A lunch event takes place in the boardroom of the National Retail Federation November 27, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

According to a recent study by Cybersecurity Ventures, women make up approximately 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. I often hear from women working in STEM-related fields that they struggle to “get a seat at the table.” The phrase can be both metaphoric and literal, but at some point in my career, I shifted my focus from getting a seat at the table to building my own table altogether. Here’s how: 

  1. Gather your tools: In the beginning of my career, I started building technical competencies so that I could build a table with all of the right tools. I gathered credentials, read, listened and learned. Sure, I messed up plenty, but I learned valuable lessons along the way. One great place to start gathering tools is by supporting organizations that focus on exposing females to cybersecurity. By volunteering with groups like CyberPatriot, Girls Who Code or Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, you will not only further someone else’s knowledge but your own as well. Gather the right tools today so that when it is time to build, you are ready. 
      
  2. Look at different designs: Throughout my career I’ve assessed many different table designs. Now at this point, I am being invited to the table. I am being invited to the discussions as an active participant. Let me stop and remind you that an active participant doesn’t always talk. Active listening is an important part of sitting at the table. As I observed various tables where I sat, I noticed some were flawed. Some allowed participation but no one could get a word in edgewise. Some allowed voices but were not inclusive of the ideas presented. Some invited participants just to check the box. No matter what, I was always present and ready. The point is that there is learning in all instances. What are you learning once you get the seat? How does that prepare you when it is time to build your own table?  
     
  3. Build your own great table: You will reach a point in your career when it is time for you to build your own table. These are times when you lead a project, discussion, or activity. Working in a technology related field means there are lots of opportunities to build a table, use it, tear it down, and build again. The technology landscape is always changing, and our voices, thoughts and diverse opinions must evolve with it. Now is the time for you to gather tools, review different designs, and build a table that is worthy of participants.  

Inclusive discussions, the decency quotient, and content acumen all play a role in how your table performs. Is it solid? Does it lean? Will it break? Will people want to come back? From technology meetings to leadership roundtables to speaking at conferences, I have experienced years of being the only female in the group. Don’t stop at getting a seat at the table. Keep going and build your own!.

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