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International Women's Day 2021: Poornima DeBolle, Menlo Security

This is part of a running series for #IWD2021. We sat down with women leaders across the industry for a Q&A to get their insights on the state of women in cybersecurity. Recognize Women Leaders in the 2021 Tech Ascension Awards.

Poornima DeBolle, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Menlo Security:

How has the women workforce in cyber security evolved over recent years? Where is it heading?

A decade ago, security was about connecting and accessing good/bad content. The industry was much more product oriented and security know-how was focused on network and application stack rather than familiarity with the threat landscape. In recent years, with the rise of financially motivated and nation state cyber adversaries, the market has shifted to focus more on threat research and intricate knowledge of the adversaries. With this shift, and the predominance of men in the threat research community, women have lost ground in cybersecurity. Where we previously saw a product approach to security, I expect the next generation of security leaders will be those who know what China, Russia, or other nation-state actors are up to on a daily basis.

What advice would you give to young women looking to enter into cyber security?

When I talk to women looking to enter the field of cyber security, I point them to three key considerations for success:

  1. Recognize that women empowerment can come from both men and women. I wouldn’t be where I am without my husband’s support. Men - whether they are your partner, colleague or mentor - can be strong advocates in progressing your agenda, so partner with them.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak your mind. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so don’t stay silent. Voice your questions and participate in the discussion.

  3. Be confident, focus on the content and get the message right. Once you have the engagement from your audience, delve into the details and bring them along.

How can we get more women involved in cyber security?

At the end of the day, getting women involved in cybersecurity is a pipeline problem, which means you have to catch it early in the cycle. Growing up in India with a woman Prime Minister, I internalized that men and women can both be Prime Ministers - that was a powerful image for thousands of young girls. There is a clear psychological impact of having women leaders that mitigates the "imposter syndrome" that women often encounter in cybersecurity and engineering in general. The bottom line is that girls need strong women role models growing up and throughout their career to show them the glass ceiling can be broken and encourage them to reach even further.

Once you get to a certain level of seniority within the security industry, there’s almost no female representation, especially in engineering and product management, and nearly 99% of the time I’m the only woman in my meetings. There are probably women who are on the cusp of being ready for leadership, but how do you mentor them to bring them to the next level? The key is recognizing that cultural change starts from the top and implementing programs that provide a platform for underrepresented voices.


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