A gender balanced working world is both a women’s and business issue. This International Women’s Day the #BalanceforBetter campaign should strike a chord with security professionals worldwide. It is currently estimated that women make up only a fifth of global IT security professionals, despite the well documented and growing cyber skills shortage, which is expected to reach 3.5 million by 2021.
The women working in cybersecurity today are facing gender-based challenges. However, all these women would not wish to work in a different sector. They want to share their stories of success and advice for women working in or considering a career in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is an industry that needs women to help society overcome the various cyber threats that we are facing.
Below are some tales from the frontline from women in senior and technical roles at some of the world’s largest cybersecurity companies.
Sabrina Castiglione, CFO at Tessian:
“We need diversity in cybersecurity if we are to stand a chance in the ever-changing threat landscape. Diversity encourages new ways of thinking and new approaches to problem solving; we need more women in the industry if we are to overcome the challenges ahead.”
Sarah Farquharson, Consultant, and Software Engineering at NuData Security:
“The biggest roadblock I faced was imposter syndrome—even though I was top of my class in college I never felt that I was a “real” programmer. I think this is a common problem for women because the cultural shorthand for a smart coder still gives a very narrow image of who that could look like.
If you are anxious about your technical qualifications, practice the mantra “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man” and go in with the attitude that you are capable of learning anything.”
Kate O’Loughlin, Senior Analyst, Information Security Operations at NuData Security:
“There’s a double-standard when it comes to knowledge in an industry saturated with men, but it says a lot about your intelligence to be able to keep up and evolve along with the technology. Security engineering as a whole has a way to go before it has true gender equality, but some companies are really at the forefront of change for the better in this respect. It’s nice to not feel disparaged here, just because I’m a woman.”
Lisa Baergen, vice president of marketing at NuData Security:
“My advice, for women leaders everywhere, is to go for what they want in their careers and not to give up. Hone the skills that are necessary to give you opportunities such as communication skills, leadership development, and emotional intelligence. Raise your hand in meetings. Speak up and be heard, and support and empower each other, starting with the basic principles of which we stand on—our morals, values, integrity.”
Kim Legelis, CMO at Nozomi Networks:
“I have worked in cybersecurity for 25 years, and at times I have felt like I’ve been playing in a one-woman band. However, if you are anxious about pursuing a career in cybersecurity then you shouldn’t be, it is a fantastic time to be a woman in tech and cybersecurity. You will be pursuing a mission-driven career that is solving some of the greatest threats and challenges we face in modern society.
Greater efforts in the industry need to be made to diversify. Diversity is needed in cybersecurity, and is essential for developing broad perspectives, creative solutions and new approaches to problem solving. The cybersecurity industry needs more women in technical and senior roles to be able to achieve this.”
Anna Russell, VP of Enterprise Data Centric Security EMEA at comforte AG:
“Having worked in the IT industry for over 20 years and the majority of that time in the CyberSecurity space, the gap is already starting to close. However, it’s unfortunately not to an equal percentage today. In the 90’s, there were very few women in the IT industry, especially not specialists of security.
After the millennium, there was a slight change, more marketing and sales roles where beginning to be appointed to women. More recently the gender gap has been closing within all roles: Technical/Marketing/Sales/Support/Channel within the CyberSecurity industry, but there is definitely room for the gap to get smaller.
The gender gap is extremely important to create healthy and diverse places of work. There have been many studies and factual reports that prove the more diverse your teams are in your business, the more likely your employees will be happier and therefor more productive.
My youngest daughter 5 years ago attended an amazing course at one of the largest cyber consulting firms in Amsterdam. It was ‘An Introduction to “CyberSecurity”, where they did cool activities over 2 days. A team of 20 students programmed robots to then be aware that as soon as you are connected to the Internet, you are presented with risk. They were made to understand all of the colour coding of hacking definitions and she actually taught me some fundamental IT security facts. I didn’t expect her to walk away with the ability to SQL inject WebSites though!
This showed me that you don’t need to be technical to get excited by CyberSecurity. I encouraged her to attend this course as I have always thought there is a gap in teaching IT and Security in the early stages when defining what subjects’ students select. I have been disappointed that IT, including CyberSecurity, is always positioned as though you will be going into boring techie roles and that you will be in the basement of an office wearing white socks and sandals. The only sandals I have ever worn to work have had 4” heels! There are so many opportunities in our Cyber world outside of being a security engineer or architect. Yes, we need engineers, architects and some woman will be more successful than men and vice versa at these roles. In order to really change the perception, we need to make CyberSecurity an industry that is cool, sexy and exciting with unbelievable opportunities to build careers and futures in.
Advice to women thinking about CyberSecurity: don’t be intimidated with the thought of joining a male dominated industry. During my career I have never been treated unfairly or disrespectfully for being a woman.”