Top Women in Cyber Security: How to thrive and grow in the industry

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    While there are still challenges when it comes to finding opportunities for women and young girls in the cyber security industry, a path is being paved and doors are opening, said panellists at IT World Canada‘s Top Women in Cyber Security event. 

    During the “Aspiring and thriving” panel, Mitra Mirhassani, co-director at SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence at the University of Windsor, Biying He, cyber security manager at Vancouver Airport Authority, and moderator Alvina Antar, chief information officer at Okta, discussed how women and younger generations can thrive and grow in the cyber security sector. 

    “I am optimistic but at the same time I can see the challenges that are ahead,” said Mirhassani. “The status quo still is ruling the boards…We still have a long way to go but we have been starting to pave the way for the next generation of women to find their way into the higher positions or have their own companies and so on.”

    There was a time when women never even considered a career in cyber security due to lack of representation and opportunity, said Antar, while discussing how the panellists got into the field. 

    In fact, according to data from Cybersecurity Ventures, women held 25 per cent of cybersecurity jobs globally in 2021, up from 20 per cent in 2019, and around 10 per cent in 2013. 

    Cybersecurity Ventures also predicts that women will represent 30 per cent of the global cybersecurity workforce by 2025, and that will reach 35 per cent by 2031.

    During the panel, He and Mirhassani both shared their “secrets” to thriving in the industry. 

    They echoed similar sentiments, saying that their genuine love and interest in learning more about cyber security helps drive success. 

    “Cyber security is hard and challenging…if the security culture and awareness is not there for people, you cannot make it successful. A lot of the time people think security is just the technical aspect of it, but it’s not. It takes a lot of time and effort to communicate with people and help people understand what cyber security is,” He said. 

    With any job, having a strong network of groups and specific people to connect with is important, and helps with growth in the field. 

    The panellists shared some of their tips and tricks when it comes to networking in cyber security. 

    For Mirhassani, being at a university helps her connect with new people every semester. Additionally, she mentioned a few organizations that have helped her expand her network.

    “One of the most useful networks that I’ve been using is the Automotive Security Research Group (ASRG)…expanding into Canada has helped a lot of my students to be able to talk with like-minded individuals and experts,” she said.

    Other organizations mentioned during the panel include the ISACA Vancouver Chapter, (ISC)², and Bsides Security Events.

    Additionally, Antar talked about a group she founded in Silicon Valley called the CIO Women’s Network.

    “You’d be surprised at the number of female CIOs in the area. We’ve come together and built a trusted and meaningful relationship where we support each other and we also lift other individuals within our organizations…to support their career aspirations,” Antar said.

    Lastly, the panellists discussed the misconceptions about cyber security, and how to diversify the industry.

    One major misconception they talked about was that cyber security is a “boring” field with a lack of community. 

    “Cyber security actually is a very trusting community…People are so open and transparent about their experience and their knowledge. Whenever you have questions about anything in the community, people are so eager and willing to share whatever they know. You won’t get less support because you’re a woman,” He said. 

    She also suggested a good way to get more people interested in the field is through job shadowing. Each year her company has a job shadowing program for grade 10 students to give them a better understanding of cyber security.

    Similarly, Mirhassani said that the university often does outreach programs for high school students where they offer programs to help gain interest in STEM fields.

    “We try to bring examples of what type of jobs are awaiting them and what type of qualifications they need to get there. I think that we have to keep doing what we’re doing by creating these types of events… and speaking about our own personal experiences. We might be able to succeed in turning this field into the diverse and active field that it is [while] attracting students.”