Former child right’s lawyer, Nadia Kadhim, is the CEO of Naq Cyber – one of six companies in the UK to be selected for the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) WAYRA accelerator programme which supports the growth of start-up cyber companies who aim to bring innovative new security products to the market.

Naq supports and nurtures small businesses by equipping them with the tools, information and documents they need to keep themselves secure online. In October 2020, Nadia was named as one of TechRound’s BAME 50 Under 50 Entrepreneurs.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m Nadia, I just turned 27 and I’m currently based in Amsterdam with my partner and co-founder, Chris. I’m a trained Child Rights Lawyer and GDPR expert turned cybersecurity startup founder, and my day to day focus right now is about leaning into my role as CEO, especially as our talented team continues to grow, and roles become increasingly defined. Chris and I secured angel investment for Naq Cyber at the start of 2020, and we’re focused right now on building brand awareness and our customer base within the UK and European legal and accounting market, specifically with small and medium sized firms for whom our holistic cybersecurity solution is designed. We’ve got some very attractive offers for new clients at the moment, including a free 30 day phishing simulation programme. The results small firms have seen from this are incredibly powerful in terms of defining their next steps to really take control of their cyber security responsibilities and identify the best approach to educating their people on becoming their best defence.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t describe it as sitting down and planning. An abusive childhood forced my sister and I to leave home aged 14, at which time I was taken into foster care by my grandmother. All I knew was that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping protect others from suffering the kinds of experiences I’d endured firsthand, so studying hard despite the odds and going on to train as a Child Rights Lawyer was an obvious, albeit ambitious, path for me. I never dreamt that I’d go on to use my expertise in law to become a female founder in cyber security, and I’m thrilled to have this chance now to become a relatable role model to any young girls out there who may be feeling like their circumstances will hold them back.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I was once told during an interview with a high-end law firm that the interviewer initially didn’t want to invite me in, based on my surname. Essentially, I was there to tick a box for this company. Affronted by this, but also finding my feet in the very early stages of my career, they actually offered me the role. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long. As a rule, whatever challenges I face, I refuse to let these moments hold me back. Instead, I do my best to find a way to make it work.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Recently I’ve become spoilt for choice, but this year alone two stand out for me – both took place during the pandemic no less. The first has to be the moment we found out we’d been selected as one of six startups chosen for our future-focused solution and its potential to encourage market growth to participate in the National Cyber Security Centre Cyber Accelerator programme in Cheltenham, UK. We had a matter of days to prepare to embark on a 10-week long intensive agenda where we worked with a huge range of experts to perfect our pitch, and connected with an invaluable network within the broader cyber security startup ecosystem. The second occurred just the other day when I made it onto TechRound’s 2020 Top 50 BAME entrepreneurs, positioned alongside the likes of Zoom founder, Eric Yuan, Moonpig CEO, Nickyl Raithatha, and Media Doctor for BBC News, Dr Rangan Chatterjee.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Achieving a healthy balance of masculine and feminine input with my co-founder, Chris. From the outset, we recognised that we were stronger together, combining two sets of experience, expertise and energy. We’re so pleased that our angel investor, Crosspring, saw this too.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, and don’t underestimate the value of your network. Investing effort into building relationships won’t always pay off overnight, but in the long run it’s usually about who you know rather than what you know. The brilliant thing about being a young minority female founder in tech in 2020 is that there’s such a wealth of communities and organisations out there to support you, whether it’s mentorship, or simply swapping ideas and spending some time outside of your industry bubble. Take advantage of this and be visible as much as possible.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately for every win, there’s usually a number of challenges still to overcome for women in tech – and in fact the issue isn’t just limited to the technology industry. Recently Chris and I have been discussing at length what it really means to be a male ally. More men must step up and assume this kind of role to help smash the stereotypes and call out behaviour which purposely or inadvertently still holds women back.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think further to my answer above, companies must do more to normalise challenging attitudes and behaviours that don’t support the progression of their female population. Diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds is fundamental to solving both the big and the small issues we face in the world today. Large brands are gradually enforcing change, but there’s still a lot of box-ticking going on and it’s arguably an issue our global society needs to tackle. The buck doesn’t stop with industry.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Again, I think this comes down to taking a step back and looking at what industry and society can do to support women on multiple levels, who by default continue to play the lead role in managing home life while also summoning the energy everyday to succeed in their professional sphere. At Naq, we agreed early on that our feminine brand voice was the thing that would differentiate us. Too often still, the tech industry talks in a language that is inherently male. To ensure this doesn’t continue to put women and girls off from pursuing this route, I think it’s critical we do more to change that. Celebrating as many of today’s female role models in tech as possible is a great way to start.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

In my experience, networking events and conferences are really the best way not only to get your name out there, but also to meet like minded people– male and female. Right now of course, virtual conference-going is an entirely different experience. To combat the challenges that come with confinement, I’ve been scheduling time to tune into more podcasts, and have recently been loving the Talking Law Podcast by Sally Penni. A comforting throwback to my lawyer days, but also full of new insights into the tech challenges the legal sector is currently facing plus rich perspectives on wellbeing and diversity – two topics very close to my heart.
Live broadcasts are also full of wisdom and a great way to boost your own personal brand. I was thrilled to be invited to join cyber security super recruiter, Renee Small, on her daily podcast: Breaking into Cybersecurity, just the other week – and the connection requests are still flooding in!

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