The IT Security Guru’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aims to shed a light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on just one of the many phenomenal women put forward for the 2021 awards. Presented in a Q&A format, the nominee’s answers are written in their own words with minor edits made by the editor for readability.
This year, the awards are sponsored by KPMG and Beazley.
Pat Ryan, Sole Director and Founder of Cyber Girls First
What does your job role entail?
Managing the universities, companies and schools to set up the events, and finding the right presenters to encourage girls to look at computer science for many careers.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
I didn’t do cyber security. I was an economist and a management consultant. I managed people who worked on cyber security.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
Convincing people that I was a woman, not a man. People automatically assumed I was Patrick, not Patricia. They were often reluctant to accept me. After my Master’s Degree, an interviewer asked me if I could make the tea. I walked out.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
Bringing up two successful children, while setting up a charity in 1996 to put IT equipment into hospitals where children were being treated. We completed all 249 hospitals in the UK by 2012.
From 2012-14, I was a volunteer fundraiser for the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, and then set up Cyber Girls First with the aim of encouraging girls to look at careers linked with Computer Science. In 2019, for the first time ever, girls overtook boys in obtaining the top three grades in Maths, Physics and Computer Science. I recruited people to help, and we are all volunteers. Any money we raise is used for travel and accommodation local to the events. We have now put on day-long events in 30 universities and corporate offices in England and Wales.
During Covid, we produced a video to send out to schools and at the instigation of no.10 we set up a virtual event for Blackpool schools, where a number of them hooked up to the AVAYA platform and the girls were encouraged to talk to the presenters via the live link. Presenters came from no.10, GCHQ, Colt Technology, JP Morgan Bank and Oracle, plus women from local IT companies.
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
More girls are taking Computer Science at GCSE and A Level, but the results are only just beginning to show because they are 14 when we start, then there are two years of GCSE, two of A-Level and three years at university. It’s not an instant result. However, there are now over 100 girls in apprenticeships and 50+ in universities. Some leave school after A-Level but they all move into employment in a Coding or Cyber field.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
You are pushing on an open door now. For example, JPMorgan insists on having men and women on their teams because, as they said, it cuts down on the Monday testosterone. The big plus is that Corporate Heads unanimously volunteer the information that if they give a problem to a woman, they will hammer away at it until they find a solution, whereas a man will often give up and say it can’t be done. This is not always the case, but most CEOs and Board Members are looking for more women to join their teams to bring a new perspective to the Cyber Industry. When Theresa May was PM, and we had one of our events at no.10, she told me we will need 3 million people in the Cyber field by 2030, and more women need to be recruited and trained. After all, they represent 50% of the population.