She was the first woman in her family to complete high school and a first-generation college graduate. But, as a single mom on public assistance, Cari King knew that she needed more than a job to improve her situation; she needed a career. However, she did not know any female role models with careers to show her the way. In fact, it wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she first met a woman with a career in technology. First, it was a female retail computer store owner who took a chance on her. Then, it was a female computer programmer who saw her potential and encouraged Cari to believe in herself. In this edition of our blog, Cari explains why it’s important to continue to expose girls to successful women in the tech industry, even if role models are difficult to find in their own community.
How long have you been at CampusGuard and what is your role?
Cari King: I joined the CampusGuard team as a Security Advisor about four years ago. As a Security Advisor, I work with clients from mainly education and public sectors on maintaining, achieving, and reporting compliance with the PCI DSS, GLBA, GDPR and other security frameworks. I have had the opportunity to travel to new places while visiting client sites. A day as a Security Advisor can vary greatly and has changed quite a bit during the pandemic since we no longer travel up to 50 percent of the time. When in the office, my time is spent answering questions about compliance and general security practices, meeting with clients to manage compliance objectives, and keeping abreast of the changes in the payment and security industries. The work is very fulfilling and I’ve enjoyed opportunities to contribute to our company’s library of templates, training courses, and other materials that support our client’s compliance and security initiatives.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Cari King: As a first-generation college graduate and single mom on public assistance, I was working part-time at a retail store, my daughter had just entered kindergarten, and I found myself again pregnant. Even though I had a two-year college degree, I knew I had to look for more opportunity to better the lives of my family. I began a computer repair course designed for those on assistance and found an innate talent for comprehending the concepts of computing. After the birth of my son, and before I could finish my classes, I left my hometown and moved out of state to escape an abusive relationship. An amazing woman, Janet Riley, who owns a retail computer store and training business took a chance on me even when other employers wouldn’t and I began working as a PC Technician Trainee for Comp-U-Talk, Inc. Supporting use of technology, and closing the knowledge gap for others, has been a very rewarding career.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Cari King: My maternal grandmother quit school before completing the sixth grade to pick field crops with her family. My mother quit high school before her senior year after she became pregnant with me. Since I would be the first woman in my family to graduate high school, the only female role models with careers I would know for many years were strangers. It was my grandfather who told me at a very young age that I could do anything the boys could do and not to let anyone tell me differently. He spoke to me about having career choices and, because of him, I always felt I did have a choice, even when I was surrounded by women who didn’t. It was important that he taught me that confidence when I was young because I would encounter those who tried to limit or underestimate me because of my gender. His words influenced a confidence and determination in me that would be the foundation of my future success.
While my grandfather encouraged me to have a career, it was a woman in technology that showed me it was possible. The first woman I looked up to as a role model in the technology industry was my former CIO, Kat Flores. I met Kat when I started working for the local community college as a PC Technician. Kat started in technology working as a computer programmer in the microchip industry in the Bay Area when she was in her twenties and was the first woman whom I met with not just a job, but a career, in technology. Most women I had met in technology had not been in the industry for long or left after a short time. I found her to be smart and likeable, yet very intimidating. Here I was a single mom and the first woman in my family to complete high school and she seemed larger than life.
After I started work on a bachelor’s degree, Kat offered me a promotion that allowed me to work closely with her. Under her coaching I learned not only additional technical skills, but the soft skills needed to successfully manage technology for a small enterprise. It was seeing a woman in an advanced position who believed in me that encouraged me to believe in myself and reach for more. Over the years, we became and remain good friends and she continues to encourage me to do my best and expect the best. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Kat’s support. And yet, Kat does not see herself as a mentor. It may seem like mentors have to wear a big “M” emblazoned on their bodysuit, but it doesn’t take super powers to encourage and support someone.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date? What has been your most significant learning opportunity or challenge?
Cari King: My proudest accomplishment is the impact I have had on the lives of others through teaching. The look on a student’s face when they grasp a concept that had eluded them and they start feeling like they, too, can understand technology is thrilling. I was humbled by the impact of my work a few years ago. One of my former students, who completed a PC repair course I taught, went on to open a small computer repair shop. He was well-known for being fair and helpful in his community. Upon his retirement, he sent me a message of appreciation for helping him realize a new career. It reminded me that a little opportunity can make a big difference for others and to look for more ways to support those opportunities.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Cari King: As the only woman on a team of six Security Advisors, I notice a lack of women in technology every day, not only on my own team, but within technology departments at client sites across the country. More often than not, I am the only woman in the room of technology professionals. In fact, it is so common and expected that I am always a little surprised if another woman is included. I’m very pleasantly surprised when she’s an engaged participant or decision-maker.
There are three things we need to do to see more women succeed in technology:
First, the technology industry needs to change to become welcoming to women rather than expecting women to change for the industry. You know the over-played scene where a straight-laced couple accidently walk into a biker bar and instantly feel out of place? Sometimes a room of male technicians who were laughing suddenly go quiet when you walk in the door and it feels like that scene. Earlier in my career, I tried to join in the jokes and attempt to be one of the boys. Unfortunately, this is often what is expected, for women to change to fit in. To succeed in business, women are told to act more masculine, be less emotional, more aggressive, and perhaps take up golf. But this is a big disservice to everyone. Half of consumers are women with wonderful traits that set them apart from their male counterparts. How does a company relate to the needs of these women if it can’t relate to the needs of women in its own ranks? It can be uncomfortable knowing there is a culture you can’t or don’t want to fit into and likely a significant contributing factor to why so many women leave the technology field.
Secondly, while women can’t be treated like “one of the boys”, they must have the same opportunities and be treated the same. This is the rub and, in my opinion, makes it difficult to change cultures. Treat women the same but treat them differently? It’s easier to hire a man, avoid the challenge, and know what to expect. I hear stories of unfair promotions and struggles with inequitable pay too frequently. It's human nature to be attracted to those who are similar to ourselves, hire those with similar values and attitudes, and promote those who mirror us. But this practice does not support a diverse workforce. Organizations must recognize the power of implicit bias and implement systems that remove it from hiring practices.
Finally, women need more exposure to successful women in technology until it is the norm. Something I noticed about many women in the industry, when I first switched to a security-focused role, was that many had strong female mentors as role models. Some role models were mothers or grandmothers who had blazed the trail in non-traditional career choices. Others were those in the industry who took the time to encourage and mentor other women. There are many well-known examples of successful men in technical leadership roles, but so few women. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I met a woman with a career in technology. It is important to continue to expose girls to successful women in the industry so they can see someone like themselves filling technical roles even if role models are difficult to find in their own community.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
Cari King: Absolutely. Most incidents were minor, and I met them with humor, such as someone assuming the gentleman accompanying me was the decision-maker. Some were life-changing.
I think the most damaging treatment is to be discounted due to gender and not have one’s accomplishments valued equally and fairly with one’s male peers. The most egregious of these events for me was when I asked for more responsibility and proposed a new, advanced position after completing a portion of my master’s degree. A retirement left an empty leadership role that I had been preparing to qualify for over several years. I did end up with a promotion and a brand-new position in security, but another male employee with considerably less education and experience was given the position I had proposed, along with a higher salary increase. How did I handle it? I saw the writing on the wall and made a backup plan. There was a good chance I’d be competing with this same employee for another promotion soon, so after a moment of utter disappointment, I took the new role I was given and learned as much as I could about managing security. When I was overlooked for the promotion again, I was in a position to make a change and became a Security Advisor on the CampusGuard team. The support I’ve found at CampusGuard makes me feel valued and that allows me to do my best work for my clients and the company.
What do you see – or hope to see - as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Cari King: I am encouraged every time I hear a woman share her story and she’s able to say she has not experienced gender inequities in her career. It means we are making progress! But there are still a number of women who ask “why does it seem the men get better treatment?”
Until there is a near 50-50 chance a woman will be hired into a technical leadership role, we cannot say our work toward equality is complete. According to PwC’s Women in Tech report published in 2020, only 25% of tech jobs are filled by women and this number has decreased since the 1980s. There are many contributing factors leading to this gender imbalance. Women are less likely to be interested in technology careers because they are less likely to be presented with that option when deciding a career path. Also, a lack of female role models in the industry perpetuates the idea that technology careers are for men.
Once a woman wins an entry-level technology position, she is less likely to be promoted to advanced technical positions and, rather, steered into non-technical roles. And, if she does stay in a technical role, she’s likely to be paid less than her male counterparts and more likely to be passed up for promotion. The issue will not correct itself and our efforts to solve the problem must be intentional. We, in the industry, must make a concerted effort to increase not just the number of women entering the industry, but the success of women after they choose a technology career. By encouraging girls into STEM subjects, highlighting role models in technology, and creating policies that encourage diversity, transparency, and equal opportunity, we can increase the number of women who begin and stay in technology careers and close the gender gap.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Cari King: I was fortunate to meet and hear the story of Dr. Mildred Bulpitt, co-founder of American Association of Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC) early in my career. Dr Bulpitt was a champion for women’s equality in community colleges. She relayed to us her tale of becoming the interim Vice President at her university in the early 1970s. She was told she would hold the position until “a man could be found to fill the position”. Women did not hold leadership roles in education just 50 years ago and her story reminds me of just how far women have come, even in my own lifetime. Whenever I feel frustrated by the gaps that still exist, I remember the words heard by Dr. Bulpitt and it reminds me that we are closer to equality now due to the hard work of women before us. It is up to us, no matter our gender, to keep up the work until women no longer realize the effects of gender inequality in the workplace.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? Is there anything you wish you had known?
Cari King: It is frustrating because I want to encourage women into technical roles, but I know it is still a very tough field for most of us to be successful at and the cards are sometimes stacked against us. Still, technology has provided a fulfilling career and lifestyle that I would not have dreamed possible and the only way to change things is to change things.
So, to those women interested in technology, I want to tell you that you will likely be met with obstacles, but you can succeed. You might work for those who do not see your value and do not treat you equally. Don’t take “no” as the final answer and don’t give up. Take every opportunity given to build up your skillset. Align yourself with other women in the industry or men who support women in technology, if you can. If you don’t get the support you need at one organization, try to have the difficult conversations. If that is not possible, find an organization who will support you and treat you fairly. Take it from me, they are out there and working for one is a game-changer! Remember those who have paved the path to get us this far and know that you are continuing to pave that path for future generations of women.
Be flexible and take each day as it comes because the path ahead may not be apparent. Many successful women talk about reaching a place in their career that was more than they had planned to achieve. We rarely end up where we thought, but the destination might be more amazing than we could have planned.