I was very fortunate to attend ISACA’s Sydney Chapter - International Women's Day conference here in Sydney recently. I was very honoured to represent Atlassian at this event (unfortunately I did not see other fellow Atlassians there) however, I was happy to wave the flag! What an amazing opportunity to be present amongst so many smart, strong and independent girls and women paving the way for us all! I was also very happy to see so many men and LGBTIAQ+ community join us in celebrating this occasion.
International Women's Day marks a day of celebration, achievement and a simple reminder of how far we have come. Throughout history, cyber security and information technology has been dominated by men which often felt too far out of reach for most women. Now - these are careers that are positive realities for women. We move into a new decade where we live in such a politically charged and correct world, we have somehow managed to still be able to succeed in closing the equality gap, not just for just men and women, but equally other groups as well. I am proud to say as a female, I am in a position where I am able to give future generations hope, faith and guidance and prove to young girls that anything is possible!
The discussion of gender diversity, women’s rights and equality for women has been the age old debate surrounding issues like gender pay gaps, oppressed women's success and progression in the workforce, a sense of not belonging and so on. Throughout this conference, I continued to ask myself, why are we still ‘talking’ about this and why aren’t we ‘doing’ more? We all know what we need to do, right? Why are we only celebrating ‘Women’ for one day? Why does it only have to be women when we should be celebrating…..everyone?
There are many key takeaways I took from this conference that I would love to share with you. I will start by saying this - whilst there have been great efforts in forging equality, women's rights, opportunities and so forth, we still have soooooo much work to do!
Some key takeaways:
Education is yubi-key - fostering our future generation
One could debate that we are products of our own environment, based on how we were brought up (influences, situations, religious beliefs, opportunities etc). Over the last few years I’ve learnt the art of self reflection and am constantly looking to always improve myself to ensure I bring my best self into this world, at work, family, friends etc. I truly believe, subtract cockiness - that I turned out pretty decent.
However; I am always thinking about what this world is going to be like for my niece (She is currently 4 going on 21….) and my nephews (All under 2 currently). I definitely don’t want my niece to ever think she will never have a chance at her dream job, whether it be cyber security, IT, coding etc because someone told her she can’t because she is a ‘girl’.
I don’t believe we should blame schools/institutions or rely on them to guide our future futurists - education is key; guidance is priceless. I would love to live in a digital world where the next generation is so fluid that gender and age is not even considered in hiring processes, but based on skills, experience and all round awesomeness. Educating children that equality is so important, that it’s basically ‘cool’ to be equal!
Granite ceilings - Teaching women how to use a jackhammer
When it comes to increasing economic job opportunities for women and girls, the cyber and information technology workforce itself needs to be part of the solution.
Every year globally, over 100,000 jobs for cyber security, intelligence, information security positions go unfilled, and employers are struggling to fill 200,000 other cybersecurity related roles, according to cybersecurity data tool CyberSeek. I can certainly attest, having seen a handful of women at conference sessions and more lone females at client engagements than I can recall. The underrepresentation of women in the technology workforce – particularly in cybersecurity – is a systemic problem.
I wouldn't say I'm a traditional women's rights activist by choice, but being in a security role within the cyber security/IT industry, it automatically makes me one, whether I like it or not. However, as a result, I've become a de facto mentor of sorts, advising young women and professionals on how to make it in an industry where the glass ceiling is, well, still pretty thick.
My advice: Get a pair of earplugs, and put them in when you hear words like "can't" or "don't." It definitely worked for me. Everything is possible, when you have the right words of encouragement, a clear path of support and an army behind you. By increasing awareness within our workforce, expanding and creating mentoring opportunities, and identifying and forging women-oriented communities, these are crucial to amping up female representation, as well as knowing how to use that jack hammer when you hear “can’t” or “don’t”. My response - watch me.
First Aiders but for Mental Health
Mental health problems can affect anyone in the community and inaccurate and stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental illness are common. Many people lack the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support a friend, family member or co-worker experiencing a mental health problem, including how to approach someone and start a safe conversation; which could potentially save a life.
Steven Gamble, who is a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Founder of Man Anchor/Woman Anchor launched the #letstalk project that centres around people having simple conversations with family and friends. Steven provided guidance on how to offer initial support to adults who are developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem, or who are in a mental health crisis; until appropriate professional help is received, or the crisis resolves.
I personally see this as a fantastic opportunity for all, not just for the security team, but for any organisation to consider having these vital roles first hand for all employees to have access to. I understand that we have resources readily available, however, knowing there is someone available, in the flesh, is an extra safety net I feel would help and assist all in the workforce.
There are courses available if you would like to become a Mental First Aid Officer. For more information, please come and see me :)
Keep fighting the good fight - we are all in this together. Continue to reach out to your team, ask if they are ok, how you can support them and what they think we can all do better.