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Encouraging women while celebrating International Women’s Day and National Women’s Month

March is the month of the woman. We celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, and the entire month is National Women’s Month. Menlo Security’s co-founder and CPO reflects on her career journey and what she has learned along the way. She shares her thoughts about how the cyber security industry can encourage more women to pursue senior leadership roles and most importantly, why the pipeline is an issue.

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day. As I was reading about the origins of International Women’s Day, I learned that the entire month of March is National Women’s History Month. How fitting that there is a month dedicated to recognizing and celebrating women.

I am thrilled that the world and I get to celebrate something I recognize and celebrate every day. I was surrounded by amazing, well accomplished, and gritty women growing up. A mother who focused us on education every day, and aunts who broke barriers being a physicist and a statistician dominating their fields with grace. Today I stand on their shoulders alongside my incredibly successful sisters and hope to carry forward their legacy for my daughter, niece, and all girls that I have the privilege to influence.

While I love seeing women in my field recognized for their achievements, I celebrate all women making strides in their chosen fields. Think of all the women to celebrate this month, and every month just to name a few such as mathematician Katherine Johnson, astronauts Sally Ride and Mae C. Jemison, explorer and pilot Amelia Earhart. These women paved the way for more women and girls to follow their dreams.

Getting back to International Women’s Day, I would like to share my experience and lessons I have learned that have helped me. As an engineer, I will say that throughout my career–even today–I am often the only woman in the room. In thinking about it and reflecting on it, I have come to believe it is a pipeline issue. For a multitude of reasons, women are not pursuing science, computer, mathematics or engineering degrees or careers. I have my theories-but I’ll save them for a future blog.

When I talk to women about leadership roles in cybersecurity, I like to focus them on three points for success–and I think they are true for any field:

Recognize that women empowerment can come from both men and women. I wouldn’t be where I am without my husband’s support. Men – whether they are your partner, colleague or mentor – can be strong advocates in progressing your agenda, so partner with them.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak your mind. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so don’t stay silent. Voice your questions and participate in the discussion.

Be confident, focus on the content and get the message right. Once you have the engagement from your audience, delve into the details and bring them along.

Regarding getting more women involved in cyber security, I go back to the pipeline problem. The way to resolve this is by catching it early in the cycle. Growing up in India with a woman Prime Minister, I internalized that men and women can both be Prime Ministers – that was a powerful image for thousands of young girls. There is a clear psychological impact of having women leaders that mitigates the “imposter syndrome” that women often encounter in cybersecurity and engineering in general.

Once a woman gets to a certain level of seniority within the security industry, there’s almost no female representation, especially in engineering and product management. There are probably women who are on the cusp of being ready for leadership, but how do you mentor them to bring them to the next level? The key is recognizing that cultural change starts from the top and implementing programs that provide a platform for underrepresented voices.

Girls need strong women role models growing up and throughout their career to show them the glass ceiling can be broken and encourage them to reach even further. I think author Harriet Beecher Stowe captured it brilliantly, “Women are the real architects of society.”

Make the secure way to work the only way to work.

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