Sarah Cunningham

International Women's Day: WeAreTechWomen talk career journeys & advice with an outstanding woman in cyber

Meet Sarah Cunningham, Information Security Consultant at Waterstons

On International Women’s Day, we asked Sarah Cunningham, Waterstons’ information security consultant, more about her story as a woman working in cyber security and her journey into the sector.

Sarah Cunningham

For as long as I can remember I have had an interest in computers and technology.

Growing up and throughout school I excelled in STEM subjects – especially maths and computing – so naturally, I found myself strongly gravitating towards this industry.

After leaving school, I spent some time as a desktop engineer, working with the physical side of computing before moving on to pursue a degree in Ethical Hacking. This, for me, is where I really found my passion and love for cyber security.

Now, almost six years later, I work full time as an information security consultant for Waterstons, where I have the opportunity and freedom to build on my interest in cyber, work with like-minded individuals and help others along the way.

At the beginning of my journey, I found it intimidating walking into a room knowing less than 10% of the people there would be women. Looking back these experiences have helped me to grow and appreciate the position I am in now.

While yes, cyber security is an industry dominated by men, I have always preferred to focus on the quality of incredible women in our field, rather than focusing on the quantity of them. There are so many inspirational women in STEM that it would be difficult to believe you are alone.

Sarah Cunningham - Workshop

Last year I was honoured to have been shortlisted for the Outstanding Woman in Cyber Award at the 2021 Scottish Cyber Awards.

I was very humbled to be standing alongside three other very talented and hard-working women which was prize enough, but to then go on and win the award, I felt overwhelming joy.

While we are still the minority in the cyber security field, awards and events like these – focusing on the female talent in the sector – are a fantastic way to showcase and highlight the exceptional work of women out there.

Surrounding yourself with positive role models who will help you succeed and build a career is the foundation to a successful beginning in this field, and I’m passionate about not only looking to these role models, but aspiring to be one.

In this digital age, we need to move away from the stereotyping of women in our industry and instead focus on inspiring the next generation of young women to enter into the field.

International Women’s Day is a phenomenal opportunity to highlight the efforts of thousands when it comes to fighting these stifling industry stereotypes.

The main piece of advice I would give to all women out there, not only those in STEM, is: Don’t be scared or shy to speak out. Don’t be hesitant to promote your work, and never worry about standing up for yourself and your ideas.

I have learned that by highlighting the amazing work you have done, you are inspiring the next generation of young women to follow in your footsteps!


Women in cyber – challenges and opportunities!

Article by Claire Harratt, Managed Services Manager, Saepio Information Security.

‘My route into the cybersecurity industry was a happy accident. I had left the teaching profession to spend more time with my young children before deciding on the direction I wanted my future career to take.

By chance, I happened to see an entry level role at Saepio advertised just as I was beginning to get itchy feet at home. I was very fortunate to get my first foothold in cyber with a truly progressive company that saw my potential and the value in my transferable skills, rather than focusing on prior industry experience or relevant certifications’.

Claire’s ease of entry into the cyber-security industry does appear atypical though, with many struggling to land their first cyber specific role and where women specifically are woefully under-represented in the workforce.

So why are there so few women in Cyber?

‘I have definitely noticed the gender imbalance in cybersecurity since entering the profession. For a number of years I was the only female employee at Saepio, but that wasn’t due to our lack of desire to hire more inclusively; women simply didn’t apply for our vacancies in the early days’, says Claire.

Encouragingly, Saepio now employ as many women as they do men, and it seems anecdotally, that already having women in the business has encouraged more to join the ranks. This really spotlights the importance of having visible female role models and diversity champions within the industry; and much progress has been made in these areas in recent years. There are some noticeable trailblazers that Claire says she follows avidly on LinkedIn: Jane Frankland, Lisa Ventura, Lisa Forte, Eliza-May Austin.

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There are also a growing number of organisations supporting women in cyber, and several initiatives designed to encourage more women into the field. We have recently celebrated Ada Lovelace Day, for example. Ada is often referred to as being ‘The First Computer Programmer’. According to www.findingada.com Ada Lovelace Day is an, ‘international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM’.

However, according to stats published by UCAS for 2017/18 and reported on by www.stemwomen.co.uk the percentage of female students studying a STEM related course was 35%. When we look specifically at those studying computer sciences this drops to an astonishing 19% females versus 81% males. In contrast though a recent research report by (ISC)2 concludes that females now make up around 25% of the cyber workforce so, at least on the face of it, the gender imbalance in cyber is slowly starting to improve; and improve it must. Given that ‘The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2021’ places cyber security failure as one of the key threats we face as global citizens, it is essential we encourage a more diverse cyber workforce to be able to meet those challenges.

Research shows that diverse teams produce better business outcomes, and initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge UK, the NCSC’s CyberFirst Girls Competition, and Code First Girls are all helping to raise awareness of routes into the profession and the variety of opportunities available.

‘My advice to any females, and everyone generally, looking to get into cyber is to go for it! There are such a huge variety of roles on offer, business orientated as well as technical. It’s a fast paced, challenging and incredibly rewarding field to work in. Do your research, take opportunities to skill up and train when available, network with people already working in cyber, and connect with other advocates of diversity in cyber’.

The future is bright, the future is diverse!

Claire HarrattAbout the author

Claire Harratt is Managed Services Manager at Buckinghamshire-based cyber-security firm, Saepio Information Security. She is a former Science Teacher and Assistant Head of School who switched careers to join the tech industry in 2017.


Build your cyber security skills with Raytheon UK’s Cyber Academy

Raytheon UK Cyber Academy

Raytheon UK, in partnership with the University of Texas, is once again offering students the chance to increase their cyber security skills by participating in the Cyber Academy.

The Raytheon UK Cyber Academy consists of a series of educational workshops that will give students hands-on experience with cybersecurity techniques and methods to identify and address network vulnerabilities.

For two hours a week, over the course of five weeks, students will be taught by instructors from the Centre for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Workshop modules will cover a range of different topics, from intrusion detection and malware removal to incident response and securing web applications.  Students that complete the workshops will be invited to a “meet and greet” with recruiters from Raytheon UK to hear more about what it is like to work in the cyber security sector.

There are no costs associated for the participants and the modules will be taught remotely, so all you need is access to a laptop. Spaces at the Cyber Academy are limited and will be offered on a first come, first served basis.

To register your place, please contact us below with details of whether you’d like to attend the introduction, intermediate or advanced classes.

GET IN TOUCH
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Women in Cyber: Why there's never been a better time to kick-start your career

cyber security

Times change pretty fast in cybersecurity.

Blink and you’re likely to miss something very important. Even as recently as five years ago we didn’t have cloud configuration errors, IoT botnets, container threats or targeted ransomware. That’s a source of anxiety for some people, but it can also be one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of working in the industry. There’s no time for coasting — you need to be continually looking at the cutting-edge, and how it’s likely to impact your customers or users in the future.

However, one thing that has taken much longer to change in the industry has been greater diversity in the workplace. Fortunately that is now changing, but women are still woefully under-represented; we comprise only around a quarter (24 per cent) of all IT security professionals globally, according to some estimates.

Getting started

When I started out almost over 20 years ago even the idea of taking a degree course in a technology-related subject was a novelty. Everything was business studies and there were only a small handful of places in the whole country that offered anything to do with information security. I chose the computer science and management undergraduate course at Royal Holloway and followed that in 2002 with an MSc in information security there. I’m glad to say I made the right bet that cybersecurity was going to be a pretty big deal.

Yet the reality is that you can only get so far with a degree in something as vocational as cybersecurity. The real value comes from real-world experience: getting out there and getting your hands dirty. In fact, there may be many women who may not have studied technology before, but have the right skill sets to be successful in this industry. Yes, most roles require a certain amount of technical aptitude. But it’s also about communication, problem solving, attention to detail, and a tireless passion for learning.

That’s why it’s frustrating to see many employers effectively tying one hand behind their backs by relying on outdated and excessively rigorous requirements for job-seekers. Your best candidates might not even have studied cyber at university, or have a mind-boggling array of accreditations and acronyms on their CVs.

At Trend Micro we’re passionate about closing the gender gap in cybersecurity. And we practice what we preach internally, by hiring not based on previous experience, but also on potential and aptitude. Hopefully more employers get on board by doing the same, especially as industry skills shortages continue to grow. It’s been proven time and again that greater diversity and equality in the workplace not only makes for a more loyal, productive and content workforce, but in cybersecurity brings a diversity of viewpoints together, which can improve problem solving.

Focus on what matters

So how can budding female cybersecurity professionals realise their dreams? I went down the helpdesk route, and then got a role in the network and security team. But it doesn’t have to be this way for you. It’s about finding a niche — something you’re good at, and enjoy —and working hard on excelling in this field. It may be in product sales, or you may find your talent lies with coding. Find an area, stick at it and gain the experience you need.

Some technical experience is necessary, of course, but so are people management skills, curiosity and adaptability — and these things are harder to learn.

The good news is that, while the industry is still pretty male dominated, there’s a large and growing female community out there, and plenty of networking events and support to help you. You’ll find that geeks are by and large lovely people.

It’s all about having the confidence in your own abilities, and understanding that while you may not see any female faces at your place of work, you’re certainly not alone. Information security can be a fantastic and extremely rewarding career. It’s also one which, amidst all the turbulence we’re currently experiencing in the UK, is still absolutely vital. A 100 per cent employment rate? You can’t say that about many professions.

Kiran KokharAbout the author:

Kiran is a cybersecurity engineer at Trend Micro, having recently joined the company in March this year. She has a wealth of knowledge under her belt and having worked both vendor- and client-side, Kiran has a deep understanding of the challenges of cybersecurity. She believes that cybersecurity should be built into the fabric of organisations, so that it becomes the responsibility of all departments, not just of IT. She’s passionate about the industry and enjoys working with clients to ensure that they can better equip themselves for the ever-changing threat landscape they face.


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WinC (Women in Cyber)