• Women share stories of hurdles and triumphs at the Women in Cyber panel at West 2017. Photo by Mike Carpenter
     Women share stories of hurdles and triumphs at the Women in Cyber panel at West 2017. Photo by Mike Carpenter

Women Help Each Other to Make Gains in STEM, Cyber Careers

February 23, 2017
By Monique Attar

The energy in the room was palpable and sporadic buzzing and murmurs were heard as a panel of successful women in the cyber world on Wednesday shared tales of their challenges, opportunities, educational paths and hopes for improving the environment for future generations, seeking to make a difference. 

Hurdles still exist for girls and women entering the world of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly called STEM, despite it being the 21st century, panelists shared during AFCEA International’s Women in Cyber discussion, presented Wednesday at West 2017, a premier naval conference held this week in San Diego. 

History does not always accurately reflect the many accomplishments of women who blazed trails in careers otherwise traditionally filled by male counterparts, the panelists stated. However, in today’s technology-filled world, where so many individuals are tethered to a device, accomplishments of women no longer are left to the discretion of the historians. Everyone takes pride in providing data across the invisible path that reaches readers everywhere a device can be accessed.

But no matter the career field that today's youth choose to take on, cyber is so pervasive today that all jobs are bound to have a cyber aspect to it, shared Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, USN, deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare and director of naval intelligence. 

Training future generations of cyber warriors cannot fall on the government’s shoulders alone, and the Defense Department in particular relies heavily on academia and industry to offer youth training programs, Adm. Tighe offered. And that training must begin far earlier than high school.    

The good news is that this generation of digital natives already has produced a crop of students who not only are exposed to the cyber world, but are lovers of gamification and the like and make for a captive audience, offered Winnie Callahan, director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Cyber Security Engineering and Technology.

More than 300 active duty and industry men and women attended the Women in Cyber panel discussion as part of an appreciation recognition sponsored by ARMA, Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, MERCOM, Walker and Associates, Cisco, MITRE, Jacobs, Georgia Tech, and JTSI Inc.  

In addition to the panel, Women in AFCEA honored five exceptional pioneers with the Women’s Appreciation Award for their leadership in mentoring and furthering the careers of women. This year’s honorees were: Alvie Johnson, director of business development for Leidos; Marion Michaud, technical director at the Cybersecurity Technical Center at the MITRE Corporation, Col. Kim Montfoort, USAF (Ret.), technical support lead at Telos Corporation; Chief Master Sgt. Diane Slazinik, USAF, superintendent of the Air Force’s 375th Communications Group; and Mary Allison Yourchisin, vice president of special operations and joint agencies at AC4S. Each recipient encouraged the audience to take note of their own value and reach out to mentor others.

Changing the future starts with recognizing that cultures must change to get rid of stereotyping within the IT community and how individuals who dream about participating in the industry can aspire to create a career path for themselves and keep cyber initiatives moving forward. 

Women in AFCEA will hold its fifth Annual Appreciation Event next year in early February.  Planning has already begun with plenty of opportunities for participants to celebrate the growth of Women in AFCEA and member accomplishments volunteerism to make it an annual event.

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