Mentoring and Role Models Key to Improving Female Representation in Cybersecurity

The importance of mentoring and role models in helping women develop careers in cybersecurity was emphasized during the HackerOne Women in Cybersecurity Press Roundtable.

The panel, which comprised a range of leading female figures in the cybersecurity industry, discussed practical ways of improving gender diversity in the industry.

Marjorie Janiewicz, chief revenue officer at HackerOne, began by setting out a bleak picture regarding cyber’s gender imbalance. “It’s no secret that the cyber skills gap is rapidly growing, and women continue to be a minority in technical and cyber roles. We especially notice that underrepresentation in leadership roles,” she outlined.

The panelists then highlighted personal experiences that inspired them to successful careers in cyber. Keren Elazari, a cybersecurity analyst, researcher, author and speaker, described initially feeling “lonely” operating in the industry as an anonymous white hat hacker. However, when attending her first hacker conference, Y2hacK, she became inspired mixing and interacting with like-minded people. In addition, while there were only three women present at the event, “the fact the organizer of the event was a woman, that gave me the signal that although I don’t see anyone that looks like me around, there’s space for me in this community.”

Sandra McLeod, head of security assurance at Zoom, similarly emphasized the importance of role models during her career. “I had the opportunity to work among and alongside some incredible top talent that I learned from and had some amazing mentors who encouraged me to take that next step.”

While the panelists had female role models they could look up to while navigating the start of their career in the industry, this is often not the case for many women. Lynn Dohm, executive director of Women in CyberSecurity, noted: “It’s hard to be what you cannot see and when you have that power of community and you have those women in front of you that you aspire to be, it builds up your confidence and strength to think ‘yes this is a place where we belong’ and we can advance in our careers.”

Therefore, a key means of enabling women to succeed in cyber is “creating the power of community where there is that collective strength as a network and as a community to grow and expand our cyber careers collectively.”

Annika Erikson, senior security manager at Salesforce, concurred, explaining how mentoring helped open doors to her in the industry. “I’ve had mentors, both women and men, that have invited me to tables I would never have invited myself to and brought me into conversations.” She said that these experiences “gave me the confidence to then invite myself to more discussions.”

Erikson added that she now offers the same mentoring opportunities to help others in the sector. “Anybody can be a mentor to anyone in their organization or across organizations and invite them into those discussions and conversations. This will let them know their contributions are extremely valuable,” she commented.

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