Alum on women in technology: I was once taken for a stagehand

Alum Rebecca Brown sealed her female legacy the moment she earned her master’s degree in information management and accepted a leadership position within her company — a woman oversees a team’s IT programs.

Alum Rebecca Brown was preparing for her speech at a leading technology conference when she was approached by a man, another speaker, who assumed she was stage-side to attach lapel microphones to the presenters.

“Actually, I’m speaking after you,” she told the man.

After many apologies for his incorrect assumption, Brown directed him to the man who was attaching the lapel mics on the presenters.

She suggested that such mistakes were simply par for the course for being a woman in the male-dominated tech industry.

Walking the tech talk

That’s why in 2016, after an 18-year break from college and in the middle of her career, Brown returned to the classroom to earn a Master of Science in Information Management. Her communication undergraduate degree from California State University, Chico, could only take her so far in the tech industry. 

“I didn’t feel respected working in IT as a communication undergrad,” she says. “I needed to prove I was capable.”

Getting the degree both gave Brown the technical knowledge she needed and confidence to keep up with the IT engineers, she says. “Going back to school gave me more confidence because I could talk the talk with them,” Brown explains.

She walked the talk after graduating when she landed a leadership position with her company, Arizona Public Service (APS). As the program manager for the information security and compliance team, she works to mature the security organization, puts process and rigor in place, and oversees the team’s programs.

Besides the management know-how, Brown understands and can explain technology. She can speak the business language, and she is a strong, comfortable communicator. For all this, Brown says she’s a hybrid in the technology world.

It’s no surprise she has been invited to speak to many groups about cybersecurity, often being the only woman presenter — and Brown takes the role of representing women seriously.

Being a tech role model for girls

“As women, we still have to wiggle our way in and make opportunities.”

Brown takes the initiative by participating in several boards and organizations that support women. She also mentors young female employees and interns in the women’s group at APS and encourages them to get into the technology and cybersecurity industry. Women need a strong support network in the workplace, she stresses.

Being a good role model to the young women is even more important when it comes to her 7-year-old daughter, Caitlin. “Going back to school helped me show my daughter that women can earn advanced degrees and succeed, even in an industry where there are far fewer women than men,” she says. “I want my daughter to know that she can do whatever she wants, whatever she puts her mind to.”

Stepping into tech early

Credit goes to Brown’s mother for pushing her forward in the tech industry. “I grew up with a strong mom,” she says about her mother who worked in technology in the 70s and shared the difficulties of being a woman in the workplace. “Remembering those stories inspires me to be strong, too,” she says.

In the Silicon Valley area where Brown grew up, and where her family still resides, there were many strong female leaders to look up to along with her mother, she says, adding that her brother works in technology, too. “Those women showed you can be young, a woman, and it doesn’t matter where you came from — you can still succeed.”

Both of her parents were in technology, working in Silicon Valley’s semiconductor industry. Brown worked in her father’s small computer supply company during summers, picking up laser toners for recycling. That first step into the world of technology created her passion for it. She’s been working in technology ever since.

Changing times for women in tech

While getting equal respect in the industry is a struggle, Brown says she sees things changing. At a recent energy and security conference, she noticed there was a line for the women’s restroom, and usually, there’s not, she says. It seems that more companies are putting a focus on being inclusive and diversifying their workforce, Brown says.

“I believe the environment is changing for the positive,” she says. “Since working in technology, I’ve seen an increase in the number of women working in IT and cybersecurity, but there is still an opportunity for growth.”

Brown’s advice to women considering getting an advanced degree or trying to reach a goal in their career: “it’s worth it. Your hard work will pay off.”

Brown likes a challenge in and out of the office. She recently completed her first triathlon, coming in first in her age group, and she also enjoys art and doing anything active with her daughter.