When my father encouraged me at first to go to an engineering school, I did not know the challenges that I would have to face over the course of my career.
Coming from a multicultural background, with traditional and conservative views on the roles of women and men, I deviated from that pre-determined life path that was meant to be. I was, from the youngest age, a problem solver, passionate about mathematics as well as physics. When I had my first computer in 1995 I felt very comfortable navigating, and discovering a totally different universe. I then embarked on my new journey, and followed my tech-calling. What I did was not common, but it was not that uncommon either. What I did not see coming was that it was still not widely accepted in various cultures around the world for a woman to BE a female leader in tech, and especially in cyber security. That only 11% of of the cyber workforce are women speaks for itself.
When I started my preparatory school to become an engineer, I had comments like: ‘But you don’t look like a ‘geek’’. And, I did not for many reasons. I did not fit the stereotype that the majority was expecting: I loved fashion, I loved fast cars, I loved partying, and I loved computers.
When I think about my experience, from my engineering studies to my PhD, and then during my professional journey, I realise that I have always been around mainly male colleagues. Women were the clear minority in my industry. At my very first important meeting, I was asked to bring coffee. I definitely felt uncomfortable: ‘Hmm, I am the one doing the demo about an indoor positioning system in complex environments.’ It was absolutely bizarre, and as I was at the beginning of my career, it was not so encouraging.
Over the years, I got used to represent the minority, and I discovered that there are many reasons why these situations happen, including unconscious biases; and not only negative intentions. We all have unconscious biases, and when you get used to meet only men in a meeting room when addressing the subject of security, you tend to be surprised when it’s actually a woman leading the meeting.
Women all know this challenge. By the age of 15, girls tend to be less confident, and lose interest in mathematics, according to the statistics. I have talked to many young graduates in cyber security, and all are fabulous, smart, and motivated. You can definitely see the passion that is there. However, only a few of them continue their technological careers in general, and even less in cyber security. The previously mentioned percentage of 11% did not suddenly materialise over the past few years, and there are various reasons for it.
In fact, there are now more job openings in cyber security than there are cyber security professionals. The demand will only increase in line with the growing maturity of companies in the cyber space. The world needs skilled cyber security talent, including women — and that’s why I consider myself having a mission, inspiring more women to get into cyber security, and follow in my footsteps.
Will that be easy? Maybe not. So, what? Life is not easy. But everyone can do it, and especially a motivated, talented woman.
Let’s be clear here what this statement means: You will get to face some of the below challenges:
- Your opinion will not be heard in meetings – So, what. Speak Up. Find Allies to Support You.
- You will be refused contracts – So, what. You will find someone else who believes in you. The world is small, but big.
- You will be appraised differently – So, what. Believe in yourself and find ways to prove your knowledge.
- You will be challenged by everyone – So, what. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Get your act together and make something great.
- You will be told that you can’t make it – So, what. Of course, you can make it. You know it.
Earlier this year, I launched a new initiative, ‘Woman In Cyber’, to help inspire, educate and encourage more girls and women to start a career in cyber security. It does address the issue of diversity differently, through various gadgets, t-shirts, and even thongs to address the topic in a fun and different way. With my company, I promote and raise awareness of these efforts around the world, through free mentoring, support, and encouragement.
I absolutely realise from my own experience how important it is to have ‘that person’ supporting your choices, no matter who they are. In my case, my father has always been supportive of my choices, even when not approving. He was my mentor. Everyone should have that opportunity, and have a mentor. That is what women and girls need nowadays in order to continue to pursue their interest in cyber security, but also to climb the career ladder, even if the doors are initially closed.
Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at General Motors, said in one of her articles that ‘Diversity Will Crack the Code’. I believe that diversity will crack, not only the code but also cyber security.
Becoming an engineer, and a cyber security professional has absolutely fulfilled me and made my career. It allowed me to become a recognized leader in the space. If you’re considering a career in cyber, I encourage you to go for it!
And, if you’re passionate about promoting women in cyber to others, look at our articles on woman-in-cyber.com and spend time inspiring other young women, helping them in their career. We can only make a difference together.