According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls express an interest in STEM fields and computer science, yet women hold only slightly more than 25% of jobs in technology. The gap between the two statistics often comes from a lack of culture that supports mentorship and support for women at most technology companies.
As more businesses proactively address a range of long-term equality issues, change is happening. For San Francisco Bay Area-based IT security business, Exabeam, an initiative designed to change the conversation is making significant strides.
Exabeam’s ‘ExaGals’ program focuses on supporting and empowering women within the organization, as well as women in the technology community at large. Its activities focus on career development, education, and personal growth opportunities.
The group meets regularly for networking and information sharing and is a key contributor to the company’s philanthropic program, which is dedicated to improving local and global communities through education and service. Specifically, the ExaGals team leads a number of community giving and volunteer initiatives, from helping food banks and local school and farm groups harvest fruits and vegetables. But their primary focus is advocating for women and girls and educating on cybersecurity career opportunities.
Building a new culture
The first version of ExaGals launched in 2014, one year after Exabeam was founded, at a time when the lack of women in tech was just beginning to be recognized. At the time, there were a handful of women in the company, and Nir Polak, the company’s CEO and co-founder, asked three of them to form a Company Culture Committee. His view was that the biggest mistake organizations can make is letting the workplace culture form naturally without first defining what it should be.
“Back then, Exabeam was small enough to be fun, casual, and impulsive, but big enough to need a team that could wrangle that brash young energy and mold it onto a cohesive organizational culture,” explained Polak. “The three female founders of the Committee embodied the values, behaviors, and attitudes I wanted at Exabeam, and I wanted to support them as more women joined the company.”
From the first meeting of the three founders over lunch, more women soon joined the business and became involved in the Committee. This introduced an interesting inflection point: there were enough women now to create a distinct group. And they needed a name, eventually choosing ‘ExaGals.’ The prefix Exa, often used internally, and the word Gal for two meanings: the first, a classic and approachable synonym for woman, and the second, a more obscure meaning, a measurement unit of gravitational acceleration.
As more women joined the company, they brought with them more ideas and inspiration of where ExaGals’ energies should be spent. The Committee and the ExaGals eventually diverged, with the mission of the Committee focused internally, still to harmonize and usher the company culture. The mission of the ExaGals is moving ever more externally to focus not only on the women of Exabeam but women in the broader technology community and beyond.
One of the areas we identified as a challenge in the cybersecurity labor gap is the lack of women in the “pipeline.” In other words, there is a paucity of qualified female college graduates entering the workforce. “We hope that by supporting programs that expose women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech, we can help address the cybersecurity skills shortage,” explained Yumi Nishiyama, director of global service alliances at Exabeam.” Our approach is to introduce new perspectives and problem-solving skills to an industry that requires a multidisciplinary approach to protect against adversaries. Diversity truly improves the overall outcomes of security teams, an area where we believe a new way of thinking can help.”
There remains a lot of work to do, but proactive efforts to build a better corporate culture are an important part of the equality agenda for the people behind ExaGals. “The takeaway so far,” said Anying Li, data scientist at Exabeam. “No matter how few of you there are or the size of your mission, it’s important to continue to self-evaluate, refine what is important, and ask the questions that will help you get ahead.”