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Women in Cyber Panel Offers Tips for Success

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
  • News |
  • Cybersecurity

During a recent University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) virtual discussion hosted by the student chapter of Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), a lineup of experts in cybersecurity and IT pushed back against misconceptions about women in tech and shared their insights and strategies for career success. 

Before turning to questions for the panelists at the spring event, host Shalon Simmons, program director of cybersecurity technology at UMGC and co-sponsor of the WiCyS chapter, pointed to a common myth about women in cybersecurity and IT, namely that they aren’t cut out for it.

“Although women aren’t normally encouraged to pursue a technical field, they are usually in the top 10 to 15 percent of the class,” she said. “Women need to follow their passion.”

As of 2023, UMGC had 2,943 female students enrolled in its cybersecurity programs, according to Simmons. That represents a quarter of UMGC’s cybersecurity student population, consistent with the national average. And while these numbers are strong, Simmons expects growth.

“We want to make sure we are supporting these women and increasing those numbers,” she said.

Panelists Loyce Pailen, director of UMGC’s Center for Security Studies; Michelle Pittman, collegiate assistant professor of digital media and web technology; Farhat Shah, cybersecurity lead with the U.S. Department of Defense and adjunct professor at UMGC; and Gayle Childers-Oates, a success coach and cochair of the WiCyS chapter, offered their career advice.

Pailen highlighted diversity and inclusion as among the main challenges of cybersecurity. “We know that there are not enough women in cyber and that there are underserved communities that don’t have access to training and careers,” she said.

Pailen also noted the importance of looking at diversity from a skills and qualifications standpoint. “I see cyber from the non-tech side,” she said. “We are trying to let people know that the jobs available are not all about technology; they include jobs that require health care, law and human resources backgrounds.”

Pittman stressed support, mentorship and flexibility as keys to success.

“Get involved and support others,” she said. “My background is in IT, web development and computer graphics, but now I’m focused on education. It’s OK to move around and find your sweet spot.”

Shah’s advice to young women in cybersecurity was to not be intimidated by technical content or learning curves.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help during your journey,” she advised. She also stressed the importance of specialization. “Master at least one aspect of cybersecurity,” she said. “Being a jack of all trades doesn’t really work in our field.”

Finally, Childers-Oates offered three key pieces of advice for women at UMGC—and elsewhere—who are pursuing degrees in cybersecurity. “Stay focused, but also understand that as you grow your path may change. Manage your time. And use all of the resources available to you,” she said.

The mission of the WiCyS student chapter is to build a community within UMGC that promotes women’s education, participation and leadership in the field of cybersecurity. The chapter is open to students in all majors, alumni, faculty, staff and anyone associated with UMGC. For more information, email