Kate Dadlani

Kate Dadlani, CISO at Logicalis UK, a provider of IT solutions and managed services, became one of the industry’s youngest CISO’s when she was appointed to the position in her twenties.

But how did she accomplish this and what advice can she offer to other women? 

If you’d told me five years ago, when starting out in my career in information security, that I’d become a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) before turning 30 I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I’d probably have laughed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am. I’ve always been very driven, and my degree in forensic computing at De Montfort University gave me a great grounding for the career that’s followed. My final year dissertation, which looked at iPhone backup files as a source of evidence, not only helped to earn me a First, but was published internationally in Digital Forensics Magazine.

I’ve also been lucky enough to work in a number of different environments already in my career, beginning as a Cyber Intelligence Analyst at Lockheed Martin in the aerospace and defence sector before moving into a consultancy role at Ernst & Young. This allowed me the chance to work with global clients in the financial services sector such as Aviva, the Financial Conduct Authority, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Lloyds TSB. I joined Logicalis UK as the Security and Compliance Manager almost three years ago, with the aim to bring security to the forefront of the organisation’s agenda and promote security conscious behaviour. Within 15 months, I was promoted to CISO.

Now, I work as part of the Senior Management team. That means that I have responsibility for the information security of the company and its employees and spend my time collaborating with experts from all parts of the wider Logicalis Group. I have also recently been promoted into a data protection role, which I manage alongside the extra qualifications and exams that I take to aid my professional development.

I’m extremely proud of how far I’ve progressed, and grateful that Logicalis has given me this opportunity so early on in my career. Getting to this point, however, has not been without its challenges.

I am an extremely young CISO, which means that I have significantly less experience than others in my position. Most CISOs have fifteen years of experience – I have a third of that. At times, this difference has affected my confidence. Before I had even walked into a room, I used to fear that people would think I was less competent, that they wouldn’t take me seriously, and that they wouldn’t value my input. I thought that I wouldn’t be respected – because of my age and because of my gender. Though I’d faced this challenge to varying degrees throughout my entire career, after I took on the role of CISO, it became more pertinent than ever.

What I failed to realise was that these presumptions didn’t just affect what I was thinking, they affected my behaviour too. This, in turn, provided others with an inaccurate representation of my qualities and attributes. It struck me that the only way to address this professional challenge was at a personal level. I needed to take the emotional aspect – the underlying fear, anxiety, and lack of confidence – out of the equation before I could change my behaviour. That way I could deal with the rational aspect, learn from it, and grow. I also realised that there were other ways to enhance my confidence before walking into these situations, such as expanding my knowledge through additional training courses and extra qualifications. I know now that my presumptions only hold me back and that I must allow people to respond to my input in a positive way before I shut it down. This has given the capability to show myself, as well as those around me, who I really am and what I have to offer.

I’m not alone in facing this challenge. ‘Imposter syndrome’ is widespread among women in business and especially common among those in senior positions. And, while I certainly wouldn’t wish professional insecurity on anyone, I can offer some advice to others in a similar position. For me, it’s all about being transparent: transparent with your colleagues, transparent with your managers, and, crucially, transparent with yourself. Of course, it’s only natural for professionals to portray themselves as confident, capable individuals and to mask any underlying insecurities or fears that they might have. We all do it; we use different masks for different occasions. However, my belief is that we can only reach our full potential when we take these masks off and when we embrace who we truly are. Recognise your strengths, recognise your weaknesses – and be upfront about them both.

I believe that we must bring our whole selves to work – not just the professional self. That means that I often open my interviews or my presentations by explaining, candidly, that I suffer from anxiety. Likewise, it’s important that organisations acknowledge the dual reality that is faced by many professional women. Women can be more risk-averse  than their male colleagues, perhaps because of their underlying personal insecurities. In the technology industry, where there’s an enormous gender disparity, the problem is at its worst. Organisations must understand these challenges and they must give women the skills they need to deal with them. Without that awareness, women may find it harder to advance from middle management to senior leadership and the problem will remain unaddressed.

You shouldn’t have to prove your competency because you’re younger than those around you or because you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry. Nor should you have to wear a mask. I believe that allowing women to feel secure and accepted is fundamental to supporting their career journey.

Women need to develop their own self-belief on a personal level, but they also need organisations to address the challenges that they face in the workplace and to enhance their professional confidence. That’s the key to the door of success – and it’s the key we have yet to unlock.