Code42: why diversity of thought is the key to tech innovation

Code42's Jadee Hanson explains why a lack of diversity of thought is stifling product innovation in the tech industry.

In the second of two features, Jadee Hanson, CISO and VP of Information Systems at leading data loss protection company Code42, shares why she is a staunch believer in diversity of thought and gender equality in the tech industry.

Jadee, why are you so passionate about diversity in the tech industry?

The cybersecurity field today is saturated with the same type of people from similar backgrounds. As a result, the industry is lacking in what it needs most – and that is diversity of thought.

One thing that I see happen repeatedly is that women and people with ethnically diverse backgrounds are outnumbered in the cybersecurity field. With the odds stacked against them, they either lose confidence, or they leave the field. We need to change that.

Why is it so important tech businesses draw on diverse viewpoints to solve business challenges?

In 2018, I read an article in Forbes that perfectly articulated why diversity of thought is so important to innovation. It said, “A diverse workforce drives innovation and gives you a competitive advantage. As you evolve a product or development team to include people with different perspectives and experiences, you enhance your ability to better understand the needs of your current and potential customers.

Diversity in your workforce expands the questions you ask about customer needs, the problems they need to solve today and tomorrow and how they use your product or service to help. An analysis that includes a larger range of perspectives shapes a better product. With a better product, you grow your customer base and increase your bottom line.”

Further, McKinsey research from 2018 found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” I couldn’t agree more with the Forbes article and McKinsey research around the proven benefits of diversity. 

You are actively involved in developing young women for futures in technology. What does that involve?

To increase the balance of women in the cybersecurity field, we have to start young and demonstrate that women have a place in this industry.

Along with some of the women on the security team at my company, I spearheaded an annual event with the Girl Scouts. We host a day of activities for more than 100 girl scouts, ages 6-12, where they learn how to solve security challenges and earn one of their three cybersecurity badges.

This is an incredibly rewarding event, which allows us to show these young girls firsthand how much we love working in this industry. Not all of the girls are going to choose a career in cybersecurity, but the thing that we’re trying to do is make sure that the younger generation knows and believes that if they do want to choose this career path, there’s a place for them.

You won the Pioneer Woman in Tech Award just last year. Tell us about the work you did?

Since joining Code42, I have implemented several new programmes and have positively changed the perception of the security team among my colleagues.

I crafted a vision statement for the security department, which focused on a philosophy that the security team should be a collaborative service organisation rather than a mysterious, feared entity sequestered in a dark room away from the rest of the company.

The vision statement reads: “Our security team will change the way you think about security. We are here to create an environment where employees recognise us as trusted experts; our sales team counts on us to help close deals; customers rely on us for transparency and trust us to do the right thing, and Code42 depends on us to position the company to be a leader in security technology.”

I have worked to connect and deeply integrate the security team with the rest of the organisation, creating an unmatched level of transparency. As a result, today each employee our security team is creating value for Code42’s customers, partners, and colleagues.

How did it feel to win?

Of course, it’s flattering to win an award. I was recognised for putting the professional and personal development of my team at the forefront. I want to make sure my team is always learning and growing. That’s why I encourage them to push their own boundaries whether that means speaking at industry events, learning new skills, or joining a new team. Just a few weeks ago, three people from our team spoke at the leading security event for our region.

Public speaking isn’t for everyone, so others take advantage of our “team swap” programme. On a project-by-project basis, people in our security department can work with a new part of our security team to expand their skill set without making a permanent move in their career. In addition, the entire security team at our company is learning to code this year. We identified a self-guided coding class for the team and set an expectation that everyone uses their new skills in a project by year-end.

What practical steps can be taken to encourage women into STEM subjects?

The most important thing any of us can do to encourage women to choose STEM fields is to help them understand they belong in these fields and this is a realistic career path for them. This is not a task that is up to women to do on their own. My first mentor, who really helped me gain confidence in my knowledge of technology, was a man. 

In addition, organisations need to reach out to younger generations and host events like Code42 do with the Girl Scouts. It’s also really beneficial for women to expand their networks by attending and speaking at industry events. 

What has worked to attract more women to Code42?

When we have open positions in our security department, I require that there is at least one woman in the candidate pool. Sometimes that requirement extends the hiring process, but it’s important that we take active steps to try to shift the makeup of the cybersecurity industry. 

I also think it’s important to have women leaders in the security organisation. This shows newer candidates that there is a place and path for them in this space.

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