Business Management

Leading Women & Changing the Face of IT Security

Today, women only make up 20% of the information security workforce. In a field where ties and suit jackets are predominantly the norm, it is critical to encourage women to rise above social constructs and lead the community through purposeful contributions, collaboration and mentorship to the industry as a whole. The benefits also transfer to business value, enhanced by a diverse workforce with a comprehensive skill set.

Understanding the landscape

Information security is an industry that appreciates and provides forums for discussion of new ideas, alternative approaches, innovative processes and out-of-the-box technology. The reality is that by the time college graduation comes around; many eligible candidates have opted for a ‘sexier’ career – likely a venue with a more immediate growth path. But the women who do choose the challenging field of information security are, without a doubt, some of the best and brightest in the business. The real test comes with the power to break traditional norms and demonstrate the value in rich, female-powered perspectives to male counterparts.

Encouraging Female Leadership

In many ways, the industry is already starting to acknowledge the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Progress has been made to create professional environments where individual strengths are encouraged to thrive through focused communication amongst colleagues. Meritocracy will remain a powerful mechanism for organizational growth, which helps to level the playing field for female candidates. However, companies will continue to miss out on potentially great new leaders if significant steps aren’t taken to educate and encourage women to participate. In a field where it’s hard to find good people in the first place, failure to create a culture and policies that support women may make it even harder for an employer to staff a strong team.

This transition will take much more dedication than the effort of a few key individuals, but rather the encouragement and adoption from both female and male leaders in the field.

Mentoring for awareness

Mentorship plays an important role in this transition, at every point in someone’s career. It’s often the backbone of every entrepreneurial journey, and can provide fodder for future creative endeavors. I’ve been lucky to have a number of mentors in my career. One in particular, Brad Peterson at eBay, was my first mentor during my internship at the budding online auction site. Through the years, I have stayed in touch with both Brad and his daughter, whom I mentor from time to time, on the journey of a career in IT. Sharing my story and providing her with the guidance needed to succeed, similar to the advice I was offered early on in my career, will hopefully add one more woman to the steadily growing pool of eligible leaders.

It is important to encourage others to learn about organizations, local and national, such as the Executive Women’s Forum. The organization is designed to attract, retain and encourage the advancement of women in the in the various fields of IT – and has been an important community for my growth as a female leader in cybersecurity. The benefits of participating in a forum made up of educated colleagues has been twofold. Not only did I make some great long-term connections with fellow women but I also learned about others’ career decisions, which I was able to apply to my own objectives. Connecting with like-minded people can be difficult, especially in a traditionally male-dominated industry. My advice as to how to find or become a mentor is to follow the rules you apply to job searching and dating – cast a wide net. You’re bound to find someone who inspires you. Attend meetings, participate, network – there are people that are willing to share information with each other, you just have to find them. And maybe, the next time you are attending a conference, there may be a few more women in the audience than you saw last time.

Security leaders from both sexes have a responsibility to be agents of change by encouraging the development of future female leaders. By leveraging our collective knowledge and sharing our stories with others, we can create a unified force for increased diversity and success.


Awarded the 2010 Women of Influence "One to Watch" Award by the Executive Women's Forum, Caroline Wong is the Security Initiatives Director for software security firm, Cigital


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Caroline Wong

Awarded the 2010 Women of Influence "One to Watch" Award by the Executive Women's Forum, Caroline Wong is the Security Initiatives Director for software security firm, Cigital

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