This is part of a running commentary series for International Women's Day 2022.
March 8 marks International Women’s Day, with this year’s theme being #BreakTheBias. Whether unconscious or not, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead in the workforce, and it is up to everyone to level the playing field.
Regardless of the promises of equality echoing throughout the headlines for International Women’s Day, there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate gender disparities. Women’s equality is forged by those that remind their colleagues to foster an environment that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. It takes collective action to build social change, and these cybersecurity industry experts celebrate those that are paving the way to gender equality – and provide advice on how the industry can do even better.
Here is a sounding board from women across the cybersecurity industry.
Arti Raman, founder and CEO at Titaniam:
"Upon reflection of my role as a female founder of a tech company, I realize that I am one drop in the bucket in the widespread market of technology founders. Yet when I show up to events, it never ceases to astonish me how rare it is to find other women in this space with me. I have been to conferences where I’ve skimmed through the speaker list and found myself to be the only female in the lineup. When I went to present to the audience of 50, there were two women in the room with me.
This is statistically supported, with women making up 28% of the STEM workforce and research which shows that girls tend to lose interest in sciences and technology subjects when they are as young as 12. One of the most important things I will ever do as a woman is be a role model. That is, to stand where I am, as a proud woman in technology, and to believe in the next generation of girls choosing their careers, and the women already in the workforce with interest in joining the field. I am where I am because people down the line believed in me, and knew that I could do the things I set out to do – from getting my advanced mathematics training to creating my encryption technology to filing for patents to founding the company with those products.
I stand where I am now, with the message to girls and women everywhere that it doesn’t matter what is expected of you or what society tells us we should accomplish based on our gender. I want girls and women everywhere to know that they are good enough, and they can do it. More so, I would love it if you did. I would love to see you here, in this space, with me. We need you." Anne Tiedemann, SVP, people & investor relations at Glasswall:
“International Women’s Day is an important topic - so much positivity comes out of it, but it also highlights that there is so much more to do. It is up to both women and men in leadership positions to push for equal and diverse workforces and support women in their employment. Women need to feel they have the support and encouragement to use their voices and be heard by their colleagues. However, one of the main barriers to women’s equality in tech is attracting talent in the first place. The key to this is early education, exposure, and flexibility. Engaging and sharing experiences with students and other young women will inspire them to follow suit and highlights that women can have successful technology careers. Similarly, providing opportunities to train and explore the industry will engage more young women and open doors for a successful career. Offering benefits, such as flexible working, will also help retain female staff once they are part of the industry. As many of our female staff are mothers, and some of them the sole guardians of their children, it is important that we offer them flexibility in their working routines to balance all aspects of their lives. I am very fortunate to be part of a company run by a CEO who embraces diversity. Since 2016, the number of women at Glasswall has grown by 700%. And this continues to increase - we are seeing much more diverse talent pools. When candidates are equal on every technical measure, we make conscious recommendations to balance the team. After all, we have experienced firsthand that a diverse workforce benefits from better collaboration and improved communication.” Sharon Forder, SVP marketing at Glasswall:
"International Women's Day is an opportunity for women to recognise and be recognised by their peers, creating a forum that empowers women to champion the values females bring to the workplace. Women have many unique qualities which are invaluable in the workplace but are sometimes overlooked including compassion, empathy and ability to multi-task which are often bourne out of the need to juggle multiple roles especially balancing home / work / family duties. "I think some of the barriers for women entering tech are the perception that it remains a male-dominated sector and this starts from the shape of the leadership team down. If I reflect on all the tech companies I have worked with over a 25 year period, roles such as engineering, sales and executive leadership are still heavily male influenced. Promoting women leaders in tech and championing the opportunities tech provides for women across all functions is an important part of helping to make tech more attractive to women. Create a culture that embraces flexible working, articulates the importance of work / life balance and discourages the ‘always on’ mindset that can be prevalent in tech. "Using language that is female inclusive and draws out the benefits in job descriptions is also key. Practising what you preach by actively promoting females into leadership roles and helping them to become part of the ‘face of the company’ will contribute to breaking down the long-standing perceptions of ‘it's a male-dominated sector’." Andrea Edmonds, CPA, CGMA, chief financial officer at Cyber Security Works:
“I have been engaged in information technology for the last 25 years. With the growth of the global internet of things, it was clear that a robust cyber defense was necessary. I spent the first 20+ years of my career at Arthur Andersen, PwC, and Intel. I left the corporate world in 2017 to join my first startup. I was fortunate to receive two offers from cyber startups, and I knew a cyber investment fund manager. I shared that I was looking for challenge and collaboration in culture, and he recommended the New Mexico firm, RiskSense. I joined RiskSense as I am passionate about startups in New Mexico, my home state. At RiskSense, I met the founder, Srinivas Mukkamala, who has been a mentor since. The culture at RiskSense allowed me to move from accounting/finance to help marketing and sales work on significant business challenges. I also met the co-founder of Cyber Security Works (CSW), Ram Movva, in 2018 as RiskSense worked with CSW as a close partner. I was honored to be offered the CFO role at CSW in 2021 when CSW opened its US headquarters. The mentors I have worked with through my cybersecurity journey have made all of the difference in my career. I am honored to work with passionate, open-minded, and intelligent people in a dynamic field on these significant cyber challenges. On CSW how is breaking the bias with regards to gender disparity in the cybersecurity industry:
“We are working to increase women’s awareness of cybersecurity as a great career field for women. We are hiring a diverse leadership team through mentoring and hiring women into leadership roles. We see more and more women join the company every day.” Julie Giannini, chief customer officer, Egnyte:
“This year on International Women’s Day, we celebrate women all over the world who pushed forward in an effort to #BreakTheBias so others could thrive. While the journey is far from over – with women in leadership remaining underrepresented and gender biases still prevalent across many industries – we can take the time to celebrate the women who got us here, as well as those who keep pushing. I’ve seen this not only in my own family through the hard work of my mother, who immigrated to the US and is still working as an interpreter at 85, but also in all of the women who have inspired me over the years. A longtime colleague and mentor of mine often saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself and was able to help me adjust my career path along the way. Her support and advice made it easier to navigate the unpredictability of life. The recent Winter Olympics was a palpable reminder of how everyone wins when they can get to their own starting line. Beginnings can look different for everyone, but running your own race and doing it intentionally, and with care, will inspire those around you to achieve more. As leaders, we must always be prepared to elevate others and push everyone to their full potential. This makes all of us stronger”
Gal Helemski, CTO/CPO at PlainID:
"International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate successful women in technology -- and all career fields -- while also seeking to make changes to ‘break the bias’ we still see when it comes to making career choices. While there has been an influx of women pursuing careers in technology, women only make up 11% of the global cybersecurity industry with less than 1% of them in C-suite leadership positions. Taking leadership roles in cybersecurity is important for everyone, but sometimes women don’t view it as an option. I’m proud to be in leadership for a company that now consists of more than 40% of women. I’m grateful that I’ve showcased that it is possible to succeed as a woman in technology, and I hope to encourage more women to pursue careers in cybersecurity." Holly Grey, CFO, Exabeam:
“This year, let’s make an effort to be more understanding of all that working moms do. As a working mother myself in an executive role, it can be a daily struggle to find a balance between work and my family. For myself and many others, the lines between work and personal life have blurred during the new work from home reality, and it can be harder than ever to give work and family the attention they each deserve.. The new types of demands brought on by COVID-19 drove working mothers to leave their jobs or be forced out in droves. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that 10 million mothers living with school-age children were not actively working in January 2021 – 1.4 million more than during January 2020, pre-pandemic. I want to remind everyone on International Women’s Day that it’s important for organizations to be mindful of the women in their teams who may also be grappling with parenting duties, which so often fall squarely on their shoulders. In my career, I’ve learned to look at all I’m juggling and think to myself, ‘What are the glass balls, and what are the rubber balls?’ and use that to prioritize and push back on things that we can be a little more flexible on. Leadership can use the same thought process when managing employees so they, regardless of gender, can strike a healthy balance between family and work life. Everyone has stressors, and having a team that supports each and every member and their individual challenges goes a long way in being better coworkers, leaders and parents.” Samantha Humphries, head of security strategy EMEA at Exabeam:
On early education and STEM subjects:
“There is no question that women face numerous barriers in the workplace that their male counterparts do not, but the biggest obstacles women face often start long before they enter formal employment. Young girls face conscious and unconscious bias throughout their entire schooling and as a result, often overlook or are actively discouraged from pursuing STEM subjects. But, is encouraging girls to participate in traditional STEM subjects the only way forward? I’m a big supporter of adding an ‘A’ for ‘Arts’ to the acronym. Creativity is needed across the board in tech roles, and often girls do levitate towards these kinds of subjects. If we did a better job of promoting the importance of creative thinking in technology, we could inspire more women and girls into the industry - both as they begin their careers, and to join the industry later in life too.” On workplaces championing gender equality:
“Organisations need to build a work environment that champions gender equality by starting at the top. For example, look at your board and your executives – are they representative of the workforce you want to have? If I’m approached by an employer, I dive straight towards their website’s company pages. If its leadership team is a catalogue of white men, alarm bells immediately start to ring. This doesn’t necessarily mean all companies should implement strict hiring quotas, but organisations that demonstrate their value for diversity via their leadership are a much more attractive option when looking for new employment.” On gender parity and the importance of diversity:
“Gender parity not only benefits women wanting to go into science and technology, but it also has so much to offer the companies that are willing to strive for it. Einstein once said, ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’. Diversity of thought comes from the diversity of people. So for example, if you were to hire all your employees from one university, one class background, one gender and one race, chances are you’re going to end up with a business severely lacking in diversity of thought – and this will stunt your success. Gender is only one stream of diversity for sure, but ensuring women are paid and rewarded equally for the work that they do is frankly the bare minimum towards hiring and retaining them and this will ultimately end up benefiting all parties”. Wanda Miles, manager, PMO at Exabeam:
“On International Women’s Day and beyond, we must remember that more diverse teams lead to higher revenue. Companies should have long been regarding diversity as a core goal not only in terms of demographics and representation, but also in terms of business objectives. Those that do set themselves up to thrive, as in the case of Exabeam. In 2013, Exabeam created the ExaGals to support and empower women within the company and in the tech community. In 2020, we formed the CommUNITY Council to create an environment that becomes more diverse, inclusive, and aware of the unique experiences of underrepresented groups. These initiatives are joined by our Exabeam Cares program that aims to give back to the community through education and opportunities for underrepresented groups in the industry. Exabeam’s core focus on diversity in the workplace contributed to a record-breaking 2021, and there is no sign of that success slowing down anytime soon. Beyond internal programs, businesses can make a lot of progress by being creative in diversifying the talent pool. They can establish scholarships for students from low-income households and other marginalized backgrounds and visit schools in underserved communities to meet students where they are. It’s especially important to reach out to students of all backgrounds when they’re young, as 80% of students will have made up their mind on their perceived ability in math and science by the eighth grade. Moreover, companies should expand recruitment efforts to include candidates with less conventional educations such as GEDs and community college. I encourage company executives to pledge this year to give people of all races and gender identities the power to tell their own stories, tread their own paths and pursue their own ambitions in the tech industry and beyond. We’ve come too far to settle for anything less.” Caroline Seymour, VP of product marketing, Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company:
“International Women’s Day represents a vitally important time to celebrate how far we have come together, but also to reflect on how much work still remains to be done. We must continue to reinvigorate and refresh women’s equality movements and persist in our support and encouragement of all the young girls and women out there. Coming from the technology sector myself, I am acutely aware women remain significantly underrepresented. In fact, it was recently reported that in 2021 tech roles held by women increased by just 2%, with cybersecurity found to be one of the least gender-diverse sectors. Awareness and sensitivity to the gender gap issue is stronger than ever, but there is still so much more to be done. For example, some initiatives that are realistic and can be easily implemented today include, creating gender-neutral job descriptions, ensuring women are part of the interviewing team, ensuring that interview rounds include diverse candidates, conducting regular pay equity reviews to attract and retain candidates, offering mentorship and advancement programs, and regularly evaluating hiring and promotion processes to eliminate bias. Of course, the lack of diversity in tech is not a problem solely facilitated by the employment sector, for many, the issues begin far before entering the workforce. Young girls face notable obstacles from very early on in their schooling, whether that is unconscious bias, or being actively discouraged from STEM subjects. Therefore, by the time they are making career choices, many have not taken on higher STEM education and therefore do not have the necessary qualifications to enter the science and technology sectors as easily as their male counterparts. To truly begin making significant changes to the industry we not only need to implement progressive strategies to hire and retain women in tech, but we need to start doing far more to mentor girls and encourage them to maintain STEM studies into higher education. After all, gender parity in the workplace is not a one-sided victory, diversity of thought is invaluable to any company and it simply cannot be achieved without bringing women to the table.”