Cyber Security

Forging a path of our own: Being a woman in cybersecurity

women in cyber security, cyber, woman looking at computer screen

Heather Bentley, SVP Customer Success and Support, Mimecast

It’s no secret that the tech industry has an issue with gender diversity – it’s been the subject of many talks and panels over the years.

Recent findings from a National Cyber Security Centre survey found that only 31% of the UK cybersecurity industry identify as female, compared to the 66% male professionals in the industry. While progress, has arguably been slow in this area, I am proof that progress is being made, nonetheless.

As Senior Vice President, customer success and support, at the cybersecurity firm, Mimecast, I sit on the company board, helping to make decisions that help shape how we deliver customer services. I also lead customer success teams which provide personalised support for our customers. My role currently involves helping build Mimecast’s Global Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence which will be based in South Africa; a great way to honour the company’s South African roots. It will also give us the chance to hire more local and diverse talent. We have hired approximately 40 talented individuals into our Johannesburg location in Support, Customer Success, and Professional Services roles over the past year as part of this investment and look to continue this moving ahead

The influence and position I currently hold doesn’t tell the full story. They are the result of over 20 years of experience in the tech industry gained from hard work, support and asking a lot of questions!

My career so far

As you can imagine, twenty years ago cybersecurity looked a lot different to how it does now. I could have never predicted my career path if you would have asked me. However, I have always been driven, motivated by visions of success and an enthusiasm to learn – but this can only prepare you so much when dealing with challenges set before you in a male dominated field.

Being a minority within an industry can make the adjustment to roles challenging as it’s easier to doubt yourself when you’re always being compared to your male counterparts. It’s always worth reminding ourselves of just how far we’ve come so we are motivated to continue changing the industry.

Moving forward

Central to my professional development and growth has been the wisdom and encouragement imparted to me along the way from inspirational women I’ve met in the industry. It is therefore important that this ladder continues to work its way down, helping young people climb up and into the industry. Not only is this the morally responsible thing to do, it is essential for the survival of the cybersecurity industry. A global skills shortage in technology means around the world, there will be an estimated 3.5 million unfilled security positions this year, according to PwC research. With the pandemic changing the very fabric of society’s operations, now more than ever we need to attract skilled, new blood into the industry.

To fill these positions and continue the path to gender diversity, we as the tech community need to be proactive and seek to reach out to young people. So many young people are unaware of how fascinating and fun cybersecurity can be. What we do literally helps to change the world, how many people can say that? We need to move beyond pre-conceived notions of thinking when it comes to careers, and we need to do more outreach work to erase such notions that have been passed onto young people. This involves myth-busting any misconceptions that come with careers in tech – no, you don’t need to know how to code to work in tech. And no, tech careers aren’t just designed for boys!

Of course, there needs to be a focus on how the needs of current female cybersecurity professionals can be catered for as well. One-way firms can assess is this is through flexibility. Working from home has long been considered beneficial to working mothers, especially those with young children. The pandemic has forced many businesses to let employees work from home, but the question remains – will this privilege disappear post-pandemic? Some tech companies, such as Twitter and Dropbox, have made it clear that it won’t but others are yet to decide. It will therefore be interesting to see if other tech companies take their lead or an alternative approach when considering their working arrangements. I would encourage the companies still deciding to consider the needs of their female employees in their new long-term working arrangements.

Listen to female talent

Overall, as a strong advocate of providing people with opportunities, at the heart of gender diversity in tech is listening to female talent and equipping them with the opportunities to grow. Whether it’s more flexible, working arrangements to accommodate their motherhood or nurturing the aspirations of ambitious young girls; the tech community needs to show we’re doing this better and we’re doing this well. This means putting our money where our mouth is and creating the professional opportunities needed to develop a pipeline of female talent.

Heather BentleyAbout the author

Heather Bentley joined Mimecast in 2019 as Senior Vice President of Customer Success and Support, bringing 20 years of experience serving customers to her role. She is responsible for creating authentically human customer experiences through her leadership of technical support, customer success management, professional services and customer technical enablement.