This is part of our running commentary series for International Women's Day 2022.
Jamie Levy, Director of R&D at Huntress shares her story and advice for women in cyber:
"I’ve been in the cybersecurity industry for over 15 years. I was used to being the only woman in the room in many situations, and being a tomboy, I often felt comfortable. I never let it bother me that I was a minority in computer science courses in college, or that there weren’t many women at conferences. In fact, I looked on the bright side that there wasn’t a long line for the restroom.
However, all that complacency came to a screeching halt in grad school when we took a field trip to one of the FBI labs. It started out as any other day – chatting and goofing off with fellow students. I was the only girl on the trip, but no one cared. While we were taking the tour of the computer lab, the Labtech was describing their day to day, and the types of cases they often worked on. He mentioned that some of the cases involved sex crimes, and some of the details started to make my male colleagues a little squeamish. I soon realized that I was the source of their angst, at which point the professor asked if maybe I wanted to excuse myself out into the hall. At first I was naïve and didn’t realize why I was being asked to leave. It soon hit me like a bag of bricks, at which point confusion became anger. Before I could say anything, the Labtech interjected and said, “No, she’s an adult. She wants to get into this field. She needs to hear about potential downsides.” I was forever grateful to him for that.
Until that point, I was one of the guys. For a split second, things changed. I started to think about how other women might feel in these situations. Something I hadn’t really considered before.
I’ve been lucky enough to have respect from most men I’ve encountered but will admit there were times when I had to try to be heard. I’ve had meetings where I’ve talked about projects I’m completing only to be met with silence, then a moment later one of the guys says they’re going to start the same project, but he is asked probing questions.I’ve been at conferences with my husband (who is not technical at all, but was there for fun), walked around to booths to ask questions about security products, and had the sales person speak over my questions directly to my husband. Only after my husband told them he isn’t technical, and that they should speak to me, did they notice me – despite my (nearly rude) attempts to get their attention.
Things are getting better, however. More and more women are starting to get interested in cybersecurity. While the examples I’ve mentioned are extreme, they haven’t been the usual for me, and I realize that for some women it has been worse. I’m lucky enough to be in the DFIR community, which in general is more accepting and has more women involved. There usually isn’t the toxic “bro” culture that has plagued some of the other fields. Even then, however, I’ve realized that my experiences may not parallel that of others.
I’ve personally learned to be loud when I want to be heard. I’ve learned to make myself seen and to not take things personally. I also realize that I may be judged more harshly just for being a woman, so I try to make sure what I’m saying is as accurate as I can make it. I’ve also become more mindful of how certain situations might prevent other minorities from wanting to get involved. I realize that sometimes someone might need a shepherd to help them when others try to exclude them – just as I’ve been lucky enough to have someone like that in some past experiences. Someone who can say, “Don’t exclude this person, include them in the conversation.” We need more people like that in the community to help in situations where some might not be as mindful about their actions. That alone will help bring other underrepresented groups, women and minorities alike, to the table."