Securing Our Networks with Women in Cyber

Mar 29, 2017
5 minutes
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I was honored to be asked to host a “Women in Cyber” panel for the conference organizers, IQPC, at the 2017 Cyber Defense and Network Security (CDANS) conference in the United Kingdom. My distinguished fellow panelists included Jacqui Chard of the U.K.’s new National Cyber Security Centre; Sherrill Nicely, the CISO of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency; and LTC Wendi O. Brown, PMP, (NATO) Coalition Exercise Planner, U.S. European Command.

I was struck early in our preparations by a few common themes: first, all of us had “evolved into” cybersecurity from a plethora of other disciplines and backgrounds, and second, we are all equally passionate about the field of cyber.

As part of my preparation for this panel, I decided to spend some time with my female colleagues at Palo Alto Networks to learn their perspectives, from what led them to their current roles, to role models who had helped them throughout their careers, to other words of wisdom they would share with our CDANS audience. I also produced videos of each of our conversations with them, from our Senior Director of Security Operations to a Senior Software Architect and our regional CSO for Japan. The following are some highlights from these video conversations:

  • Two women began their careers with their respective Ministries of Defense in Israel and Japan, helping them to form an important foundation upon which to build their cyber careers. I second this notion from my own experience starting out with the U.S. Defense Department. These organizations prove to be great testing grounds for you to experiment with what technologies or operations most interest you, and have valuable on-the-job training in the respective disciplines.
  • One shared a story of a fellow male colleague who, having appreciated her work, had become her mentor and encouraged her to join him at several different companies. He would later help her to correct salary inequities and encourage her to be her own strong ally in her career. Another shared the story of her grandmother as an early role model, blazing new trails where few women had been before.
  • Others shared the elements of their careers they enjoy most – from seeing how cyber impacts every aspect of our lives to being a proud mother to share with her children the role of cyber in protecting our digital way of life.
  • One encouraged practitioners and managers to get involved personally in their organization’s recruitment efforts. Giving candidates direct insights and guidance about their careers is invaluable and a wonderful way to give back.

My research for the panel tells me that, while women are exceeding men in advanced technical degrees, more women are leaving the technical field (1). There are myriad reasons for this that we discussed during the panel. But the key takeaways were to encourage all potential cybersecurity professionals – regardless of where they are in the world, their gender or their degrees. Specifically:

  1. Be willing to sponsor vs. just mentor. This means actually going to bat for someone to ensure fairness and equal opportunities when it’s needed – I was thrilled to hear shared examples of this from the audience.
  2. Seek employers who support cross-training of existing professionals without pushing their employees back to a junior level to begin a new pursuit. Many professionals have come to cybersecurity many years after choosing their initial career path, and today their employees – and indeed the broader market – are enjoying the results of their contributions.
  3. To quote Nuala O’Connor at a networking event many years ago, “Lift as you rise” – and particularly with someone who doesn’t necessarily “look like you.” This was guidance one of the Defense Systems Integrators gave to employees when choosing to mentor someone in their organization.
  4. To those hiring or recruiting, don’t overthink your idea of the perfect person or degree or background for this role. As I noted above, many successful professionals in the field today don’t have the degree or background you might have anticipated. In fact, one of the government’s programs introduced at CDANS is one in which employees are tested for “latent talent” so that the employer can realize the gifts of their existing employees for the field of cyber.

When I finished the preparations, I reflected upon the many blessings of my own career and called my father. I thanked him for his encouragement of me to follow my own professional interests and do whatever I desired in my career. Serving in law enforcement for 31 years, he had hoped I would consider the national law enforcement agencies he suggested as prospective employers, and saw no limitation preventing me as a woman from entering that field. But ultimately for him, it was important to help me find whatever I would enjoy. We can all encourage the next generation of cybersecurity practitioners – and not be limited by where we think we may find them or by what their resumes may say.

Speaking of career encouragement, if you are a veteran, you may have a calling to continue to “serve” in cyber. We’d love to have you as a member of the team. Cyber is an honorable calling – and regardless of how any of us got here, I wish you profound success in your careers and the hope that, regardless of where you are or go in your career, that you lift and encourage others as you rise.

(1) OECD Education at a glance, 2015, Study from CSU: Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit 2016, Source.

To learn more about our other activities at CDANS 2017 this year, please visit:

Federal Ignite '17 Security Conference: Washington, DC

If you are in the U.S. government, come to Federal Ignite 2017 to learn more about what we’re doing for you and your peers to make fast threat prevention through automation a reality.

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