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.
Gail Kent, Director of Messenger Policy at Facebook
What does your job role entail?
I lead a team that works with international stakeholders, including governments, privacy, security, human rights and safety advocates to deliver the best experience for Facebook Messenger and Instagram DM users around the world. We focus on the safety, security and privacy policies and features our users expect to protect them, and work with product teams to deliver these. We’re constantly evolving our approach, working with a wide variety of stakeholders to better understand and respond to an ever-changing threat landscape.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
I joined UK law enforcement straight out of university, and in my first job was pulled into discussions about encryption, and its use to protect data. I then went on to focus on the impact of changing technology on law enforcement, including emerging cyber crimes like hacking.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
I think it took the industry a long time to see tech/cyber through the lens of the people that use the technology, rather than the technology itself. For ages, our approach was to fix user error in cyber security rather than take an approach that focused on a positive and straightforward user experience when a person is either actively seeking to increase data protection or remedy a security or privacy problem they have had. I think this is a much more people-based approach to technology, which for a long time was opposed by leaders who prized technical expertise in colleagues and in users. To overcome this, as I got older, I realised I needed to trust my own judgement more and value my approach to technology. If I doubted what I thought, how could I win over others?
One of the other challenges – which is now just funny! – was older, male law enforcement colleagues repeatedly telling me technology was just a fad, and I’d be better focusing my career on drug enforcement! They couldn’t have been more wrong.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
1) My research into international data access for cyber (and other) crime investigations. It still feels groundbreaking to have identified and started to solve such a huge issue that impacts cybercrime investigations everywhere in the world. More effective investigations means fewer cybercrime victims.
2) The Messenger Policy team at Facebook. I’m proud to have built a diverse team that deals with really difficult issues in a thoughtful and collaborative way. We’re constantly focused on what we could do better for over a billion people around the world who use our services.
3) Managing to retain and share all the different parts of my identity in a variety of male dominated fields, when there was often an expectation that women act in a particular way.
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
I believe that diversity is something that you need to think about everyday – it’s not an ‘add on’. As advocates for technology, we need to ensure that our teams and those we consult also represent the wide variety of users of our products. I actively recruit a diversity of people to my team, and work within Facebook to support this approach more broadly. I also believe that you can ‘be what you can see’ so regularly share my experiences internally and externally, in blogs, in speaking engagements and in mentoring.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
You don’t need to pick a career in technology or a career working on ‘people’ issues. You can have both!