Female Trailblazers in Cybersecurity: The Recap

ISA Cybersecurity’s first “Female Trailblazers in Cybersecurity” virtual roundtable was held on August 25, 2020, and we were delighted with the content and response to the event. Held in partnership with CyberArk and Tenable, the event brought together seven leading women in executive cybersecurity roles from across North America. You can access the webinar on demand here.

The inspirational discussion delivered a number of key insights:

Much has been accomplished, but there’s much more to do: Surveys conducted by (ISC)² between 2017 and 2019 suggest that the percentage of women in cybersecurity roles has climbed from 11% to 24%. But Michela Stribling referenced a recent Fortune survey that suggested that only about 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Furthermore, another study suggests that women represent only 17% of corporate CEOs worldwide – and there are currently only 16 elected world leaders who are women – about 10%. While we can celebrate that trailblazing women have reached the top of their professions, we must also re-double our efforts to do more. As Ms Stribling said with respect to Fortune 500 CEOs, “… we’ve gotten to 7, now let’s get it to 10 next year, and then let’s get it to 15 the following year… This is a movement, and we’ve all got a role to play.”

There are many roads to a career in cybersecurity: The wide range of stories presented by the panel provided this important lesson for all those interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity. Successful roles in the cyber role started in different ways, ranging from looking for a change of pace to seeking a challenge to a turning point sparked by a lunchtime discussion with a child. What will your inspiration be? With the skills gap in the cybersecurity industry, there are literally millions of job opportunities for women who have energy, love learning, and are interested in a meaningful role that solves problems and helps others.

A Sense of Community: Women interested in a career in cybersecurity can look forward to tapping into an extensive network of support and community groups. In contrast to some industries, cybersecurity professionals seem to be more willing to collaborate, share, and support one another to help combat the scourge of cyber criminal activities. Numerous women-in-cyber groups are available to help those new to the industry as well as more seasoned professionals, with a primary goal of providing a forum for networking, mentorship and knowledge-sharing. The wide variety of communities offers each individual great opportunities to select the type and scope of support group that best fits their interests. Pro tip: before joining, assess what you want to get out of a community – both personally and professionally – and reflect on what you feel you can offer. Then you’ll be in a good position to go out and try a few different groups to see which ones will help energize your career. And if there isn’t one locally that suits you, consider starting your own!

Overcoming “Imposter Syndrome”: Some women may feel intimated or inadequate in their roles, preventing them from reaching their full potential. The panelists discussed so-called “imposter syndrome”, which Wikipedia defines as a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’”. The panel outlined real-life stories about their strategies for defeating imposter syndrome and breaking down self-imposed barriers to success. Using preparation and practice to help build self-confidence, and recognizing that this type of cognitive dissonance is common, can help. No one knows everything about cybersecurity, and the field changes every day, so there are constant opportunities to learn and grow. The over-all message: don’t let imposter syndrome silence you – speak up, embrace challenges, and build your brand with confidence.

Mentorship: The panel highlighted the importance of mentorship for women in succeeding and advancing in their cybersecurity careers. The key to a successful mentorship relationship is to reflect on what you hope to get out of a mentor, and do your homework to make the most of your time together. Mentorship relationships can be enormously valuable, but do require work on both sides. Set boundaries, schedules, and define goals: this will help create a rewarding experience for mentor and mentee alike. Consider whether you are looking for a mentorship role, or if more of a sponsorship role is what you’re after: goal-setting will help define the type of relationship that is appropriate for you. Finally, the panel reminded the audience that it is important to remember that mentoring extends to men as well – breaking down the “old boy network” in the cybersecurity world can be accomplished by identifying “teaching moments” with your male counterparts. These are opportunities to courageously yet compassionately face inappropriate comments or behaviours, both at home and in the workplace.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists referenced an impressive list of communities and resources that they have used to further their trail-blazing careers:

+   SecurityBSides – a global organization with 457 local chapters around the world, many chaired by women

+   The Diana Initiative – an annual conference focused on women, diversity, and inclusion in Information Security

+   WiCyS – an international organization with scores of local chapters providing engagement, encouragement and support for women in cybersecurity

+   Women’s Society of CyberJutsu – a non-profit organization serving thousands around the world by raising awareness and advancing careers in cybersecurity

+   100 Women in 100 Days – a program that inspires, trains, certifies, mentors, and provides opportunities for women wanting highly rewarding careers in cybersecurity

+   WeAreTechWomen – a UK-based, 15,000-member organization that helps women in tech enhance their careers through events, conferences and awards; global Women of Security (WOSec) chapters affiliated with WeAreTechWomen provide support for women (and those identifying as women) working in technology to maximize their potential

+   ISACA and She Leads Tech – Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) is a global association that provides IT professionals with knowledge, credentials, training and community in audit, governance, risk, privacy. She Leads Tech is an ISACA initiative that seeks to increase the representation of women in technology leadership roles and the tech workforce

+   Island Women in Science and Technology – Based in Victoria, BC, iWIST brings together women in STEM disciplines on Vancouver Island

+   Leading Cyber Ladies (on LinkedIn and Facebook) – a movement designed to get women in cybersecurity together at meetups, to give talks and speak up about their work, to get comfortable with public speaking and network in a comfortable, professional, and friendly environment; the Toronto chapter monthly meet-up group has nearly 800 members, and focuses on cybersecurity topics, informative, educational, shared experiences and industry trends, and provides opportunities and advice to women (and identifying as women) working in cyber or wanting to grow their career in this field

+   University of Toronto / Rotman School of Business Speaker Series – a continuing series of events bringing together some of the top minds working in analytics, data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning

+   Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council – the largest tech association in Massachusetts, providing opportunities to get connected, learn from industry leaders, gain visibility, and drive impact

ISA has also documented even more resources and support information in our “Leading the Way: Women in Cybersecurity” article, published in August 2020.

Though the roundtable is over, we want the conversation to continue. Listen here to a recording of the event, and contact ISA to share your questions and success stories. We’ll use your ideas to help shape our next roundtable discussion.

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