professional I am today, and I will strive to continue encouraging and supporting young professionals in this exciting industry.

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