On June 30, the Vision & Voice: Women in Cybersecurity community hosted a webinar featuring five industry leaders to gain their perspectives on how women can attain better access to careers in cybersecurity. Vision & Voice is a new community built by SafeGuard Cyber that works to highlight women in cybersecurity and advance women's careers and placement in the industry through greater representation.

Participants in the virtual panel included:

  • Lisa Hayashi, SVP of Marketing, SafeGuard Cyber (Host)
  • Karen Kukoda, VP of Strategic Partnerships, SafeGuard Cyber
  • Naomi Buckwalter, Founder & Executive Director, Cybersecurity Gatebreakers Foundation
  • Amy De Salvatore, Vice President, Business Development & Strategic Alliances, NightDragon
  • Evelyn de Souza, Trust, Privacy and Compliance Leader, Oracle SaaS Cloud

Key themes of the hour-long discussion were centered around seeking out mentorship, networking, learning from setbacks, willingness to take risks, and adopting hiring processes that are inclusiveness in nature. As it stands, women hold only approximately 25 percent of all positions in the cybersecurity industry, so there is an obvious need for greater inclusivity.

“SafeGuard Cyber has been talking for quite some time about pulling together experienced thought leaders to help us equalize the playing field for women in cybersecurity,” said Lisa Hayashi in welcoming everybody to the call. “All of our team members believe this is an amazing industry and field to be in, yet it’s an industry that not everybody considers when they are in their formative education years. It’s really important that we help women understand the importance of the industry that we’re in and that we mentor people and help raise our awareness of the opportunities that exist in cybersecurity.”

A common piece of advice that emerged from the leaders on the call was the practice of aligning with mentors and “finding your tribe” of like-minded people in the industry to build a network of support.

“I was very lucky, very early on, that I found a sponsor. I think that sponsor really helped guide me, and that sponsor is Raj Samani,” said Evelyn de Souza. “Raj has been with me through my entire career trajectory in the security arena. I’ve been very lucky, because sometimes my ideas may not be ideas that have, what you call currency, they might be some experiential ideas and I don’t really know how they’re going to fair. A thing that has really helped me a lot, is finding my tribe, realizing that sometimes the things I am wanting to do may not resonate in one environment, but they surely will in another. I have a personal board of advisors, so to speak.”

Evelyn also supported an earlier statement from Naomi Buckwalter on not being afraid to fail, and learning how to do things better in the event of a setback. Naomi said that after having been let go from a position earlier in her career, that she “took that as an opportunity to really learn and reflect on how I can be better. So in the next role, I think I did really well, I came in and changed my entire approach. I wanted to understand the business first and really get to know what everyone’s objectives were at a team level and seeing how security can enable those goals and objectives.”

Naomi further elaborated that, “Adding security as an enabler for the business has helped me grow as a security leader. And I want to say that to anybody who aspires to be in security leadership; you’re actually not there to stop anyone from doing anything, you’re going to help them get to where they are in the most risk-free manner possible.”

In advising how to move ahead in the industry, Karen Kukoda spoke to having a willingness to take on new roles and not being afraid to take chances. “We all have to go through transitions in our lives, and we all have to be open-minded enough to at least try some of the things that may not feel comfortable right away. But if you don’t try it, and you don’t have any sort of past experience, you’re never going to be able to move forward and develop. I encourage people to keep trying new things along the way.”

Karen also presented the option of being open to different types and sizes of organizations and how somebody could find a good fit in various work environments throughout their careers. “My recommendation for everybody out there is to think about different types of companies, different sizes, they present you with different opportunities and learning experiences. I can tell you, working for startups has provided me with the most incredible learning opportunities. It’s a dynamic space, and it enables that creativity.”

Another particularly insightful part of the discussion arose when Amy De Salvatore reflected on a moment in her career when she felt she was not being perceived as an equal, despite her VP status, and how she addressed the matter. “There were some incidents that occurred where a largely male leadership sales team at one point kind of poached somebody on my team. They collectively decided that this person needed to be in sales, and they kind of went behind my back and tried to secure this person,” Amy explained. “That was like one of those women moments where I was like, wow, you guys really don’t respect me as a leader, and you’re just being dismissive, I would never do that to you, and could you imagine if a group of women did that to a male leader?”

Amy continued, “That was a moment where I had to kind of reflect, and I said I need to assert myself more as a vice president and as a leader, and I need to make sure that they need to know that I am their equal. It was a really challenging time for me, and it challenged some of my relationships with people, and so I ended up getting a coach. That really, really helped me assert myself in a way that I really wasn’t. All of a sudden, I started feeling like I was an equal, and I was treated that way. I would just encourage anybody listening to get a mentor or a coach, somebody you could talk to to help guide you through those situations. I think what you’ll find is; you’ll be in situations that you’ve never been in before, and you just do not know the answer. Sometimes you need help, and that’s what did it for me.”

Lisa Hayashi added to the consensus that seeking out mentorship is a good way to navigate through the industry. “I’ve had mentors who have been with me throughout my career who I call on, and I think one of the things that has happened organically is that those mentors are both male and female. I often take challenges or questions to both genders so I can get perspective because I truly believe that perspective and context is really important. Any time I am facing a roadblock, going out and seeking advice from that tribe has really helped me. I also look for skill sets that are really interesting. I try to find people who have skills that I want to understand better, and I try to network with those people.”

New call-to-action

Webinar: Watch the entire Removing Barriers for Women
in Cybersecurity virtual panel discussion.