Every year on March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity to honor the political, social, economic and cultural achievements of women everywhere in every walk of life. That includes in the field of cybersecurity.
Women have already made considerable progress in that regard. According to the 2019 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, higher percentages of women have reached senior positions in cybersecurity than men. These roles have included chief technology officer (7% of women compared to 2% men) and C-level/executive (28% women compared to 19% men).
And there’s still work to be done. In its study, for instance, (ISC)2 found that women constituted just 24% of the cybersecurity workforce. Those experts also made 31% less than their male counterparts, according to a 2020 report shared with SC Media.
Many who are reading this might have a story of women being excluded in cybersecurity. Their story might be about them. Which is all the more reason why all women of cybersecurity are worth celebrating.
In observance of International Women’s Day, Cisco got a group of women security experts together and asked them, “Who has meant the most to you as an ally? And how has this impacted your career?” Some of these experts’ responses are presented below.
People Who Encourage and Expand Your Vision
We all know that women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified, right? When it comes to making that bold move to take the next step in your career, you may need some encouragement from someone who knows you and your abilities – from someone whose judgments you trust. For me, this person was Aybala Tut (LinkedIn), one of our amazing people at Cisco.
Three years ago, I saw the post of my dream job as a systems engineer manager for security specialist engineers. I was hesitant to apply for it, as it was asking for security-related work experience. I was coming from a technical background, had security experience, and was very passionate around security, but I hadn’t been systems engineer before. There were so many apparent barriers in that job post that I was discouraged from applying and taking that step.
Aybala Tut did not see it as I did. She helped me put things into perspective and encouraged me to apply for the position.
Encouragement is not the only component that led to my success. Liat Shentser (LinkedIn) is an open-minded hiring manager who was willing to tap into the untapped talent pool, challenge the status quo, and hire not only for background but also for potential. This had a huge impact on my career, and I am forever grateful.
Finally, kudos to another person who inspired me and expanded my vision: Mike Storm, Distinguished Engineer at Cisco (Blog). The way he makes security fun and understandable for everyone while being so humble and willing to help, combined with deep technical knowledge and industry insights, is incredible. Mike is always inspiring, while making security approachable.
The Quiet Triumph of an Unsung Hero
Cat Murdock (Twitter | LinkedIn) has been a true inspiration for me! When I first met Cat, she struck me as a born leader. She was direct, firm, and confident, and I truly admired that. A few months later, I had the opportunity to ask Cat for help. Without knowing much about me, she was very responsive and shared trust, insights, and tips in the right direction with me that contributed to my success and towards winning the social engineering capture-the-flag contest at DEF CON.
Since then, Cat and I have become great friends. Her ability to selflessly support and lift others, while suspending her own ego and removing all aspects of competition from the equation, inspires me to push myself to do better. These qualities also motivate me to uplift those around me and quietly demonstrate my skills, integrity, and the quality of my work through actions and practical application.
Cat’s legacy is very much in the “yet to be fully realized” phase of her career. Cat has reached a level now where she can fully influence positive change within the organization where she works and beyond. She’s knowledgeable, concise, and meticulous in her strategy, planning, and execution. I continue to be impressed with the leaps and bounds Cat has taken in a relatively short amount of time, making tremendous strides in her career while remaining completely humble and unaffected by those who would seek to challenge her skills or complicate matters for her.
Her legacy will be one of quiet triumph, demonstrated through a solid program and secure infrastructure as well as backed by a truly well-thought-out and carefully implemented security program. Outside of her primary engagement, in her spare time, Cat contributes to various philanthropic efforts as well as supports the efforts of many others who are upskilling and driving towards similar career goals. Cat is clearly one of the many unsung heroes in the information security field, someone who doesn’t chase accolades or notoriety but rather chooses to allow the quality of her work to speak for her.
A Small Gesture with a Huge Impact
Wendy Nather (Twitter | LinkedIn) has impacted my career in more ways than she’ll ever know. Wendy has been a teacher, a FUD-checker, a network introducer, an encourager, a cheerleader, a “you should give it a shot” imposter syndrome buster, a mentor and sponsor, and alongside all of that – a friend you look up to and are proud to have.
I am confident that if you asked a random sample of other professionals in this business, 99 percent would likely say the same things about Wendy. She has touched more lives in this industry than anyone else out there. The impact she has had on me is personally significant, but the breadth of impact she has had on the industry is truly immeasurable.
One of the many reasons Wendy should be celebrated is for her constant desire to find more ways to do good for the security community and the people in it. She regularly goes beyond her daily responsibilities and makes time to empower her peers and the next generation of up-and-coming security professionals. Whether sponsoring or mentoring, keynoting at both industry or inclusion-focused conferences, or simply making time to meet with and encourage women and marginalized groups of professionals to find their superpowers, Wendy is truly the tide that lifts all boats.
It does not have to involve a big gesture for a person to have a big impact. Wendy held out her hand to me at multiple junctures in my career and said, “Come on in, you’re welcome here.” And for me, that’s all it took.
Wendy’s legacy will be one of inclusivity. Beyond her regular empowerment of diverse cybersecurity professionals, Wendy similarly promotes security technology that works and is available for a diverse set of businesses, not just the upper echelon. Wendy has worked for and supported organizations with widely varying budgets and resources. As such, Wendy coined the term “the security poverty line” to denote the point at which companies experience not only budgetary restrictions but also many other dynamics that affect security posture. This phrase has been used industry-wide in conversations around how to democratize security, and no doubt it will live on for many years to come. As will Wendy’s impact on all of us.
One woman in cybersecurity who has been really helpful in my career is Kate Brew (Twitter | LinkedIn). She started working as the editor of AlienVault’s blog in 2014. AlienVault was acquired by AT&T in 2018, and it was rebranded “AT&T Cybersecurity.” I’ve been working with Kate since her AlienVault days, and I continue to contribute to the blog today.
Kate has an excellent instinct for the kinds of information that people who work for enterprises and in data centers are interested in. Under her guidance, I’ve written about a broad range of cybersecurity topics – from malware to indicators of compromise, from incident response to information security policy, and everything in between. Kate has always encouraged me to pursue my curiosities and my growth as a writer.
As a woman in cybersecurity herself, Kate is very supportive of women in all areas of our industry. She believes that more diverse workforces make companies more effective. She leads by example.
Because her work is largely behind the scenes, I believe she deserves more recognition. The people in our industry with the brightest ideas need equally bright and diligent people to bring them to fruition. Cybersecurity is a very human aspect of computer technology, and facilitating creativity is something that’s greatly needed.
Beverly Walker (LinkedIn), the chief privacy officer for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been most influential in my career. Although I am a non-technical person, Bev empowers me to insert myself into technical conversations and make an impact. She encourages me to fill voids where necessary and to assert myself. She is not only the type of attorney but also the type of leader I aspire to be one day.