#RSAC: The Cybersecurity Industry is Costing Employees Their Mental Health

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Chloé Messdaghi “stalked” her way into her new role of chief impact officer at Cybrary just three weeks ago. Eleanor Dallaway sat down with her to discuss removing barriers and the mental health deterioration that is worryingly synonymous with the cybersecurity industry.

“Burnout typically happens when people don’t have certain skills,” explained Messdaghi. “When they’re tasked with other people’s workloads, or overwhelmed with work they don’t know how to do, that’s when burnout happens.” She’s keen to add that what sometimes presents as burnout can actually be PTSD and/or depression, or will turn into one of those conditions if burnout goes untreated.

“The industry isn’t doing anything about it,” she lamented. “In hacker communities, we keep learning about suicides, there’s no personal work life balance and that has tragic consequences.” Candidly, she stated: “this industry is costing people their mental health.”

Messdaghi explained that PTSD in cybersecurity is often the result of “really bad management causing panic or anxiety. Sadly, we see it more with women; PTSD as a result of harassment, discrimination or assault.” It explains why the ‘revolving door’ in our industry moves even faster for women, she added.

"In hacker communities, we keep learning about suicides, there’s no personal work life balance and that has tragic consequences"

So what is the answer? How do we slow down that revolving door? “We need to figure out how to have more flexibility, the ability to be – and stay – remote, we need to ask out teams what they need and we must learn to be good leaders. It’s about listening to our team’s needs – be humble, be curious, take action.”

‘Representation matters’ is a message that has been touted all over the RSA conference. It is also something that Messdaghi is passionate about. “We have no sense of belonging yet [in cybersecurity]. We feel uncomfortable when we are the only ones that look like us in the room.” So, what’s the solution? “Get representation, put marginalized people on boards,” she answered.

Messdaghi blames industry gatekeeping for the lack of success in this area to date. “Even researchers have a lack of diversity, so the research isn’t diverse. We have no data for the non-binary community, we lack data around people of color. Research needs to be more accessible, and do does our industry.”

As mentioned in the introduction, Messdaghi “stalked” her way into her role at Cybrary. Those are her words. She set her sights on the cybersecurity training company because she is passionate about its mission – to make training accessible to everyone. Upskilling professionals contributes to reducing burnout, which is something Messdaghi cares deeply about. “Cybrary is built by cybersecurity experts, it’s a familiar name, it’s trusted and it’s accessible to everyone. We’re fighting the industry skills gap,” she said proudly.

She added that there should be no limitations, including financial, when it comes to industry accessibility, and Cybrary’s affordable model aims to break down those barriers. “Cybrary opens those doors, making the industry accessible to people and, as a result, improving diversity.”

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