Breaking the glass ceiling: My journey to close the leadership gap.
It’s no big secret – the cybersecurity industry has a gender disparity problem. According to (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, women account for only 24% of the workforce. When it comes to the C-Suite, women fare even worse at a mere 11%. Compared to just a few years ago, these numbers represent a great improvement, but a lot of work still needs to be done.
As an industry that is positioned to expand significantly, it’s a business imperative that women play an integral role to help shape growth and culture. Why? Because diversity is good for business. According to McKinsey’s Diversity Matters, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national medians.
While there are too few women in cybersecurity, I am incredibly proud to be in this industry, representing women as the CEO of Next DLP. I’m often asked how I got to where I am, why there is a lack of women in cybersecurity, and what we can do to change that. As one of the few female executives with a seat at the table, I hope to see our industry continue to build on recent progress with gender diversity.
From Brand Marketing to CEO
My foray into cybersecurity does not follow what many may think is the typical path. I do not have a computer science degree, I am not a math wizard, and I do not hack. Rather, I graduated from college with a joint degree in business and sports management and started my career in retail marketing. My first exposure to databases and coding came when I launched a Mall VIP credit card. When I look back at my career path, that experience was pivotal to the choices I made and ultimately led me to where I am.
Here was the first time that I was exposed to data and realized the great value that data insights can provide. Data can measure impact and answer critical business questions, but more importantly, it can be a differentiator. So, at this juncture, I decided to pivot my career and started my journey into technology.
After the dot-com bubble burst in the late 1990s, I chose to remain in the technology space and worked primarily for start-ups. My career trajectory did not bring me to cybersecurity until 2011 when I joined Veracode as the Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Sales Operations. By that point, I had nearly two decades of professional experience under my belt, and none of it was related to cybersecurity. What brought me to this role was that they needed an experienced marketer, and incidentally, to this day, many women who enter the cybersecurity industry come from the marketing side.
From there, I took on the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Digital Guardian. During my tenure there, Mordecai (“Mo”) Rosen joined as Chief Executive Officer. He proved to be an advocate for women by fostering a supportive network and bringing women into the executive leadership team. He was responsible for promoting me to Chief Strategy Officer and hired women to hold the positions of Chief Technology Officer and Head of Human Resources.
I was fortunate to find an advocate, and as Digital Guardian’s CSO, Mo helped position me as the obvious choice to become Managing Director/General Manager of the Data Protection Business Unit for HelpSystems, after they acquired Digital Guardian in October 2021. In turn, this role and the day-to-day responsibilities of steering four cybersecurity brands positioned me well for CEO roles.
It felt like only days after I updated my LinkedIn profile that inquiries from venture capitalists, PE firms, and industry recruiters started rolling in for CEO roles. One of those came from a group of private investors I had little awareness of previously, Norway’s Ubon Ventures. Ubon had a proven record of success outside cybersecurity and had just spun out a data protection solution from another company they sold to Motorola. They were looking for an experienced data security executive to lead what is now Next DLP. My background made me a “perfect fit” (their words, not mine), and in August 2022 I joined the company as CEO.
Speak and Act Decisively
Throughout my career and no matter what my title at the moment read, I spoke my mind and asked for what I wanted. As a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry, this is critical. Too often women do not speak up and simply wait to be rewarded. We see the repercussions of this in gender salary discrepancies and the lack of female representation throughout the industry and at the executive level. I encourage all women, no matter the industry, or the role you find yourself in, to share your perspectives and ask for what you want/need to be successful.
Find a Mentor, Ask Questions
If you are interested in a career in cybersecurity, surround yourself with other talented women. There are many professional groups and associations that can provide a supportive environment.
Do not be afraid to reach out. It’s important when looking for a mentor, that you express interest in your career and ask pointed questions. You might be surprised how receptive people are to helping and providing guidance.
I did not come from a technology or cybersecurity background, but I studied everything I could about the business, tech, and products. I compelled myself to do product demos so I could have real conversations with colleagues and customers about what we were delivering and the problems we solved. In cybersecurity, you don’t need to code, but having deep knowledge about the solutions you sell and the challenges your buyers face will build your credibility and position you for success.
Women in CEO and Leadership Roles
If there were more women in leadership roles, I believe that I would have been in the CEO seat at least five years earlier. Women in this industry need to be better and more confident than their male counterparts. It would be great for the mostly male boards of cyber companies to see other females in the CEO seat so they could feel equally confident including more women in their consideration set when seeking new chief executives.