11 Women in Cyber Share Barriers Faced and How They Rose Above
Females in cyber continue to face challenges
First honored in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD), has become a global day celebrating the achievements of women. It’s a day to educate and raise awareness of women’s equality and call for a positive change to advance women.
This year’s IWD theme is #EmbraceEquality. According to the International Women’s Day site, Embrace Equality “means to deeply believe, value, and seek out difference as a necessary and positive element of life. To embrace equity means to understand the journey required to achieve women's equality.”
At Cyber Security Tribe, we recognize the challenges many women may face as they seek out opportunities in cyber security and career advancement. We are sharing the stories of 11 successful women in cyber who have detailed some of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. This article provides actionable insights for those who are still progressing in their careers and serves as a guide for those wishing to support equality. We asked the following women "What Is One Challenge You Faced/Overcome as a Female in Cyber Security?"
What Is One Challenge You Faced/Overcame as a Female in Cyber Security?
Dr. Diane Janosek
Deputy Director of Compliance | NSA
Dr. Diane Janosek: I have found that myself and other female cybersecurity leaders have to be double or tripled prepared. It is not enough to be the senior leader or head of an organization to be equally respected on some occasions. If the group or individual with whom I am speaking are unaware of my abilities and experience, they assume (and I have been told as such) that I “must have known someone”. I see these as ‘slights’ to female leaders and recognize it is not personal. I take it as a challenge and work even harder, and I become more committed to helping others break in, and then stay, in cybersecurity. We’ve got this and together we are making the cybersecurity profession to be the most inclusive and diverse workforce ever! It is worth it!
Cybersecurity Researcher | CINTESIS
Ana Ferreira: Something must change in Cybersecurity. We need to let diversity enter the ranks and we need it fast or Cybersecurity will remain in an infinite loop of unsuccessful, misunderstood, and risky solutions.
My challenges in Cybersecurity, as a woman, started much later in my career, when I needed to manage a family and kids. Maybe this was because I work in research, or I was lucky not to be bothered by these matters, and never needed to think seriously about them, for a long time. But with a family, everything changes and in 2023, this can still hold you back in taking chances and opportunities that would probably lead you to an increased payroll position and/or more responsibility and executive roles in both IT and Cybersecurity. I want to see this happening for my daughter, however, a total cultural, societal, and infrastructural shift needs to happen, for this to really work.
But do not be discouraged by my discourse. You should be more motivated. I’ll explain this is the perfect time to be a woman in cybersecurity. In fact, a woman in technology and in areas where they were scarce or non-existent, or not valued at all. There is currently (and many times an apparent) openness for women to integrate the ranks of many IT and cybersecurity teams in organizations. Maybe because there is general a lack of talent (and so, as in war, we take what is available), maybe because they look good in order to comply with equity and gender balance, as per the organization’s policy, or maybe, as I do hope, they are finally seen as valuable members of the team, who actually have merit in the area, and deserve to be there. My main advice is TRY! Try first, listen to yourself first and decide later! But do the world a favor: Do try!!
Adriana Sanford, Dual LL.M., J.D.
Award-Winning International Privacy Lawyer
Adriana Sanford, Dual LL.M., J.D.: My journey as a single parent taught me the importance of resilience and perseverance while working in male-dominated industries. Being a Chilean-American woman, I faced the pressure to follow a traditional path of getting married and starting a family, rather than pursuing a career.
The low rate of female representation in the workplace in Chile was a driving force behind my decision to pursue eleven years of higher education, including multiple law degrees from Georgetown University Law Center and Notre Dame Law School to gain respect in my field. Breaking new ground, I was proud to be the first Hispanic student accepted into the dual LL.M. program at Georgetown.
I successfully completed my dual LL.M in Taxation, as well as International Comparative Law, while balancing the demands of a full-time lawyer and starting a family. Early on, becoming a single parent of two toddlers, I learned the importance of building relationships with friends and colleagues to provide essential support. These relationships became a strong and valuable network, both professionally and personally, and have remained with me throughout the years.
As a parent, I had to navigate the difficulties and responsibilities of raising two young children alone, while simultaneously representing large corporations internationally. I instilled the values of determination, perseverance, and a strong work ethic, as well as a love for education to my children, who are both successful in their own fields of study and have an unwavering commitment to making an impact.
As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, it has been a pleasure to share my story with you. I hope that it serves as inspiration to those who face adversity. Success is a journey that requires hard work, education, determination, and a strong support system to overcome barriers. I am deeply grateful for the support I have received from others and hope to continue paying it forward with encouragement and support to uplift members in my community. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences.
Offensive Security Advisor | Desjardins
Gabrielle Botbol: My story with cybersecurity began during my teenage years. As a teenager, I coded and tried to understand computer tools, but my parents and teachers, however, encouraged me to pursue literature studies, which is what I followed. I continued my studies and became an actress, and to finance this life, I worked as a receptionist at a luxury hotel in Paris.
I started to explore the field of cybersecurity through a simple internet search and looked for training courses that could consider my background as a developer but could not find any. So I created a self-taught program to become a penetration tester.
However, when I started approaching employers with my profile, I was turned down again and received no job offers. The only solution then was to look for opportunities outside France. So, I started attending international job fairs, one of which was in Canada, where I applied to several companies. Unlike the employers in France, my blog and learning process interested them because they showed autonomy of learning, which is necessary for a penetration tester, as well as my problem-solving abilities, development skills, and creativity.
Another personal challenge was that I felt alone in the IT industry because I was always the only woman in the teams I worked with. But to tackle this issue, I sought out like-minded individuals who have become a source of strength for me. I can count on them because they recognize my abilities and encourage me to excel.
Despite these challenges, I learned the importance of acting toward what I wanted or at least trying. For instance, when I was looking for job opportunities, I applied to many postings, even if they were for senior positions. I also made it a habit to reflect on my desires and needs and pushed myself to ask for what I wanted. Persistence is key in achieving your goals, so don't give up and keep pushing forward.
Director of Global Cyber Threat Intelligence | Nike
Noureen Njoroge: The hurdle for me was finding the right mentor and coach as I navigated this career in Cybersecurity, though I was able to overcome this hurdle by building a community circle of Cybersecurity mentors who are intentional in mentoring others and highlight the importance of paying it forward to others.
Here is the LinkedIn community group if need be for reference: Mentor & Mentee Women in Cybersecurity
Gretchen Swanz Herault
Chief Privacy Officer | Randstad USA
Gretchen Swanz Herault: I got into the cybersecurity and privacy legal fields from a compliance background, so I am not a 'technical' security person. Sometimes, this can be an obstacle in building trust with technical teams that might prize coding skills, for example, over other critical skills in leading security and privacy. Leadership in a privacy or security role requires the ability to understand how technologies work, certainly, but additional skills such as how to navigate organizations and leadership structures, interpret sometimes conflicting requirements to generate solutions, balance risks and priorities, also contribute greatly to the success of a program. I leaned on my strengths in previous legal and compliance roles to demonstrate to others the range of skills needed for a program to function well, all the while asking questions and striving to better understand the underlying technologies. Where regulatory requirements and technical advances both bring changes at an ever-increasing pace, an ability to adapt and keep pressing forward has been crucial in the cybersecurity field.
Founder and CEO | CyberSN
Deidre Diamond: The biggest hurdle I have overcome being a woman is very hard for me to answer. Meaning, the reason I represent the 1% of woman who are Cybersecurity Founding CEO's of a Technology company, is that I have had a very different career experience than 99% of women. I believe this to be very true. While I get that I have skills and drive; I also get that skills and drive alone doesn't get anyone to my seat; this applies to all genders. It also takes training and opportunity. I was given great opportunity and training by two serial entrepreneurial men from out of college and for twenty-one years across three different companies they had founded and owned. Twenty-one years of training and opportunity! And it wasn't just me who got this from them, it was the culture. I share my story to illustrate that the biggest hurdle that exists for women is the one hurdle that I did not experience and this is training and support to be a powerful executive in business. We must invest in the training and development of women and people overall. Both the hard and soft skills. Any gender can do anything with training and support.
Camille Stewart Gloster
Deputy National Cyber Director, Technology & Ecosystem Security | Office of the National Cyber Director, The White House
Camille Stewart Gloster: My biggest hurdle was realizing that my differences were my superpower. In rooms where I am often the only women and especially the only woman of color, it is common to seek to fit in but I learned quickly that my unique educational and professional background coupled with my lived experience as a first generation Black American woman gave me insight into threats, risks, and innovative mitigation strategies that others did not see in the same way.
Founder and Executive/Director | CyberSafe Foundation
Confidence Staveley: Access to mentorship and affordable training resources is limited. I really wanted to be mentored and guided by a woman in the industry, but that was and still is quite scarce. Because of how much I was earning at the time, the cost of training resources was quite high. This hampered and slowed my ability to develop my skills more quickly.
Dr. Vivian Lyon
Cyber Security Tribe Advisory Board Member
Dr. Vivian Lyon: Women are vastly underrepresented in the global technology and cybersecurity workforce. This underrepresentation is not only a societal concern but also a workforce problem, given the critical shortage of skilled cybersecurity and technology professionals faced by many enterprises. The findings of my doctoral research revealed that women should be more equitably represented in the cybersecurity and technology workforce by ensuring more growth opportunities, including career advancement programs are available. In the early years of my 25-year career in technology and cybersecurity, I found that in some organizations I worked, I was the only female "tekkie" among a team of "boys" with glaring pay disparity for the same skills and level of work. Women think differently and make vital contributions that are often dismissed or disregarded. Women yearn to learn and benefit from the presence of other women in cybersecurity and technology, so the absence of top female leaders or role models in the field who can network, mentor, and guide other women, hampers growth. It is well past time to address these issues and the industry must commit to changing these numbers and breaking down the barriers for women in cybersecurity and technology.
Dr. Rebecca Wynn
Cyber Security Tribe Advisory Board Member
Dr. Rebecca Wynn: There are more men in technical leadership roles, including CISOs, who can make things challenging for a woman, even one who has always been strong in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) like me. The hardest has been dealing with bullying. While it should always be unacceptable, I have dealt with more than one Chief People Officer or Chief Human Resources Officer who has given the blanket statement, "they are men, and boys will be boys." That can erode your confidence, which is essential in a role, even more than competence. You seek the organization's feedback and guidance to tackle any challenge and build trust. What do you do when the executive you report to is a bully, or your crucial stakeholder is a bully? There's no one to go to? That's a huge challenge. Keeping yourself on the high road and riding it out can be challenging. That's why I surround myself with excellent mentors that I can call, like Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Teresa Payton, Terry Grafenstein, Jim Routh, and others. They are brilliant people who complement my strengths. Walk me through situations with kindness and compassion. They encourage me always to be the best ME that I can be. I have unique talents and strengths that can benefit so many companies that sometimes the best thing I have done when no matter of understanding and kindness, to resolve the issue is to walk away from the toxic work environment. I believe that everyone has God-given potential, talent, and inherent self-worth, and when you pursue the calling of why you were placed on this earth, you can’t be anything but the best YOU. Not everyone or every company is your TRIBE. It's okay to walk away.
Strides have been made for women in many industries, including cybersecurity and technology, but we still have a long way to go in finding equality. Although each of these women faced challenges, they have all been able to overcome them and carve out successful careers for themselves. That alone, speaks volumes about the strength and determination of women and the commitment and drive they bring to each position.
If you are a woman just starting your career in cybersecurity, we encourage you to find mentors and join groups such as Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS).
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