I started my journey of breaking the barriers of women in STEM in my junior year of high school. In December 2013, my media teacher introduced me to the now infamous “Hour of Code.” It was a long, difficult hour for me trying to understand the basics of programming. I didn’t really think I was cut out for it, in all honesty, but making the screen do what I told it to for that hour was fascinating. In my senior year, I enrolled in a new course, “AP Computer Science,” to decide if this was the career path I wanted to follow.

Portrait of Anna.

Day one of class: I am the only girl in a room full of boys.

Throughout the entirety of obtaining my degree, I was usually the only woman in the room. I spent a lot of time in office hours trying to grasp a concept because I felt alone in class — like I couldn’t turn to my neighbor and ask for their help without feeling judged. For projects, I often worked alone, and when I didn’t, I felt like any input I provided was disregarded. This didn’t make me dislike the content I was learning but instead made me feel discouraged.

It occurred to me that this wasn’t because my ideas were awful, but maybe it was that I was different from most of my classmates since I was a woman. That realization happened in one of my final projects during my last semester, where another woman was in my group. Throughout this project, we were given “admin work” tasks but were not offered any programming contributions. Because of this, we both approached our professor about the situation since the project was graded on team contribution, and our group lead was not providing us with fair opportunities to contribute.

Anna on a snowy mountain.

Little did I know this was preparing me for the career I chose to enter. Learning that women were the minority in the technology field gave me a purpose and passion. To add to the challenge, my skills gravitated towards a specialty where women are even more scarce: cyber security.

Being in this field has not been a walk in the park. I’ve been on the receiving end of sexism in the workplace various times. I experienced the trifecta of denied training opportunities, being “mansplained” to, and receiving lesser pay than my male colleagues despite my qualifications. I’ve been talked over in meetings and had male counterparts claim my work as their own. Various times I have thought, “I can’t do this anymore. This fight is getting harder, and I am feeling weaker.” Imposter syndrome has won many days. I’ve even considered leaving the career field entirely.

But then I remembered that change can’t happen if I give up. That’s one less woman in a place where women are already underrepresented. Why should I leave a career I love just because I don’t feel like I belong in the room?

I have had a handful of female colleagues fight with me and for me throughout my career. Here at Cisco, I have an army of women and allies. The resources and support are beyond anything I have experienced since entering the technology workforce. This industry has a long way to go, but I believe Cisco has set an example for what other companies should be doing with respect to inclusivity and belonging. Being a part of Cisco’s Inclusive Communities like Women in Cyber Security and Women of Cisco has provided me with unique opportunities to grow in my career, such as webinars and trainings, networking opportunities, and attending events to celebrate women, all of which show Cisco cares for and supports women in the technology space.

On the days when you feel like you don’t belong, remember that your presence and contributions are making an impact. You are taking on a challenge that has been fought for decades. You belong here. Let’s keep up the good fight for future generations of women so they have a seat at the table.

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Anna wearing a Women of Cisco sweatshirt.


Anna Bennett

Threat Hunting Analyst

Cisco Talos Security