Last night, with the help of our sponsors KPMG and Beazley, we celebrated this year’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards. Hosted in Canary Wharf, the awards were kick-started by Jenny Radcliffe, who delivered an amazing speech about what it is to be a woman in this industry, using FAQs to frame her talk. Before recognising this year’s 21 winners, our panellists had an insightful discussion about how we all can motivate and encourage other women to pursue a career in cyber, and what organisations can do to improve the talent pipeline and make it more inclusive. Unfortunately, the stereotype that this industry is reserved solely for men still persists, leaving women feeling unwelcome or inadequate for roles in cyber, particularly those involving more technical skills. It is this image of cybersecurity that is harming the industry and fostering a skills gap that can only be closed by employing more women and expanding the pool of talent.
This is what we hope to do with our event; to break down the barriers and perceptions that cybersecurity jobs are limited to men. By recognising and honouring these inspiring women, we hope to encourage and inspire young women looking to join this field and give them some role models, whose footsteps they can follow in, because women CAN and should work in cybersecurity!
That being said, here are 2021’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber:
Bronwyn Boyle, CISO, Mambu
Bronwyn recently joined Mambu as Chief Information Security Officer, accountable for the security of Mambu’s banking-as-a-service platform and of the broader organisation. She started her career as a software developer, cutting Java code and working on the first wave of digital banking services, back in the DotCom era. She was frequently the only woman and struggled to make her voice heard but she overcame this by actively seeking out inspiring female role models and by getting involved in female networking communities. Bronwyn learned to silence the “imposter syndrome” voice and speak up, and to create psychologically safe spaces in meetings that encouraged contributions from all individuals.
“Yes you can! Believe in yourself, embrace the challenge and take your seat at the table to help make the world a better place!”
Shehnaaz Sonde, Senior Manager – Cyber Response Services, KPMG
As part of KPMG’s Cyber Response Services team, Shehnaaz helps numerous clients to recover from cyber-attacks. Additionally, she’s part of the FS Cyber leadership team and therefore responsible for growing the KPMG cyber practice as well as the wellbeing and development of people in the team. She champions diversity and inclusion, specifically leading KPMG’s Women in Security agenda. She is building a network for women to come together and discuss topics of importance such as imposter syndrome, challenges that we face, etc.
“My message to others would be to never give up something you truly believe in. Believe in yourself and your abilities, if anyone tries to bring you down, let them do just that…try, but don’t let them win. Show your strength and be proud of it. Always speak up and speak your truth, don’t be afraid to seek help and advice, I can hand on heart say it can make the difference between staying and leaving a job you love.”
Sophia McCall, Security Consultant, NCC Group
Sophia works in penetration testing and general cyber security consultancy. Alongside her managerial degree, which mainly focused on strategical cyber security, she also completed CTFs and labs on the side – which sparked her interest in technical cyber security. From the first competition, she was hooked and knew that the technical path was the way for her. On her university course, there was a huge imbalance of male to female ratio of course attendees, with about 10 girls in a class of 70/80 –making it difficult to “fit in” and bend the stereotype of a nerdy, white male in cyber security. As a result she started “Security Queens”, and also works with the NCSC’s Cyber Schools Hub to promote cyber security as a career choice, in particular to girls and young females.
“Hold your head high and go for it, there will be barriers – but the community and industry as a whole are so welcoming and supportive. You’ll never be alone!”
Pat Ryan, Director & Founder, Cyber Girls First
Pat manages universities, companies and schools to set up the events, and find the right presenters to encourage girls to look at computer science for their careers.
She brought up two successful children, while setting up a charity in 1996 to put IT equipment into hospitals where children were being treated. In addition, from 2012-14, she 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.
“You are pushing on an open door now… most CEOs and Board Members are looking for more women to join their teams to bring a new perspective to the Cyber Industry.”
Alison Dyer, Group CISO, Urenco
Alison is responsible for all aspects of cyber security and information governance across Urenco’s operations in 5 countries. As CISO, she has built a new function and a small team delivering both business-as-usual security operations and also an extensive improvement programme that will raise the bar on Urenco’s InfoSec capabilities. She has worked closely with the four government regulators and also with the intelligence agencies to understand and respond to the increasing threat to our critical national infrastructure. Alison’s career started in engineering and progressed into IT working for GSK for 16 years in a variety of IT roles. She has mentored a number of amazing women over the past decades and since moving into cyber security, she has supported many ‘Women in Security’ initiatives – speaking at networking events and sharing her experiences and lessons learned.
“Don’t let anyone stop you from fulfilling your potential and achieving your goals. Surround yourselves with a network of strong women who you can turn to when things get tough. A network that will build your confidence when others seek to knock it down.”
Lisa Ventura, Founder, Cyber Security Unity
Lisa’s role involves raising as much awareness as possible of the growing cyber threat through specific project areas which include “women in cyber”, “equality and diversity in cyber”, “global cyber risk”, “skills, training and education in cyber” and “cyber security awareness”. The main challenge she has faced is with regard to abuse and trolling both online and offline. Sadly, this is a common and regular occurrence and she has had to learn to develop a thick skin. Through her work with Cyber Security Unity, she is undertaking project work to help encourage other women to enter the cyber security industry, and she also works with minority groups to also encourage them to enter the industry. She has a strong interest in supporting those who are neurodiverse into careers in cyber, as Lisa is neurodiverse and was diagnosed as autistic in 2018.
“Network, network and network some more – and find mentors. A good mentor can provide invaluable advice on how to find your place in cyber security and facilitate networking opportunities.”
Marilise de Villiers, Founder & CEO, ROAR! Coaching & Consulting
Marilise combines over two decades of experience as a chartered accountant, executive coach and change consultant in finance, internal audit and cyber security awareness, culture and talent. She has led the design and roll-out of global behaviour change programmes in consulting, research and operational delivery roles, across a broad range of industries and disciplines. She openly shares her personal story and demonstrates how courage and vulnerability go hand in hand. She aspires to show up as her best self every day and be a role model. Marilise shows women “if I can do it, so can you”. She also mentors and coaches many men and women in cyber security.
“It’s a tough environment to navigate so you have to strengthen your resilience muscle daily. Turn your thoughts, feelings, words and actions into your four superpowers.
Prioritise YOU on your list of priorities.”
Sema Yuce, Director, Truth ISC Technology and Security Consultancy Ltd
Sema is the founder and director of a boutique London-based information security governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) management consulting firm specialising in providing creative, cost-effective, independent management consultancy and security awareness solutions. She started in the field of software development and project management. She was the only girl in her university degree programme and graduated with the highest grade. She tries to use every opportunity to increase diversity in the tech/cyber industry and believes we have a lot of work to do; however, diversity is only the start and we should also focus on inclusion as we need every voice to be heard if we want to make the world a better place.
“If men can do it, you can do it too. In fact, I think you can do it even better with all the soft skills you have, as the industry needs them desperately!”
Anne Woodley, Security Specialist, Microsoft
As a Security Specialist, Anne has the opportunity to work with many different organisations to understand their cybersecurity challenges so they can work together to find the best solutions. Tasked with introducing a brand new technology into a new and extremely unique market, which she had no experience in, nor cultural knowledge of. With her deep technical understanding, Anne fostered numerous strategic partnerships and built a successful line of businesses that exceeded all company expectations as well as her own. She was honoured to be the global lead for the Attract Pillar at her company and was tasked with leading a group to attract women to work for the organisation in cybersecurity.
“Embrace the reality that your gender is irrelevant and what you do in your career is based 100% on your fearlessness, tenacity, and curiosity.”
Eleanor Ludlam, Senior Associate, DAC Beachcroft LLP
Eleanor is a data protection and cyber lawyer, advising companies on their legal and regulatory obligations following a cyber or data risk incident and managing the crisis response process for the business. She qualified into the commercial litigation department at DAC Beachcroft LLP and practised for around five years. After a three year career break, she was approached by DAC Beachcroft to see if she would consider returning to work. She was very keen to reignite her career and agreed to join the Information Law team, undertaking data protection advisory work in the run up to the implementation of the GDPR. Her top accomplishment has been helping DAC Beachcroft to establish Reconnect, a programme designed to help lawyers return to their legal careers after a period of more than two years out of the industry. Eleanor regularly speaks at events, challenging misconceptions and stereotypes around returners, and actively encourages returners to consider a career in cyber.
“Be confident and don’t let others tell you that cybersecurity is not for you. It is a fantastic and rewarding industry to work within, with a diverse mix of people.”
Anjali Das, Partner, Co-Chair Cybersecurity and Data Privacy, Wilson Elser
Anjali leads a national team of attorneys around the country to respond to some of the most complex cybersecurity incidents, ranging from cross-border data breaches to high-stakes ransomware attacks. When her Firm decided to launch a dedicated Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice years ago, she jumped at the chance to pivot her career to focus on the future of cybersecurity and data privacy and has never looked back. She expanded the Cybersecurity and Data Privacy practice beyond Incident Response to encompass other areas of law including the defense of nationwide Data Breach Class Action litigation, representing clients in high-profile regulatory investigations and enforcement actions arising out of data breaches, and launching her company’s new Virtual Privacy Officer Services. Given her background as an Indian female, including a daughter of a Sociologist, she is a strong proponent of Diversity & Inclusion in the cybersecurity and technology industry.
“Cybersecurity and technology will continue to be a leading field that will provide a host of opportunities for women across the spectrum. Take advantage of any opportunity to take coursework in technology, cybersecurity, and/or data privacy. Get certified as a privacy professional. Be fearless, take a leap of faith, and explore new and exciting opportunities in the cyber and tech industry. Have fun and never give up!”
Jennifer Valentine, Security Specialist Lead, Jamf
Jennifer is responsible for driving a whole product experience that helps customers find success with the Apple platform. After she graduated college, she enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Cryptologic Language Analyst and eventually made her way to the National Security Agency and worked for the Director, NSA and Commander, United States Cyber Command. At one point in her career, she was told to quit her job because she would never be successful as a woman. She never wants another woman to experience this or feel excluded, because being a woman is our superpower. She now mentors women (and men) on the importance of changing the mold – engaging in constructive conversations around equality.
“Speak up. You have already overcome many challenges and hurdles in preparation to enter the industry. Now it’s time to speak up and be unapologetically you. Don’t let an invisible barrier dissuade you from raising your hand and voicing your ideas. Remain persistent and keep pushing.”
Gamze Konyar, Head of Cyber, Marsh CEE & Eastern Mediterranean Regions
Gamze helps companies in Central Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Countries to understand, measure and manage, but especially, insure their Cyber Risk. As an insurance professional, she started her career as an Underwriter in traditional insurance lines in 2008 in Turkey. As a woman coming from a non-EU country with an insurance background, working for CEE & EM Regions (different languages, cultures, attitudes and business habits) in the Cyber Risk Field, every day is a challenge in itself; one which requires proving yourself each and every day. Consequently, she is trying to lead by example, showing that no one should accept accept any limitations that society imposes on us based on our gender, nationality or age, and we should always keep trying to achieve our goals.
“There is not one single thing that we cannot achieve as women, so believe in yourself, equip yourself with the necessary know-how and always keep yourself updated.”
Gail Kent, Messenger Policy Director, Facebook
Gail leads 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. She joined UK law enforcement straight out of university, and in her first job was pulled into discussions about encryption, and its use to protect data. She then went on to focus on the impact of changing technology on law enforcement, including emerging cyber crimes like hacking. She believes that diversity is something that you need to think about everyday – it’s not an ‘add on’. She actively recruits a diversity of people to her team, and works within Facebook to support this approach more broadly. Gail also believes that you can ‘be what you can see’ so she regularly shares her experiences internally and externally, in blogs, in speaking engagements and in mentoring.
“You don’t need to pick a career in technology or a career working on ‘people’ issues. You can have both!
Rea James, Global Cyber Strategic Threat Intelligence Lead, Vodafone
Rea works in Threat Intelligence teams to aid in improving maturity and encourage innovation, build and maintain relationships with stakeholders, identify, contextualise and analyse threats, exploits and vulnerabilities that pose a threat to organisations and provide threat intelligence analysis and reporting to aid in technical and non-technical stakeholders at all levels and areas. She originally got into the cybersecurity industry whilst serving in the Royal Navy and was taught cyber security during her training course. She helps ex-military women with their transition into civilian life, aids them with resources and help them believe in themselves in what is the hardest transition some people will make in their lives. She also provides mentorship, networking opportunities, skills-building, links and have begun writing all her tips and tricks into an information pamphlet to share with others.
“When you hit a wall, when you think you can’t go on much further, take a deep breath, believe in yourself and take that step out of your comfort zone to move forward. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to move forward in your career.”
Aileen Ryan, Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy, Siemens EDA
Aileen leads a team driving innovation in the semiconductor industry, leading the emergence of ground-breaking in-silicon solutions which can monitor system-level behaviour and detect security breaches at top speed. She is passionate about helping solve the challenge of securing our transportation environment to enable society to see the benefits of a connected, autonomous vehicle future. She actively mentors a number of females in Siemens EDA. Some of the results include one being chosen to present a technical paper at the Grace Hopper USA conference recently, and another applying for and being awarded a highly sought-after position in another (internal) team.
“Plough your own furrow, chase your own dreams, keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t be derailed by what others are doing, what others are thinking, what others are saying.”
Regina Bluman, Security Analyst, Algolia
Regina is currently leading the implementation of Algolia’s new SIEM solution and will be managing the ongoing running of it once installed. She also oversees long-term projects and works closely with the compliance team on our ISO27001, SOC2, and C5 audits. The biggest challenge for her has just been constantly being overlooked – almost to the point of feeling invisible. She has been fortunate to be offered numerous opportunities to speak on different panels, webinars, podcasts, etc., even if they’re almost always about diversity. She mentors a few young women and is a member of the Ladies Hacking Society, so try to publicise the group and their efforts as much as she can to try to attract more women! From a practical perspective, Regina also tries to help run CV workshops for career changers, so she can help them capitalise on their transferrable skills and get past those pesky CV-bots!
“The best thing we can do is play the game, get our foot in the door, and then kick it open behind us. We can’t make a change if we’re not in positions of power to lead that change from the inside. So play the game, use your network, but don’t forget to reach back and offer a helping hand to those behind you. It’s the only way we can make things better for future generations of women!”
Dr. Jacqui Taylor, CEO, FlyingBinary
Dr. Jacqui Taylor sets the strategy to deliver on FlyingBinary’s vision of inclusion…leave no one behind. She also architects the technology services their clients need. She is an aerospace engineer and has had an entrepreneurial career over 30 years, delivering secure technology across many sectors and countries. She co-founded FlyingBinary in 2009 to create the DeepTech services which are needed for the Industrial Internet of Things. As an aerospace engineer, her whole career she has been the only woman in a male world. Cyber security is improving but at the nation-state level, it is still male-dominated. Three of the Founders she mentored are unicorns today. She has developed a network of over 100 million entrepreneurs in 170 countries who she welcomed to the Empathy Economy she founded in 2016 in response to the Brexit referendum and she runs a weekly Town Hall on Clubhouse mentoring on CyberSafe growth.
“The Cyber Security industry needs your talents to deliver that promise for us all. It is the most interesting and impactful work you will ever do. Come join us now and be part of the change the world needs to see.”
Bindu Sundaresan, Director, AT&T Cybersecurity
Bindu provides strategic and tactical cybersecurity consulting services to customers and specialize in collaborating with clients on cybersecurity, technology transformation, cyber-risk, compliance, and data governance initiatives. Before joining Verisign, she was a Senior Consultant with KPMG and a Senior Network engineer. Her love for teaching and mentoring started with her role as an Adjunct Faculty with the State University of New York (SUNY). Being a cybersecurity evangelist, she participates in many diversity and inclusion programs, technology development programs to nurture future talent and help them see how cybersecurity has many opportunities for women.
“Entering a field dominated by people who are different from you can seem intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find success. While cybersecurity and many other fields have room for improvement when it comes to representation and fair treatment, change doesn’t happen overnight. The field needs strong women to continue building on the work of those who’ve already started blazing this trail. Dream it and you can definitely be it.”
Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist, KnowBe4 Africa
Anna’s main role is to drive security awareness across the African continent. This entails amongst others, fostering public-private sector collaboration opportunities to improve Africa’s cyber security culture, conducting research in this field, assisting national initiatives, speaking at conferences and participating in various working groups. She has overcome her imposter syndrome by working harder than any of her colleagues and passionately following her goals. She started a company while also giving birth to her two children and then grew this company to international acclaim (Gartner’s magic quadrant 3 years in a row) with majority female leadership. She mentors young women, creates research reports and articles about the importance of attracting more young girls into this field, particularly in Africa.
“Find out what you are most interested in and what brings you joy and follow that path with determination, self study, take certifications and show your attitude of wanting to learn during your interviews. Companies don’t hire for experience, but for attitude so this internal fire has to shine through. Network and meet other women in this field that are willing to introduce you or mentor you.”
Areej Eliyan, IT Administrator, Ministry of Education and Higher Education (Qatar)
Areej is an IT Administrator at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education Qatar (MOEHE), Doha-Qatar. She started her career as a Computer Engineer in MOEHE Qatar. As she was working, she noticed the rise in cyber threats facing organizations, governments, and individuals alike. So, she decided to upskill and seek the combination of both experience and education. She used to be the president of the Computing Club at Qatar University where she conducted and invited speakers to help students learn about ethical hacking and other different fields in computing. She now, always shares her story and her cyber knowledge with her female colleagues and encourages them to participate in any upcoming events that have to do with cybersecurity.
“If you’re a woman looking to break into cybersecurity, start slow, read a lot, explore the different parts of cybersecurity, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
We’d like to thank everyone who joined us at the event yesterday and we hope to continue to hear your inspiring stories and see you at next year’s awards!