As DC CyberWeek came to a close, I had the privilege of attending an inspiring reception celebrating women in cybersecurity. Many thanks to The CyberWire and the other generous sponsors who hosted such a gracious evening.
With about 300 women in attendance, the event was powerful proof that women in cyber are a growing force. These professionals care about national security, about corporate security, about at-home security – and they’re doing something about it. In talking with many around the room, their passion for cyber was obvious; there’s something about this field that makes it much more than just a job. I find this personally reassuring, since we can only hope to fill the sizable cyber talent gap by tapping all of the diverse perspectives, skillsets and problem-solving approaches we can harness.
While many of the event attendees were in the technical ranks, I also met many in supporting positions that signal a maturing industry. This was encouraging, given that women, more so than men, may be particularly hesitant to pursue a cyber career if they haven’t had deep STEM training. In reality, there are many different kinds of work to be done to solve the problem of cyber threat. I met a woman who translates between engineers’ technical speak and customer requirements; I met midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy who were studying cyber warfare and policy-making; I also met a Veteran nurse with an MBA who is now re-training herself for a cyber career, and planning to enlist other vets to come along with her; I even met another cyber communications pro – yes, there are a few of us out here who help turn this complexity into language for everybody else.
It was particularly heartening to see the significant presence of young women in attendance. These digital natives don’t know of a world before technology-at-your-fingertips, but they are clearly concerned that the online domain in which they dwell be safe. With their always-on, always-connected point of view, this new generation doesn’t think about limits; these women will be integral to addressing the cyber challenge from a fresh, perhaps more unconstrained perspective than those even one generation before them.
The theme of the event was Connections. As I learned is tradition with this annual program, a signature work of art representing the theme had been commissioned; we were each gifted a copy of it, signed by the extraordinary artist Shanthi Chandrasekar who notes her muse as living “where the scientific overlaps with the spiritual.” How perfect for the occasion! Depicting the interconnectedness and complexity of fractal networks, the stunning image perfectly captured the ethos of the evening. Hopefully it will continue to inspire the attendees to reach out and connect across the cyber field – with other women, and with male colleagues who as of now still make up the great majority of the cyber workforce. To tackle this challenge, we need each other.
DC CyberWeek included some great moments that fostered important discussion and relationship-building (including another successful CYBERTACOS!), but there was something notably special about the Women in Cyber Reception – a feeling like doors opening to a new reality of energy, ability, optimism and change-in-motion. These women are actively narrowing the gap. Along with anticipating the day they master the menace of cyber threat, I look forward to the day that ‘women in cyber’ are just seen as the regular, normal cyber workforce.