In September 2021, Girls Who Code partnered with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop pathways for young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity and technology. This partnership seeks to tackle diversity disparities by heightening the awareness of cybersecurity and technology careers and working with employers to build tangible pathways for young women, especially young women of color, to get hands-on experience in the private sector and the non-profit sector or government.
Our first collaborative initiative is a series of features of women who work in the cybersecurity field, including the exciting work CISA employees are doing. Today, we’re spotlighting Yolanda Williams, the Cybersecurity State Coordinator (CSC) for Florida within the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) assigned to Federal Region IV.
How and why did you pursue a cybersecurity career?
Growing up in the projects in DC, all I could think about was, “how do I get out?” For me, the military was my way out. There are two things I’ve always known since middle school: First, I always knew I wanted to be in the military. Second, I’ve always known I wanted to work in IT. Thankfully one goal led me to the other.
What challenges have you encountered in the cybersecurity field as a woman of color?
I have had several challenges since entering this field. However, there are some that are tried and true no matter what area of IT I am in. The top three I have had to deal with consistently include economic disparities, salary inequalities, and a lack of representation within management.
When I came to CISA, one of the first things my regional director told me was I didn’t need to continue to prove myself — I had already done that or I wouldn’t be here. I was so shocked; I thought she could read my mind. All I could do was say thank you. For me, this way of thinking had been a constant self-imposed thought for as long as I can remember. Being able to relax and just do my job has been such a relief. Not having to always deal with questioning my ability to do the job has made it easier to do it and continue to be successful.
What advice would you give to girls of color who are interested in a cybersecurity career?
When I decided to move to cybersecurity, it seemed like a natural progression, a job that would utilize all the things I have learned in my almost 30-year career. So my advice to young women of color interested in a career in cybersecurity or any other area of IT would be that it’s ok to follow your dreams, you never know where they will lead you. Initially do your research to see what’s out there either in your school or maybe available at another school that offers a program you are interested in.
When I visit colleges, and they ask about a career in cybersecurity or transitioning from one career to another, I give the following advice:
- Mentorship: Find someone who is doing what you want to do and ask them how you can do it too.
- Speak up: Make it known that you want to work in a particular field
- Have integrity: Be yourself, don’t lie about your skills (there are places willing to train you).
- Be open-minded: Don’t shoot down an opportunity because it doesn’t come in the package you expected.