This year’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards succeeded in promoting diversity, progression and overall admiration for the female pioneers in cybersecurity.
There’s no mistake in stating that the cybersecurity industry has had a history of lacking in diversity and while there has been progress in this field, progress is simply not moving fast enough. This aspect often dissuades women from committing to the sector or from considering cybersecurity as a career path in the first place, which is a real tragedy due to the increase of scale and severity in cyberattacks leading to a global demand for cybersecurity professionals in all aspects of the field and across all sectors. In short, the supply seemingly cannot keep up, resulting in an acute talent shortage. Something needs to change, progression needs to persist.
On 30th November, Eskenzi PR and IT Security Guru, with sponsorship from KPMG and Beazley, hosted the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards in Canary Wharf, London. Commencing the evening was a powerful address from keynote speaker, Jenny Radcliffe also known as The People Hacker. A renowned expert on the human element of security scams, cons and hacks, Radcliffe has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, online media and traditional press and to top it all off, hosts the award-winning podcast The Human Factor.
Radcliffe’s skills are centred around the psychology and emotional drivers of a cyber criminal – are they using health or finance to scare people into clicking on an emailed link? Or perhaps it’s related to a current trend or a particular passion of the individual? Whatever the reasoning, Radcliffe thinks outside the box to understand hacking methods and having worked as a highly-skilled pen tester, she is an expert when it comes to three simple rules – improvise, adapt and overcome.
In-keeping with the event’s title, Radcliffe’s speech was inspirational to say the least. She gave full insight into the frequently asked questions she receives as a successful woman in the cyber community, including: ‘Do you think women are better than men at social engineering?’ ‘Have you ever failed?’ and the classic chestnut that all working mothers still get asked in the 21st century: ‘If you’re here, whose looking after the kids?’ Radcliffe then pointed out that she has never been asked ‘What’s it like to be the CEO of a brand that’s persisted for 20 years and succeeded?’ even though that is usually the first question a male counterpart would receive.
Offering advice based off her own success, Radcliffe stated the following:
‘You have to work really hard – don’t feel entitled because the truth is, the world doesn’t owe you anything.’
‘Know who you are and what your brand is – you have to know your value and work to that.’
‘You won’t achieve anything on an empty tank, look after yourself and know when to take time off.’
‘Find your team and never settle for people who won’t support you.’
Commenting on the event as a whole, Jenny Radcliffe said: “It was such a pleasure to take part in the event and to meet so many women from different parts of the industry. There was a really optimistic and positive atmosphere all night and I really enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing their different perspectives and experiences. Congratulations once again to all the nominees and winners, I look forward to meeting everyone again in the future.”
After the keynote speech, Yvonne Eskenzi, Owner of Eskenzi PR and primary host of the evening went on to present the panelist discussion, introducing;
- Professor Alison Wakefield, Co-Director, University of West London Cybersecurity and Criminology Centre
- Sydonie Williams, Underwriter of Cyber & Technology at Beazley
- Gemma Moore, Director at Cyberis Ltd, Information Security Consultant, Penetration Tester
- Rowenna Fielding, Data Protection enthusiast and privacy professional, Miss IG Geek Ltd
- Katie Diacon, Director of TMT Cyber Security at KPMG UK
The panelist discussion was intriguing with each of the guests delving into their careers and experiences as women in the cyber sector. The conversation then covered diversifying recruitment within the cyber sector and what should be done to improve this. Those in the sector will know full well that curiosity, problem-solving ability and critical thinking should be taken into consideration when recruiting experienced talents. Cybersecurity is a vibrant field that is constantly changing, especially when it comes to threats or potential attacks and therefore, professionals cannot be static in their knowledge to succeed in this field.
Focussing on the barriers to inclusion and success in the industry, instead of just overt discrimination, can help reduce the talent shortage and it is clear that cybersecurity leaders play an important role in this. They should focus on diversity and inclusion when selecting candidates. The panelists agreed that instead of merely recruiting new diverse candidates into the workforce, they must also provide those professionals already in it with opportunities, and tools to succeed and grow. In addition, managers should allow diverse candidates to obtain a skillset to succeed as future leaders in the field.
Gemma Moore stated: “Creating an inclusive environment in cyber security helps everyone, and is the way to enhance all types of diversity. Inclusion is a continuous active process, and not something we can set as a goal and then forget about. Cyber security – especially the very technical areas – is still very much male-dominated, and in those environments women can feel marginalised or excluded as a result of passive behaviours.
“To create an environment where women feel included, the majority (in this case, men) need to actively alter the way they think and behave to prevent unconscious exclusion from happening. This will be the case until we have better gender balance, at which point culture tends to shift naturally. Sometimes I worry that we talk about improving gender balance in a bit of an echo-chamber, where women talk to women and we forget to talk to the men working with us who can actively make a difference.”
Katie Diacon added: “It was fantastic to be speaking alongside so many amazing female cyber security role models at the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber event. It is really important that we hold events like this to showcase the outstanding achievements of women in the sector, and also highlight that there is still more to do to achieve gender parity.
“Celebrating the successes of women in the sector, particularly at leadership level, helps to remove perceived barriers to career progression and will also encourage more women to join the industry to boost diversity. If younger women can see other women reaching leadership roles then I think more would consider it for themselves.”
Sydonie Williams concluded: “It was wonderful to see and hear about the diverse range of skills and experience of all of the women at the event and their different backgrounds. Cyber itself is a huge industry with many different areas of focus, from insurance to penetration testing. I believe we need to help socialise more the opportunities available in this industry. What struck me was the dynamic nature of our industry and how much we can all shape the future of Cyber, both by taking individual and corporate responsibility in challenging norms around hiring practices.
“We should focus on getting the right people into our organisations and then providing them with the resources to train them on the additional technical skills needed. Often you see roles advertised that require prior experience and for many individuals stating out in this industry is hard to come by. I hope that recruiters would have an open mind about candidates and working with the firms they are recruiting for to see the full potential of the candidates.”
After the panelist discussion came the award ceremony and what a joy it was to see so many women being nominated by their peers and colleagues. This represented the sheer amount of hard work and determination each women in their field has experienced and to see them not only acknowledged, but celebrated for this achievement was a truly fulfilling moment.
Commenting on the nominations and the evening itself, Yvonne Eskenzi said: “As a judge, I was confronted with 58 women who I needed to get down to 20 of the Most Inspiring. After hours of pontificating and musing through the entrants I still could only get the list to 28! The quality of inspiring, accomplished women just blew my mind – thank goodness for the other judges.
“On the night I looked around a room full of 70 phenomenal women and after 26 years in this industry I can now honestly say I couldn’t have been prouder. The cyber industry now has women not just in marketing but in every conceivable position, doing hugely technical jobs and spanning every age group. Still we have a long way to go, but I feel confident that with the enthusiasm and determination of the young women I met during the event that between us we can attract more women and other people from diverse backgrounds to join our industry, one that is fun, inclusive and hugely interesting. Bring on 2022!”
After the awards, the networking reception was the perfect opportunity to discuss ideas, create more connections and to simply revel in each other’s achievements over a glass of fizz. The event was enjoyable and valuable, but the message still remains loud and clear – we need to do better and make cybersecurity appeal to women. The barriers to entry as well as structural deterrents in employment must be removed, the perceptions of the industry need to change and more importantly, we need role models for other women to aspire to.
To implement Jenny Radcliffe’s rule of three into the subject of diversity of cybersecurity sector, we must continue to improvise, adapt and overcome.
A huge thank you to the organisers and sponsors of the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber event and a massive congratulations to all the nominees and winners!
Author: Content Editor for Security on Screen, Zoe Deighton-Smythe