Women with laptop

Women in Cybersecurity: Leveling a Playing Field

I have embraced my role as a mentor to women within cybersecurity.  Along with my peers in other industries, we have a strong understanding that we must do whatever we can to help uplift and mentor other women.  
Helen Negre, Head of Cybersecurity, Siemens Mobility North America

This month, I had the pleasure of participating in an event hosted by Evanta, a Gartner company, which works to develop networks of C-level executives to share insights, validate strategies and solve critical leadership challenges. The event was their recent CISO Executive Summit, held in Boston.  


I was asked to be part of a Fireside Chat that was titled, “Being Stronger Allies – Supporting Women in Cybersecurity”.  I was joined on this chat by Anne Coulombe, Head of Data Protection/Data Security at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.


The topic of empowering women in Cybersecurity is a particularly timely one, and it is also one that is close to my heart.


I read an interesting statistic recently:  Only 7% of leadership positions in cybersecurity are held by women.  Women make up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S., but only around 25% of women are working in tech. Even fewer, 20%, work in cybersecurity.   


Speaking from my own experience, it has certainly felt like women were not only in the minority but discouraged to enter tech roles.  When I was in college, there were times I was the only woman in my course, and it was isolating.


Unfortunately, this didn’t change much when I entered the workforce in different companies.  It wasn’t that people were mean or rude to me.  But the same old gender-based biased questions followed me around like:  Aren’t you married?  Are you able to commit to working in the off-hours needed?  Will you be able to handle emergencies and still handle your home life or that of your family?


While these are all legitimate questions to ask – especially in an area of work that often requires round-the-clock reactions and availability – I noticed one thing:  They never asked these kinds of questions to my male counterparts. 


Initially, I heard comments about what a “drag” it was to have to deal with a woman because the men felt they needed to “watch what they say”, and not say anything off-color.  While it was always said in good fun, it still made me feel like I was ruining their vibe. 


I focused on my work. Soon, I earned entrance and more access into the “club.” But I realized that working in a company should not have to be like being in some exclusive men’s club locker room.  In today’s growing diversity, we all need to be able to work with people from all walks of life, experiences, religions, . . . and genders... 


Fortunately, many of the men I work with are fathers of daughters, brothers to sisters, uncles to nieces. . .  and they are wanting to play a role in enabling a healthy environment so that women can work comfortably and succeed.  I’ve been blessed with some outstanding mentors.  Mostly male.  I will always be grateful for the role that these mentors have played in my life:  doing everything from encouraging me to work on projects or jobs I was uncertain of or pushing me to face my fears around public speaking, enrolling me in classes and pushing me to speak more in public, to teaching me new technical skills to help me reach my career goals.


I am proud to say that Siemens has really been doing a good job in this area.  Three years ago, Siemens named a woman, Natalie Oropeza, as its Chief Cybersecurity Officer for Siemens globally. At Siemens, I found an organization that allows you to safely be my authentic self. We have a strong group of women working in product security, and our hiring managers are work to make sure that we do what we can to make this an exciting place for women who might be interested in working in cyber security.  The company also continues to support strong networking groups amongst women across all different businesses within Siemens.


Outside of Siemens, there are exciting initiatives, like the DIANA Initiative, which works to make sure that all under-represented populations are supported in their careers within IT.  I have embraced my role as a mentor to women within cybersecurity.  Along with my peers in other industries, we have a strong understanding that we must do whatever we can to help uplift and mentor other women.  In my case, I try to avail myself as mentor to various women interested in working within cybersecurity, reviewing their resumes, helping them with interview practice, and providing career guidance.  As one of the earlier generations of women in this field, I believe it’s my responsibility to make it easier for the next generation. 


Leveling a playing field takes a lot of effort, from many people at the same time, and over a sustained period of time but we have begun the journey and are well on our way.


Written By:

Helen Negre, Head of Cybersecurity, Siemens Mobility North America