March is an important month in my world, two of my best friends celebrate their birthdays this month (they’re turning two and four if you must know) and we celebrate International Women’s Day March 8th and Women’s History Month all month long (my favorite way to celebrate!). This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge” and Women’s History Month’s is “Refuse to be Silenced.” I’ve spent the last month speaking to so many of my colleagues and peers about what this means to them, how they can step into their next challenge, and how they can speak up. As a woman who cut her teeth in tech and now works in cybersecurity, reflecting on the women who came before me and paved the way and how I can help the women coming through the ranks is often on my mind. While it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve been fortunate to have mentors and leaders (both male and female) that have supported my career and helped me grow, and I want to do the same for others.
My first recommendation as your virtual mentor? Grab your coffee (or wine, this is a no judgement zone) and listen to the latest Reimagining Cyber episode “Women in Tech Choose To Challenge and Refuse To Be Silenced During Women’s History Month and Beyond”. It feels like you’re having a chat with your girlfriends on the couch, and these girlfriends just also happen to be the coolest, most amazingly strong leaders in cyber. It’s 36 minutes of empowerment. During this episode, Rob Aragao and Stan Wisseman, both Chief Technologists with CyberRes, a Micro Focus line of business, interview a panel of strong and successful women who’ve come through the ranks of Security: Lori Sussman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology at the University of Southern Maine, Phyllis Woodruff, Vice President, IT Risk and Compliance at Global Payments, Inc., and Tammy Schuring, Vice President and Global Leader, Voltage Data Privacy and Protection, at Micro Focus. Each of them have a unique story of how they got into cybersecurity and all could relate to being the only (or one of the only) females in the room.
“For Tammy, it drove her,” Lori said. “For me, it’s the same thing. That just made me that much more focused on getting in and getting through that. That doesn’t have to be every woman’s experience. [We need] better networking, setting up systems to support each other…there are too many classes where there are only 1-2 women in the room.”
Tammy nodded in agreement. “I’ve transitioned to making space at the table for more women, trying to find ways to inspire and excite women…I feel like this phase of my career is all about trying to make space for as many women as possible. Women need to be seen, not only when they do 10x, but when they do 1x. That is a big part of the inequality. We have a responsibility in the board room, professor, to show that you don’t have to work 20 hours a day and be 10x; that’s the next frontier I’m looking forward to.”
Helping the women climbing the ladder behind me has always been important to me. I’ve never understood not giving a helping hand, as I know I’ve been grateful when it’s been offered to me. Treat those as you’d like to be treated, as my mother always told me. I had one mentor who really worked with me on speaking up in meetings (I used to be very shy, and speaking up has always been a challenge for me). We worked on small things like body language (I highly recommend this Amy Cuddy Ted Talk if you do, too) and speaking confidently in meetings and with executives. Just the other day, I spoke up and pushed back in a meeting with senior leadership, and then after I did so, I realized I was the only female in the room AND these were all director level and above. While they were clearly taken aback – so was I! Where was that shy girl who could barely say “Excuse me” a few years ago?
“It’s always interesting, to suddenly take control of the situation and to have the men in the room look at you a little differently. They hear the authority of your voice and in your body language, and they look at you differently,” Phyllis said. “Own your skills, recognize them, embrace your superpowers, know that they are there.” I want to put this on a sticky note by my laptop as a daily reminder. Owning your skills and superpowers can be so challenging. I know I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome, but the reality is we do belong in the room and a seat at the table. Skills typically affiliated with women – collaboration, team building, and inclusivity are all wonderful skills to have. Own them and use them.
“Any higher-level position, communication skills are paramount. That’s something women are very good at. We’re also really good at building teams. A strong team requires diversity. Those half a million positions that aren’t filled, there are some very capable women coming up through the ranks. We need their minds; we need their hearts; and their passion.” Phyllis said.
I couldn’t agree more.
CyberRes is a Micro Focus line of business focused on helping companies protect, detect, and evolve their security framework and helping organizations become more cyber resilient. To learn more, visit CyberRes.com and CyberResilient.com.