Women in cyber part two

Read part two of our interview discussing how to open the way into cyber for more women, according to experts already in the industry.
30 March 2023
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Last week, we spoke to Lindsey Polley, Director of Cyber & Space Intelligence at MACH37, and Jennifer Addie, COO & Strategy Director at MACH37 about the lack of female representation in cyber, and how to combat it. Read part one of the interview here.

According to Jennifer, technology should be introduced early on, because a lack of baseline familiarity holds anyone back from exploring a career in cyber. At this point, tech should be considered a lifeskill alongside reading and writing.

There’s a need to shift the culture to make technology a ubiquitous thing that everyone is familiar with. Technology is integrating into almost every aspect of our lives, and with the rise in cybercrime post-pandemic, Jennifer highlighted that people need to — at the least — be savvy enough to protect their own devices and understand their digital identity.

“The technology curve is so steep, and it’s been so fast, that […] generationally it’s not handed down from parent to child.” With each new generation born into a more technology-dependent world, keeping up might seem daunting.

For Jennifer, developing that baseline is as simple as buying her daughters a Nintendo Switch for Christmas: “they’re like, you’re the only parent who got a video game system for kids who never asked for one.”

According to Lindsey, the last piece of the puzzle is making sure that women have opportunities within companies: giving them a voice, role models and leadership. “If there’s a project that has a specific cyber component […] they could be able to demonstrate […] their knowledge and their ability to lead this team.”

She says it’s important to connect women with that potential. To an extent a thread needs to be drawn through early education up into the career level. If a cyber-oriented project is offered to a woman who feels empowered by a base understanding of tech, then naturally more women will appear in cyber. Championing women doesn’t mean pushing them into roles instead of men, either: with constant worries about a skill shortage in the technology industry, there’s a gap that women can fill.

Source: https://www.mach37.com/our-team

It’s not like there’s any “right” path or skillset necessary to breaking into the cyber industry. Jennifer believes that even though cyber’s often seen as dry, overly structured or uncreative, it can be linked to elements of everything — so an intrinsic interest in one area can still lead to cyber.

Entering the sector along this route empowers women, and can encourage them to stay in cybersecurity. The main reason that women leave, even ahead of pay disparity, is cited as being toxic working environments. According to Jennifer, the best way to combat toxicity in the workplace is from the inside out.

Lindsey was quick to point out that the onus is as much on the companies, even corporate America, as it is on women “sticking it out.” Inclusion and diversity need to be more than a bullet point on the mission statement, she says; those promises must be actionable. It’s important to foster a work environment where different perspectives and experiences can be shared.

There’s an obvious need for zero tolerance to any form of toxicity, but it’s also worth noting that if we look at problem solving in terms of innovation, diversity is ultimately what builds the best products.

For Jennifer, startups present a microcosm of the dynamic of bringing in more outlooks to improve a product. Cyber startups tend to have very technologically-minded founders, who have to bring in professionals in other areas to fill business roles. From there, the standpoint should be “how do we educate each other? How do we respect each other? How do we move forward on what’s the most important thing to develop?”

Source: https://www.mach37.com/our-team

Rounding off, we asked what the key takeaway should be: how do we get more women into cyber? The emphasis, both Lindsey and Jennifer agreed, is that it’s not binary. Opening as many avenues into the industry as possible — both from an early start and in lateral moves across sectors — and making them well-known is key.

Also important is simply sharing what cyber means: people don’t need to be intimidated by the word because they just assume they won’t understand it. Make it more accessible as a concept, and reskilling won’t be so daunting.

Essentially, it’s all about the combination of opening ways in from later in the career path and starting to teach early: the best approach isn’t “an ‘or’ situation, it’s a case of ‘and’.” Not only will this be encouraging for women entering the sector, but it will benefit cybersecurity itself.

More diversity means better understanding how different groups of people might interact with hardware or respond to cyber policies. “It needs to become more inclusive in terms of perspectives, and we’re getting there.”

Dr. Polley is VentureScope’s Director of Disruptive Technologies, and MACH37’s Director of Cyber & Space Intelligence. She is a futurist who specializes in the emergent landscape around cyber and “cyber-adjacent” technologies, providing C-Suite and SES-Level leadership with strategic and advisory services related to the research and analysis of disruptive technologies within the commercial sector. Dr. Polley also leads embedded strategic advisory cells that provided emergent technology solution identification for segments of the DoD, with an emphasis on space applications. https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindseypolley/

As COO and CWO of VentureScope and MACH37 Cyber Accelerator, Jennifer Addie helps lead the consulting, investment, emerging tech scouting, training, accelerator operations and entrepreneurial wellbeing practices.  Jennifer also serves as an adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship teaching Lean Startup at six universities, a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) facilitator, a certified instructional systems designer (CISD), and leader in entrepreneurial wellbeing with a BA in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Virginia as well as a Master of Science in Creativity and graduate certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC). https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-addie-b23a2983/