Organised by Eskenzi PR in media partnership with the IT Security Guru, the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aim to shed light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on one of 2022’s Top 20 women selected by an esteemed panel of judges. 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 and where relevant, supplemented with additional commentary by their nominator.
This year, the awards are sponsored by Beazley, BT, KPMG and KnowBe4.
Paula Page, Director of Cyber, CCL Solutions Group Ltd
What does your job role entail?
All sorts! As my role started effectively within a start up, albeit within an already established business, I wore many hats every day, especially within the first few years but still often do as it’s very much a team effort.
Mostly though, my role in the Exec team and as Director of Cyber is mainly focused around the strategic piece, growth and relationship wise, client engagement and relationship building and then this is mirrored within my direct team as relationships are at the heart of everything we do.
I work with my team to develop new service lines, I am responsible for recruitment, I get involved with scheduling still if needed (which is actually one of my favourite things, I love seeing a diary that has no space and working to make it happen, it’s a bit like Tetris for projects!) I am involved in supporting the billing process, I deal with any issues on projects or within the team that need to be escalated and genuinely get involved in anything and everything that pops its head up. I think that’s one of the things that led to me loving the work and industry so much, no two days are ever exactly the same and I love to be busy, fix problems and see progress.
Many people in my role in other companies are technical but my background is very firmly rooted in the soft skills and relationship space, along with the commerciality. I have built an exceptionally strong technical team and together, we are able to ensure our clients and partners are provided with the best service made up of a team who are all experts in their field.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
Having always wanted to be a teacher, I decided on the day of sending my applications off that I really wasn’t sure anymore. I called my parents to tell them as I stood at the post box holding the envelope and they were really supportive, telling me to take my time and see what happened.
Having no idea what was next, I worked a few admin roles as a temp and then saw a permanent role advertised in what turned out to be a Cyber Security company. It was never something I’d considered and absolutely didn’t think I’d end up making a career in the industry.
I was offered the job as admin and the MD, Ian Glover, was really supporting and helped carve a role for me to support the Consultants. From there, another role developed and before long I was fully involved in the tender processes, scheduling work, carrying out QAs of proposals etc. I quickly realised I absolutely loved the work and the industry and the rest, as they say, is history!
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
It won’t only be me who has often been the only woman in the room on many occasions over the years and this in itself can be a challenge, especially when you are in the early part of your career. It can be intimidating and I’m sure lots of women have found themselves in positions where the behaviour of others have made them want to give up. I was even told it wasn’t the industry for a woman and that I’d never ‘make’ it.
My standout moment was at InfoSec a number of years back where someone felt it appropriate to proposition and touch me whilst on the stand for the company I worked for at the time with absolute confidence that he was doing nothing wrong.
You can feel like no one has even seen you or that everyone’s eyes are on you but for totally the wrong reason, neither of which are pleasant. It’s also frustrating when the only topics you are invited to speak about are diversity, usually the done-to-death ‘woman in cyber’ angle. No one ever asks me to speak about being in an exec position, building a business or the soft skills which are so important in this industry and which are key to successful relationships.
It can often be a struggle to have your voice or ideas heard but with persistence, and a huge dose of stubbornness, I started to feel that the people in the room were listening, and I was being asked for my ideas. It didn’t happen quickly, or easily, and I’d be lying if I said that the feeling of being seen as the token female doesn’t still hit sometimes. Imposter syndrome is also very real but again, gaining more confidence in my own ability and knowing that I am good at what I do, it happens less now than it used to.
I also feel that I have had to work far harder than any of my male colleagues to get into the position I am in now.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
- Building a business where people are the focus, both from a team and client perspective. I’ve worked with and for some great people through my career, but I have also worked for some whose behaviours were less than supportive and helped me be absolutely clear about the sort of leader I wanted to be should I ever get to that position. For me, the most important thing will always be the happiness of my team and clients and that has been the basis for everything I have done since I moved into my current role as Director of Cyber.
- Staying true to me, my ideas and my vision for the business that I wanted to build. I needed it to be something I was proud of, something that provided value and where clients wanted to return time after time. Being able to do this successfully whilst also raising a young family and ensuring I didn’t lose my time with them is something that took a lot of thought, planning and support from my husband but that I feel really proud that I’ve been able to do.
- Working with and supporting young people through various competitions such as the NCSC Cyber First Girls Competition and Cyber Centurion. I also spend time with local schools, running Cyber Spotlight workshop days to highlight all the amazing opportunities within our industry in the hope of inspiring them to consider a cyber career in the future. I also support a charity that works to divert people who have been identified as being at risk of becoming involved in the criminal side of Cyber, and introduce them to the routes via various pathways into the ethical side of hacking.
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
Supporting a team of girls in the NSCS Cyber First girls competition was a great experience last year. Talking to them about cyber as an industry and the various opportunities available to them, and seeing how interested they were, gave me so much hope for the future and I look forward to working with another team this year.
I am responsible for recruitment, so I constantly look to hire people from all backgrounds and experience levels. Having not gone to university myself, and having grown up on a council estate in Glasgow, I am all too aware of the barriers to industry that exist for working class people. I am very aware that I have my first MD to thank for opening so many doors for me and I will always want to pay that forward.
Also, building a flexible and supportive team where people are able to drop children at school and pick them up, take family members to appointments or take time to care for them means that groups of people, often mothers, are able to work in roles that they otherwise lose out on due to these important commitments. The industry loses out on so much talent through lack of flexibility and in turn, sidelining mothers and parents. I firmly believe that flexible working is at the heart of a successful business as it opens the door to some incredible talent and if we’re not making it easy for parents and carers to come into or stay in our industry, we’re doing them, and it, a huge disservice.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Do it! I feel genuinely lucky to have stumbled into a role that led me to a full career in a space that I’d never considered but that I absolutely love. If you’re considering a career in the industry, you already know about it which is a step further along than I was.
Remember all roles in the industry aren’t technical and in fact, the soft skills needed to succeed are just as important and lead you to many different options. I am not a technical resource, but I have built a successful business filled with amazing people where clients feel valued and cared for.
Mostly, be prepared to work hard, question things when you think they need to be, go with your gut and be unapologetically yourself.