Several of the leading women in cybersecurity in Atlanta know all too well what its like to be the only woman in a room.
Enter the Atlanta Women in Cybersecurity Roundtable. It’s an initiative founded by women chief privacy officers, chief information security officers, general councils and other executives who want to share their experiences, collaborate on industry initiatives and inspire young women to enter the field.
Bess Hinson, a senior associate at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP and chair of the firm’s cybersecurity and privacy practice, said she started her search for other women in cybersecurity about a year ago, surfing LinkedIn and other sources to find peers.
“It’s so nice to be in a room with women and I think that when you work in a profession where everything is new and rapidly evolving and changing and you’re the only woman in the room, it can feel isolating and it can feel challenging,” she said.
When Hinson first organized the roundtable, she was working with a list of 12 women leaders in the city; today, about a year since its inception, the organization has 45 active members. Some of the members include female leadership in cybersecurity at The Home Depot, AT&T, Equifax, SunTrust and Gwinnett Medical Center, she said.
“We now have 32 organizations and companies represented on the roundtable,” she said. “The idea was to bring together these women, because studies show that in the United States of America, only 1 in 10 cybersecurity professionals are women.”
Though one of the fastest growing sectors in tech with the rise of data-breaches and hacking, women are far too often a minority in the field, Hinson said. The purpose of roundtable is to get these women together to share their experiences when all too often, there’s not another female leader in the office, and the role of a cybersecurity leader is often to relay bad or challenging news to leadership.
“We share our challenges and we compare notes on how we are assisting our companies and leadership to understand the security risks which exist and also to support each other and communicate these risks to leadership,” she said. “Women with great power within their organization and incredible responsibility are communicating new, scary, cutting edge risks related to technology and big data to the C-suite—that I would venture to say in most cases is still majority male and a more senior generation that may have less familiarity with the technologies that are being implemented and used to help these businesses thrive.”
But the scope of the roundtable goes beyond sharing tips for how to prepare a CEO on a data-breach or how to lead, Hinson said. The women also hope their work will lead by example for young women and girls who wish to pursue STEM fields and see that cybersecurity is a career path for them, she said.
“If you don’t know what it looks like, that a cybersecurity professional looks like you, you aren’t going to envision yourself in that role. We need examples.”
“I think it continues to be an uphill battle,” she said. “I’ve had several conversations with professors at Kennesaw State who teach related curricula, and they have very few women who go on to complete the degree in cybersecurity and they are pushing hard to support these women who have an interest. I think that, unfortunately some stereotypes remain within academia regarding whether girls or young women could be good at science or engineering, I think some of our institutions do a great job supporting young women—Georgia Tech does a great job of bringing women in that pipeline. But not everyone does.”
Recently, the roundtable has partnered with the Girl Scouts of Atlanta to educate troop leaders on cybersecurity who will teach their troops on the subject for the opportunity to earn a newly debuted cybersecurity badge. Hinson said troop leaders may not understand all the technicalities and nuances with cybersecurity, which is where leaders from the roundtable come in.
“I think it’s going to be very helpful for members to serve as if they were teachers to the troop leaders to help give them some insight and also some examples of how this applies to the real world,” she said. “And I think it’ll give the troop leaders more tools and basics of cybersecurity of the curriculum as they’re teaching it.”
Role models are essential for young girls, Hinson said, and even more so in the cybersecurity industry because of the statistic stating women’s presence in the sector is few and far between.
“If you don’t know what it looks like, that a cybersecurity professional looks like you, you aren’t going to envision yourself in that role,” she said. “We need examples.”