"I don't think of myself as 'a women in tech'," Candace Worley, Vice President and Chief Technical Strategist at McAfee tells me. "I think of myself as a tech professional - so when someone does point out the uniqueness of my gender in the industry it always surprises me that they even noticed."
"I just don't think gender matters. What matters is how good you are at what you were hired to do."
For over 20 years Worley has developed and delivered successful enterprise software solutions, resulting in notable market growth and new revenue streams for global companies.
Initially joining McAfee as a product manager in 2000, she advanced rapidly within the company, and by 2010, was appointed senior vice president and general manager. Worley is currently responsible for go-to-market strategy and alternate routes to market, global enterprise messaging, solutions pricing and packaging, technical marketing, pricing and licensing strategy, and competitive intelligence across the corporate products portfolio.
Worley didn't get here overnight.
"I didn't have a job lined up when I graduated from college so ended up taking a restaurant management job to pay the rent," Worley revealed to Gizmodo. "Six months later, I ran into a friend whose husband had a tech start-up. She insisted I meet him for coffee to see if he had a role that fit my skills. He had a role open for a financial analyst.. he offered me the role and I took it."
Worley says it was fantastic experience. She got to know the Testing team and when they needed help, she would load software on to hardware POS systems and QA test them. Worley ended up spending her last two months with the company in Seattle loading software, and testing integrated systems before they were installed at the customer site.
"The security space is a special technical discipline," Worley says. "It's one thing to create systems that simplify the process of doing something like scanning groceries - but it's a whole different ballgame when you are helping people and companies protect the digital assets they need to live their life, run their company or deliver services to their customers."
If they don't get this right, Worley points out, you might lose access to your family photos, personal finances, or even worse - financial assets, electricity, health records. Worley says a job in security software is not just a job.
"Its a mission."
Although she doesn't think of herself as "a woman in tech", there have been experiences during her career that are unique to women.
In the late eighties Worley worked as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of a small Value Added Reseller.
"The men were told to 'dress professionally', but all women in the office were required to wear skirts or dresses and stockings – no pants for girls!" Worley revealed. "Since I worked for the CEO I was a bit cheeky about it telling him that I really was capable of managing his calendar with or without my ankles and knees showing."
"Luckily, he had a sense of humor."
When it comes to encouraging diversity in a company, as a corporate value, Worley believs it must come from the top down.
"As much as we all dread the annual trainings that pop into our inbox, they are important elements in raising awareness among employees on the importance of diversity," Worley says.
Worley also points out the importance of keeping diversity "top of mind". "
"If everyone on your team looks like you, thinks like you, came from the same kind of school as you then you are probably leaving opportunities for superior performance on the table."
"That team may perform to expectations but they may not be as creative or innovative as a team with diverse characteristics. Data shows that diversity often results in exceeding expectations."
Fueling diversity is important, Worley believes - not just for McAfee, but also for our industry. Although women represent 50 per cent of the global population, just 11 per cent are represented in cybersecurity.
"I believe that we must move quickly to fuel our talent pipeline, and currently we know that, starting in grade school, interest in STEM is just as high for girls as it is for boys," Worley says.
"Many tech companies, including McAfee, are working to combat the gender inequity in technology by exposing young girls to these careers as early as possible, ensuring that they aren't deterred from a future in technology."
McAfee have designed a host of programs focused on exposing children, especially young girls, to STEM, from Online Safety for Kids to Coding Classes, the Explorers Program and Scholarship Programs for Women. It also runs a Women in Security (WISE) Community, an employee-led network with over 900 active members globally representing all areas of the business, at all levels. They run mentoring programs, hold speaker events, and provide educational classes.
Like many diversity programs, the WISE initiative is run by women. I asked Worley if it's a good thing these programs fall to women to lead and organise.
"I don't think it is good or bad. It just is."
"I know a lot of women that will raise their hand when an extracurricular project needs an owner so I think it's natural for them to sign up for something like driving diversity programs."
And Worley agrees that mentors are important.
"Regardless of what stage you are in your career or what industry you are in there are always situations that arise or decisions that you need to make that you are just not sure of," She points out. "A mentor is incredibly helpful during those times."
They are also valuable when you are trying to figure out what you want to do next, trying to determine why something just isn't going your way at work (often we can't see the forest for the trees when we are standing in the middle of it), or are tackling a new project or position and need someone to use as a sounding board, Worley says.
"I always recommend that people have both a male and a female mentor that way they get feedback from both the male and female perspective."
Worley has her own network of folks that she goes to for advice. Some are within the industry, some are at McAfee and some that are her personal connections. It really depends on what the topic is.
"If it is specific to the security space I might reach out to McAfee or former McAfee women. If it is more about me personally then I tend to leverage my personal connections."
Worley left me with some words of wisdom for women looking to get into the tech industry.
"Whether in tech or any other industry – you are responsible for your career – don't count on others to make it happen. Research your options ahead of time and target the segment of tech that appeals to your personal values, likes, etc – doing something with a connection to your values makes work a lot more enjoyable."
And finally, "Know thy self."
"A confident, capable woman that sets her boundaries and her goals and holds to them is a force to be reckoned with."