Deidre Melton, CISA, CRISC, CISM, CFE, CIA, serves as an assurance, risk assessor, investigator and advisory professional specializing in IT and cybersecurity at Florida A&M University (USA). Her early experience is in educational and local/state government audits for the State of Florida Auditor General’s Office. Melton is the current president of the ISACA® Tallahassee Chapter and leadership development chair for SheLeadsTech Tallahassee. Here she shares some of her experiences while becoming a lead auditor and pursuing her passion to encourage other women in tech.
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced when stepping into a lead auditor role?
A: Unconscious and conscious biases regarding my age, gender and race. For example, I became a lead senior auditor at age 28 in a work environment where I was the youngest person among more than 30 IT auditors in our division. People often equate age with both experience and knowledge. However, in the world of IT, where technology, regulations, laws and standards change regularly, there is not a direct correlation between age and having the knowledge to excel. Additionally, our client base was predominately older white males who perceived women and people of color as possessing inferior intellect and skills. Hard work, dedication to constantly growing my knowledge base, a high level of emotional intelligence and great communication skills were the keys to successfully overcoming the obstacles placed before me.
Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to this role?
A: Letting happiness guide me instead of allowing money or other people’s opinions impact my decisions. I went to Florida A&M University where I completed a 5-year business program in which I earned an undergraduate degree in management and a Master of Science degree in business administration. Candidates who graduated the program often left earning close to 6-figure salaries in junior management positions. During a year-long paid internship where I managed a marketing team’s US$90 million budget while living in the heart of Manhattan, New York, New York, USA, I fell in love with the challenge of using my business knowledge to transform IT applications while taking part in a financial software development project. I learned 3 important things during this internship:
1. I loved IT and wanted a job that involved IT.
2. The ability to communicate vertically and horizontally across an organization is a critical skill.
3. I hated cold weather.
After my internship, I turned down lucrative job offers from major corporations located in the Northeastern US to take a job in sunny Florida as an IT auditor. The position paid considerably less than my internship in Manhattan and, while my parents and school advisors were not thrilled, I was happy and I loved my new job.
Q: What challenges do you see women face in being ready to take a lead position?
A: I have found that women often lack complete confidence in their own skills and abilities which can be a challenge when taking a lead position. Frequently, I see women who will not pursue the lead position because they fear failure or doubt that they have the right knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) for the position. However, successful leaders must step out of their comfort zones and overcome the fear of failure to begin to learn new skills. This will allow them to grow into the leader they are meant to become.
Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led to this role?
A: Networking with people who have already established their careers, who believe in me sometimes more than I believe in myself and who have advocated on my behalf. These people often take the time to give me advice, make me look beyond the surface of what I perceive to be the issues or obstacles, and continue to challenge me to find various ways to approach each situation. Knowing the impact these people have had on my life, I try to be that same positive influence in the lives of others.
Q: What challenges do you see organizations face as they look to hire more women in your area of expertise?
A: Organizations need to consider the KSAs needed to perform the job functions of their open positions. They should then use those KSAs to write new, more accurate job descriptions instead of recycling 10-year old job position descriptions that focus more on duties than the underlying KSAs. In my experience, women feel more capable of competing for a job when they know the KSAs for a position vs. having to assume them because a potential employer only gives a vague description of duties.
Q: What do you think organizations can and should do to address retention issues for technology professionals, especially women?
A: I think organizations should provide flexible work schedules, implement mentoring programs and women-in-tech groups, and provide quality education training opportunities that vary in focus (technical, soft skills, leadership) and delivery (local in-person, distance in-person, virtual). Women should not be forced to choose between taking care of their families or gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful at their job and earn opportunities for promotion. Additionally, organizations must regularly assess and address gender pay inequities within their organization.
Q: Have you seen progress in retaining women in the technology field over the course of your career?
A: Over the last 5 years, I have seen more women moving into the tech field. During this same period of time, I have seen higher levels of retention of women in IT who specialize in audit, risk, governance and security. However, from my perspective, women who work on the server and network teams or other highly technical and hands-on aspects of IT are still being pushed or shut out of the perceived “boys club” of IT. Those who work in these areas are still leaving the field or transferring into other areas of IT.
Q: What progress do you see legislatively or culturally in your region toward addressing the gap of women in tech?
A: The biggest legislative progress in addressing the gap of women in tech in the US may be the Executive Order on America’s Cybersecurity Workforce, signed 2 May 2019. This executive order integrates and highlights the usage of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education Cybersecurity Workforce Framework (NICE Framework) within the federal government. The use of the NICE Framework is ideal for women because it clearly lays out the KSAs for each job. As mentioned previously, women are then able to focus their training efforts and feel confident communicating their experience for positions. Additionally in Florida, there is currently a growing movement for women to engage in tech careers and progress into management positions. There are a lot of women-in-tech groups, similar to ISACA’s SheLeadsTech, that actively work to engage women in the tech field.
Q: How does being the current president of the ISACA Tallahassee Chapter affect your ability to influence the way people look at women in tech?
A: I believe being the current president of the ISACA Tallahassee Chapter has had a great deal of impact on the way women are perceived in the Tallahassee tech community. My ability to run and grow our Tallahassee Chapter into one of the top IT educational organizations in the area has allowed my male counterparts to view me as an equal. These men now regularly ask for my opinions on a variety of tech topics and career advice, they suggest other female tech leaders to present at events and actively ask how they can become an advocate to help close the gender gap in tech. Over the past year, my team and I worked to implement a year-round SheLeadsTech program in Tallahassee, which consists of a mentorship program, bimonthly educational luncheons with a technical and soft-skill focus, bimonthly webinars focusing on career and leadership development, and lots of networking opportunities. Males within the tech community are also invited and encouraged to participate so that they gain an understanding of the challenges women face, can see women discussing highly technical and complex issues within IT, and can learn how they can become a part of the solution in closing the gender gap. As a result, I am seeing more and more women increasingly land management and other coveted tech jobs within the community.