Guiding the next cohort of women in cybersecurity

The road to cybersecurity leadership may vary from person to person, but there are common landmarks along the way. Guiding the next generation of women in the field, and helping them recognize unexpected opportunities, is a long-time commitment for four senior leaders participating in a panel discussion at ITWC’s second annual Top Women in Cybersecurity celebration.

As moderator for the “Pay it Forward” panel, Christine Wong, President of Christine Wong Productions, painted a bleak picture of the hiring realities in cybersecurity. “About 40% of IT leaders say cybersecurity jobs are the most difficult to fill,” she said, “and research from Deloitte shows that by 2022, there could be a deficit of 1.8 million cybersecurity professionals in the world.”

View the “Pay it Forward” panel discussion

Endless Opportunities

Panelist Kimberley St. Pierre, Director of Strategic Accounts for Tanium, echoed technology’s surging demand for security professionals. “It’s unbelievable to see the demand for cybersecurity talent,” she agreed, “and not just in the technical areas, but also on the sales side. There are fabulous opportunities.”

Like her co-panelists, Alvina Antar, Jen O’Brien, and Katie LeMoyne, St. Pierre is passionate about encouraging the next generation of women in cybersecurity. “I’m a huge believer that you can’t do what you can’t see,” she said. “When you think back to my school days, there were nurses, accountants, firefighters, police officers and construction workers, but there was no cybersecurity lady. That has to change drastically, and I think those of us who are in the field need to put ourselves out there and make sure that people see what they possibly could be.” 

Alvina Antar, CIO of Okta, agreed that there’s work to be done in order to make girls and young women aware of all the opportunities they might pursue and encourage them to take risks and accept challenges. “That’s what I hope we continue to see as we work towards having more women pursue engineering, computer science and cyber studies,” she said.

For panelist Jen O’Brien, VP of Global Sales for Information Protection & Cloud Security with Proofpoint, it all comes down to meeting challenges head-on. “One thing I think is really important is that you are open to opportunities and you don’t shut them down until you take a look,” she said. “You can always say no, but first take the time to really listen.”

Katie LeMoyne’s career path is a case in point.  “I always considered myself working in healthcare, not in cybersecurity or in IT,” said LeMoyne, VP of Information Technology for Extendicare. “That said, I’ve stumbled into cybersecurity and it’s absolutely essential in what I do now.” 

With a Little Help from their Friends

Commenting on other critical pieces in engaging the next cohort of women in cybersecurity, LeMoyne shared a story of a former team member thanking her for advice she gave more than a year earlier. “The advice we receive is important,” she said. “I know I’ve given some advice, but I’ve taken more in and it really does drive how I offer it today.”

Concurring with LeMoyne on the importance of peer support, O’Brien and Antar emphasized the importance of mentors, with O’Brien describing mentoring as the most important thing she can do for someone. “I don’t know where I’d be without mentors,” added Antar, “and they may not have known that they were my official mentors. I’m talking about individuals who sponsored me, individuals – male and female – who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Asked to offer a final piece of advice to the next wave of cybersecurity women, panelists returned to earlier messages about being open to opportunities. “Following your passion may sound like a cliché, but that’s the best advice,” said Antar. “That way a job doesn’t feel like work.”

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Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau is a communications specialist based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where working remotely continues to fuel her passion for new mobile technologies -- especially on snowy days.

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