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International Women's Day: How Women Have Overcome Challenges in Cyber to Advance the Industry

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

This is part 3 of our #InternationalWomensDay series. We heard from women leaders from across the cybersecurity industry about what makes women so critical to advancing cyber and how the industry can support females and bring more women to the field. Arti Raman, founder and CEO, Titaniam “As women, we must balance maintaining our growth and achievement and influencing the next generation of female entrepreneurs to join us. Building confidence in young women begins with shamelessly taking pride in our accomplishments. As over 60% of women fear punishment for their drive and ambition in the workplace, we owe them a network of support that nurtures their call to succeed. We can create more leaders by sharing our success stories, lifting women up, and creating growth opportunities. As a minority entrepreneur in technology, I see empty spaces at the table that we should all be filling with confidence and bravery. We must build trust, take the space we have earned without guilt and collaborate with our peers to fill more seats. Relationships are fundamental to leadership opportunities, and we owe the next generation the chance to take the reins and build equity in entrepreneurship. It is time to celebrate achievements and remind all girls and women that they can do great things.” Kayla Williams, CISO, Devo “The celebration of women during the month of March is a wonderful time for practitioners, hiring managers, and leadership teams to re-evaluate how they #EmbraceEquity. A great place to start is reviewing hiring practices; job descriptions in particular. Many barriers to entry in the technology and security fields are outdated and are no longer indicative of a person's ability to do the job – they are also limiters when it comes to those willing to apply for roles. The average age a person changes careers is 39 years old, and many degree and certificate programs were not around when those people were in university. Instead of focusing on educational requirements, shifting the focus of job descriptions and hiring practices toward complementary skill sets will help break down those barriers.

The IT industry can also welcome more diverse candidates into the field and #EmbraceEquity by reducing the artificial barriers to entry. Many women who consider making the jump to a STEM career are discouraged from doing so, fearing it’s too late in their career or that they don’t have the proper skillsets. However, most technical and security skills can be taught on the job, and these women are bringing with them essential complementary skills – such as writing, auditing, communication (written and oral), analytics, problem-solving/out of the box thinking, and intellectual curiosity – that will improve the organization and make them valuable employees.” Deepa Kuppuswamy, the Director of Security at ManageEngine and Zoho Corporation

“Women need other women in leadership roles to look up to. It's harder for women to excel in their careers if they can’t see themselves in their leadership. This industry is laden with unconscious biases that deter women from joining and demotivate the ones already here. For the industry to truly promote diversity for women specifically, companies will have to take a hard look at the gendered language used in various forms of text (including job descriptions), promote women at networking events and other non-official knowledge sharing events, and prioritize what's important to women in the industry. There has been substantial growth for women’s roles in IT over the past 20 years, but there is always more to be done. Some ways employers can promote diversity include prioritizing workplace safety and support; ensuring equal recognition of good work; providing challenging opportunities to both genders without any bias; and motivating, mentoring, and guiding women through tough times.” Sylvia Zachary, cybersecurity & software director - secure communications (SCOM), Cubic Mission & Performance Solutions

“Today, and every day, I recognize each woman fighting to break glass ceilings and other barriers. I celebrate diversity, representation, and inclusion as the standing embodiments of a positive and compassionate work culture. Going forward, I want women to be more open to opportunities and to be bold with their careers. By pursuing what matters to you, women watching your actions will be inspired to relentlessly pursue their dreams and goals. While there is still a lot of work to be done for real equality and diversity in the workplace, this Women’s History Month, I truly hope all women will take a moment to come together to take the steps necessary towards fostering these support ecosystems, safe spaces and their own individual strengths that make them formidable.”

Tanja Omeragic, director, technical sales - Cybersecurity at ConnectWise “I have had my share of career challenges: Being overlooked for the opportunity to further my career in cyber while I was pregnant, people wrongly assuming I’m in an administrative role, and having others being given the credit for my hard work. I feel lucky to now work for a manager and company who take my voice seriously. Tech remains a male dominated industry. These barriers won’t ever disappear, but we can minimize them as more female leaders break the glass ceiling, inspiring others to do the same. Organizations can support this aim by increasing awareness of the possibilities for women in tech, and by encouraging its leaders to mentor other women in the workplace. Having someone invest in your career and growth can make the world of difference. Finally, my advice to other women: Be stubborn, be bossy, and don’t give up. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. As former Meta COO, Sheryl Sandberg, said: "I want every little girl who's told she's bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills. This International Women’s Day, we need to reframe the narrative.” Julie Giannini, chief customer officer at Egnyte "International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the progress that we have made and highlight what more we can do, especially in the tech industry. As we continue to strive for equality, it helps to remember that when various points of view come together, the result is greater output and innovation. Representation and diverse perspectives are key to successfully selling a product and supporting a customer. One of my philosophies toward creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is paying it forward. Just as a longtime friend and former colleague helped me over the course of my tech career, I’m currently mentoring several young women, including one interested in pursuing a career in STEM. Everyone deserves a seat at the table; this begins at an early age and is fostered through helping others. In addition to diversity in technology, I am delighted to see the recent uptick in women represented in professional sports, from referees to coaches. Whether on the playing field or in the boardroom, we can all win by embracing equity. We all grow stronger when we embrace diversity and grow together.” Samantha Humphries, head of security strategy EMEA, Exabeam “In 2023, it’s no secret that there are still notable barriers for women looking to enter or stay in the tech space. For those looking to enter the sector, we are still struggling with a lack of balance when it comes to role models. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund once said, “You can't be what you can't see” and that still very much stands. There is still so much more that needs to be done to highlight and uplift women in the technology industry - if a company wants diversity, they have to show it and actively strive for it, and when they do so it pays dividends. Even when women do break into this male-dominated industry, they often find that the technology sector is still fundamentally designed for men. It’s not enough to simply get women in the door, there needs to be resources and support in place that keep them there. For example, employee support groups, mentorship programs, initiatives such as menstrual and menopause policies, comprehensive medical insurance - the list goes on! Each business is different, and some of these may not be applicable to all, but the bottom line is that organizations need to adapt their policies to their people. We can’t simply keep copying and pasting the same HR policies that have been in place for decades; it’s time to adapt.” Arabella Hallawell, CMO, Mend “Our industry is rife with expectations that make it hard for women to succeed at the highest levels. For a young family with a working spouse, the challenge to be present at work sometimes feels insurmountable. And those who opt to leave work for a time to focus on caregiving are penalized. They may not have a job when they return, or they may not be considered as qualified for the role they want simply because they have a gap in their resume. The way you really pave the way for more executive females is to make it easier for women to raise a family and get back to work.

While the industry absolutely needs to continue working toward equity, I feel we as women in security also have to be accountable to ourselves and each other. My advice for young women coming up in the industry is do not let perfection get in the way of progress. If the kids look a mess on the way to school or you forgot to pack their extra-curricular gear, it’s okay. The only way to have an equal role at senior levels, is to let all that go. Additionally, work hard to earn the skills and experience you’ll gain from those roles — be confident, fearless, and stand up for yourself. And when you make it, pay it forward.” Gal Helemski, co-founder, CTO/CPO, PlainID “On International Women's Day, we strive to "break the prejudice" that still exists. The goal is to recognize the success and what women - in all professions including technology - bring to the table. Organizations must make a concerted effort to eliminate discrepancies and create a friendly atmosphere for people from diverse backgrounds. Only 28% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are held by women, and men outnumber women in most STEM undergraduate majors. In several upcoming professions with the greatest pay and fastest job growth, there continue to be disproportionately large gender inequalities. Even though significant progress has been made, particularly in the technology industry, women continue to experience lower pay, fewer promotions, and less access to leadership positions. It is well known that varied viewpoints foster better invention, which is at the heart of the technology industry. When team members exhibit the same behaviors and appearance, end users may not discover distinctive or superior solutions if team members share similar backgrounds and experiences. The encouragement of women to study STEM at a young age provides a variety of perspectives that can foster creative solutions and attract a wide range of clients. Everyone at the company, regardless of gender identity, should work to create a space where individuals can express their worries and be heard. Senior management and executives should pay more attention to employees' career paths to understand who they are and their goals for advancement within the company. Ultimately, I want all girls and young women to understand their infinite value and potential. No matter who or what is proving to be a barrier, I advise always asking for more. "Why can't it be me, too?" you might ask.” Erin Dertouzos, chief people officer at StrongDM “In honor of International Women's Day, I want to encourage company leaders who are looking to improve gender diversity to start with their hiring processes. The way a job description is written or having a requirement for a specific degree can result in the exclusion of certain applicants. In fact, I have encouraged recruiters to push hiring managers to think about whether or not degrees are even required for certain roles. Several studies indicate that women may be hesitant to apply for jobs if they feel they do not meet every single qualification, creating an obstacle to attracting more female talent to your team. Companies should consider how women experience the interview process as well. Research has shown that people are more inclined to join teams where they see themselves reflected. If a female candidate is interviewed exclusively by men, they may not feel entirely at ease in that setting, resulting in potentially losing out on exceptional talent due to the recruiting process not being designed with them in mind. By looking at every facet of the hiring experience, company leaders can create more space for underrepresented talent which will benefit the organization in the long run.” Jasmine Strydom, Social Media & Communications Manager at data security startup Object First

"As a recent college graduate entering the tech industry, I know firsthand the excitement and daunting nature of navigating this complex field. This International Women's Day, I'm reminded of the remarkable resilience and fearlessness of women who have overcome countless obstacles to achieve their goals.

At Object First, I feel fortunate to be a part of a team that consistently provides unwavering support and motivation for me to reach my full potential. Their encouragement has given me the confidence to take on new challenges and continue growing — together, we are changing the narrative.

Despite the challenges that may come with entering the tech industry, I am energized by the prospect of learning and contributing to a dynamic field. With a passion for driving positive change, I'm determined to use my skills and knowledge to promote inclusivity and inspire future generations of women to achieve their dreams. I feel privileged to be part of the movement towards gender equality and diversity in tech, committed to advocating for and uplifting women in this space.

Together, let's pave the way for a more inclusive and innovative tech industry that empowers all individuals to achieve their full potential!”


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