Empowering women in technology

By Ronda Cilsick, Chief Information Officer, Deltek.

  • 4 weeks ago Posted in

With March 8th marking International Women’s Day, there is a renewed focus on the gender divide in the tech industry. As Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Deltek, it is an issue I’m passionate about addressing, always looking at what more we can do to break down gender barriers.

Even in 2024, female representation in tech is still a big issue in the industry. For context, nearly three quarters (74.3%) of technology related jobs are held by men, and the more senior the role, the larger the divide. It would seem Deltek is outside the norm, having women in C-suite roles, as only 10% of tech companies have women represented at this level.

Change is possible though, through a concerted effort from all stakeholders. This effort will not only benefit women in the industry, but it will also lead to greater business success. Research from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quarter of gender diversity are 39% more likely to achieve financial outperformance versus companies in the bottom quarter.

Through my own experiences, I hope to help drive forward a change in the status quo, so women are no longer underrepresented in technology. After all, it is diversity of thought that drives forward innovation and having women – who do make up half the world’s population – proportionally represented at the table is a key step in ensuring the industry is innovating for all, not a few.

Technology in my DNA

Growing up, I didn’t really have a choice in engaging with technology. It was always a big part of my family’s life, so luckily for me I caught the bug early and loved it. My mom worked for a start-up technology company in the 1960’s, while also teaching computer programming at Georgia State University. I still credit her as my first mentor, getting me into coding in fourth grade – that was in the early 80’s before computers and computing lessons were available in schools. As a family, we were ahead of our time.

Fast forward a few years and there were two formative moments where my mother helped guide me on a path to succeed in a career in technology. The first being when she encouraged me to take a typing class (on a typewriter!) to ensure it was a skill I had early on. The second, taking up computer programming classes, as she saw the importance of understanding computers in the future. I was particularly resistant to that idea since I was the only girl in the class. But, I am so glad I did it, as it further sparked my passion in technology – so much so I ended up majoring in Computer Science at the College of William & Mary. In college, I was one of only three women that majored in Computer Science at that time, but those courses gave me the skills to cement my path to working in the technology sector.

Relatable role models

As well as my mom, there have been some stand out role models for me. I’ve met many brilliant men throughout my career and learned a lot from them. However, there is a lot to be said for the value of role models you can see yourself in and relate to.

I met my second mentor straight out of college, and she inspired me to find my own authentic career voice and style, not just mimic others. Also, like many women, I wouldn’t risk speaking up if I didn’t know a topic inside and out. Once I found my voice and style, I was able to start owning my career, and I gained confidence in my skills and ability to speak with authority.

I’ve benefited immensely through mentorship, and I am passionate about paying it forward. I joined Deltek’s Mentor Program and have found it to be a win/win for all involved. I continue to learn from mentees, developing long lasting relationships that help me better understand the various roles at Deltek, and how we best collaborate, so I can do my job better. The mentee gets access to my experiences and advice as a fellow woman in the industry, offering a sounding board for challenges and opportunities.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

Going back to my early years, a lot of what has ultimately helped me succeed, revolved around things I felt uncomfortable with at the time. However, taking the leap to try them – even as the only girl in class – has helped me push myself and gain confidence in my abilities. As a result, I’d encourage all women to not let insecurities get in the way and define what they do. Instead, look them square on, and see how they can be leveraged as career growth opportunities.

Support is key to developing this confidence and that’s why mentorship is so important. It provides a safe and secure environment to find and sit with discomfort, so it can ultimately be pushed through and overcome. Having a sounding board and cheerleader who has walked the path before and can empathize with challenges, is invaluable to career development. In addition, I found it invaluable to have my mentors challenging and pushing me outside of my comfort zone, because my natural tendency as a woman is to hold back if I lack any confidence in myself.

I am still regularly faced with new challenges outside my comfort zone. However, rather than let the unease hold me back, I think about advice I’m received from my mentors and working with my mentees and it motivates me to take on those challenges. By embracing an ecosystem that fosters female empowerment, the technology industry can further flourish and if I can help even a handful of women into senior positions, I’ll feel that I have left the industry in a better state than I found it.

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