I’m sometimes asked if I ever experienced difficulties being a woman in the male-dominated cybersecurity field. My answer: “I could write a book on it!”
I remember very clearly an incident that took place in a former role when, as a cybersecurity professional, I had to deliver a presentation to a group of men at a road show. The two previous presenters were my male colleagues and I thought they did fine.
I got up and started talking – and realized nobody was paying attention.
I racked my mind for an explanation. I had always thought my public speaking skills were good. Maybe they did not think I was qualified enough? Capable enough?
I was certainly qualified. I had numerous security certifications under my belt, a masters degree in information security from Royal Holloway at the University of London, the first institution in the world to offer such a program, and years of security leadership roles in several organizations.
And so I did a little experiment. In the next presentation I started by enumerating all my achievements and qualifications. What do you know – those at the table were more receptive!
I am sure this is not just an issue for women in cybersecurity, but for women across all industries. The situation has gotten better over the years, but some things remain. A woman always has to try harder to prove she can actually have an opinion on a topic and be as good as anybody else.
In cybersecurity, specifically, at least there are more of us women now. But you still have to prove that you have the technical knowledge, that you can be a good penetration tester. You have to be confident and show that you’ve earned your seat at the table.
A top-down approach
I have five-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. I have been able to thrive professionally because I have been fortunate to work in organizations that are supportive and understanding.
As a single mother I don’t have the kind of support that other mothers may have at home, so when my kids get sick, for instance, I really have to go. There is nobody else; I am their primary carer. I am very clear about this in my job interviews: I work hard, I deliver – but I need that kind of flexibility.
I am lucky I enjoy this now with Wolters Kluwer Lien Solutions, which provides data for clients researching organizations during the lending process with more than 3,000 clients including many of the largest and most sophisticated banks, equipment leasing financers, and other organizations creating and managing liens.
But that’s me. Other women may not be as fortunate to enjoy support from their organizations to juggle the demands of both the job and motherhood. My advice to them, in the meantime, is to utilize support from wherever you can – a close relative or friend, a nanny or a local moms’ group. We’re all doing our best, but sometimes you have to be static for a while until you have the mobility you need to move forward. This means just because where you are right now may not be where you want to be, and it may not give you all the benefits and flexibility you need, you should focus on doing what you do well. Pick up the skills and knowledge you need before you seek your next position. The more you bring to the table, the better your conversation at the table will be.
Companies have a lot of responsibility in changing a culture that has been programmed a certain way toward women. That change has to come from the top. The executive leadership really needs to be an example in putting in place initiatives that acknowledge that woman have other roles to perform, and that they need support so they can perform their jobs well, at the same time.
It’s been difficult for me, as it is, I imagine, for a lot of other women out there. But I am good at what I do, and I am resilient. I tell myself that old style of thinking is changing. If you are focused and determined, there are opportunities out there. We should simply move forward. We should not let this deter us from doing the things we want to do.