Podcast | 08th Mar 2022 / 09:00

Cybersecurity Sessions #5: The Women Changing Cybersecurity

Meet the women making positive change in gender diversity across the cyber industry.

In this month’s episode, Andy Still hands hosting duties over to Netacea’s cybersecurity content specialist, Yasmin Duggal, for a special edition of the podcast for International Women’s Day.

Just 16% of the cyber workforce is female, compared to 28% in other UK digital sectors. So, Yasmin sat down with three women working across cybersecurity to find out why. The result is a conversation about gender stereotypes, breaking biases and working collectively to invite more young females in. Listen now on the latest episode of the cybersecurity sessions podcast.

Uma Rajagopal

Uma Rajagopal, Industry Security Specialist at Amazon

Uma is a dynamic information security leader with 20+ years IT industry experience, committed to enabling the business to achieve success while having confidence in the security and resiliency of their technology foundations. She is a cyber-champion who brings innovation to the safeguarding of customers, employees, and business interests and an industry specialist with deep technical and functional experience in managing and developing global teams and addressing multi-regional security requirements.

Aileen Ryan

Aileen Ryan, Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy at Siemens EDA

Aileen’s executive career spans software engineering, operations and strategy with a variety of firms including Huawei, TM Forum, Motorola and Alcatel. She is widely recognized as a leader in the global tech industry, has been named by Silicon Republic as one of the top 25 Irish leaders in the Sci-Tech world, and by IT Security Guru as one of the most inspiring women in cybersecurity in 2021.

Paulina Cakalli

Paulina Cakalli, Lead Data Analyst at Netacea

Paulina works closely with Netacea’s Data Science and Threat Research teams to develop new models for detecting anomalous web traffic, combining this with machine learning to produce recommendations for clients. She is a rising star in the world of data science, encouraging other women to enter STEM careers via various speaking opportunities internationally. She is co-founder of BSides Tirana, an international security conference. She received her Master’s degree in Mathematics and Informatics Engineering at the University of Tirana where she was later an Assistant Lecturer.

Key questions

  • Was cybersecurity a career path you were encouraged to pursue?
  • What challenges have you faced as women in a male-dominated industry?
  • Why do you think more young women don’t enter cybersecurity?
  • How we collectively and individually work to break the bias against women in tech?

Yasmin Duggal  00:00

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Cybersecurity Sessions podcast. And today we have a very special edition of the podcast for you. Because today is in fact, International Women's Day, eighth of March 2022. My name is Yasmin Duggal. I'm a specialist in cybersecurity content here at Netacea and last week, I sat down on Zoom with three fantastic women working across cybersecurity from completely different backgrounds, generations, cultures, and the result is a pretty fascinating conversation. Joining me we had Netacea's own Lead Data Analyst Paulina Cakalli. Uma Rajagopal joined us all the way from Virginia as Amazon's Industry Security Specialist. And last but not least, we had Aileen Ryan, Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy at Siemens. So why did we sit down and do this podcast? We're all women, and we all work in cybersecurity. But I wanted to sit down with the guests for a chat about how they got into tech. Whether that was a career they were encouraged to get into, any challenges they might have faced being a woman in a male dominated industry, and what we're doing both collectively and individually to encourage and celebrate younger females looking to kickstart careers in cyber. But enough from me, let's hear from each of my panelists introducing themselves in all their glory. And then we'll dive straight into the wonderful discussion we had last week. I thoroughly enjoyed recording, it really was a privilege. And hopefully you will find it equally interesting to listen to. Enjoy.

 

Aileen Ryan  01:36

So I'm Aileen Ryan, I work for Siemens, actually the semiconductor portion of Siemens, so we're branded as Siemens EDA, and I'm based just west of London. So I live in Sandhurst and Siemens of course, has offices everywhere. So yeah, I tend to move around between various locations.

 

Uma Rajagopal  01:59

Hello, everyone. I am excited to be here along with the Paulina and Aileen. My name is Uma Rajagopal, I'm from Northern Virginia, closer to Washington, DC, Metro, United States. As Yasmin mentioned, I've been in the industry for 20 plus years helping organizations on product and program management. And I'm currently in Amazon in their information security department. Prior to that, I worked at Capital One for more than nine plus years, driving their digital transformation and product security governance.

 

Paulina Cakalli  02:33

Hi, everyone. It's nice to be here. My name is Paulina Cakalli. I work as a Lead Data Analyst at Netacea, I'm Macclesfield based. Originally, I'm from Albania. I work closely with Netacea's data science and threat research teams to develop new models for detecting anomalies, web traffic, combining these with machine learning to produce recommendations for clients.

 

Yasmin Duggal  03:00

Thank you so much. So my first question I'm going to come to you Aileen, first, is how did you get into tech? And was it a career you were encouraged to get into? I know, when we spoke before, you said you were getting into tech in in the late 80s. And that was a time when women were being encouraged to move into engineering, wasn't it?

 

Aileen Ryan  03:23

Yeah, so I suppose at school, I was strong in maths and physics and the sciences in general. And so it was pretty clear that I would choose a some, you know, somewhat scientific field. But 1987 was the year when I did my sort of final secondary school exam. So the equivalent of a levels in the UK, and the 1987 happened to be the year of women in engineering in Ireland. And so there were a lot of different events and activities organized around that theme. So people visited us at school, encouraging us to consider engineering as a career, there was a lot of publicity around the subject, there was a lot of newspaper articles, subjects, and so general awareness levels, I think were heightened in that year about the opportunity to study engineering and for women to consider. So I decided that that would be a good career path for me. And it has been and I'm really happy that I made that choice when I did. Slightly, sort of bittersweet, so 1987, having received all of that positive publicity around the topic of women in engineering, in my engineering cohort, we had 12% women. And that was way way way higher like the years ahead of me had like two women, three women in the same size of cohort. So we peaked at 12. But pretty sadly, the years behind me also fell back to twos and threes. And you know, maybe over the subsequent 20, 25 or 30 years, those numbers have increased a little bit again. But for sure, one of the findings, I think, for me is that having that visibility into engineering as a potential career, back when I was at the time of making a decision, so when I was quite young, 16 17, 18 years of age, that was really a key contributor to our cohort having a larger number of females.

 

Yasmin Duggal  05:34

Definitely, and I was making those same decisions, even 10 years ago, I would have hoped over the last 10 years. And maybe, you know, COVID had an effect on that as well with the reliance on technology. But, you know, even 10 years ago, it wasn't something that was ever considered. Uma, you grew up in India, did you have a similar experience? In your school years? Was technology something you were encouraged to go into? Or was it kind of a stubbornness that led you into that career?

 

Uma Rajagopal  06:08

I want to start with my like, hero, my mom. I realized the power of education. I'm talking about back in 1975. Right, I realized the power of education and how we can better your life only through her. She was born in a family where girls, especially girls are not allowed to go to school. But she stood up to her family, and she managed to become a teacher, that powerful influencer at home it was easy for me to break that barrier. At one point of time, all of us in our family were studying, could be mastered or could be school. The education became first thing in whatever we did the first one to go to college, the first one go abroad for work in our entire village. So the learning never stopped for me. From then, started working in 1994 right after the graduation and still working today. So I came to the US for year 2000 Y2K issues. As the internet and technology grew, and involved the cloud, Internet of Things and smart devices now, I have gone along with it and realize how important it is to safeguard what matters the most that would be can do about it. So that's why I chose cybersecurity, the field, because I have always been incredibly curious about why things are the way they are. And also now, hackers are keeping us on our toes. With the rise of dark web criminal enterprises, we have to go and game up to defend our critical assets, not only for us but for future generations. So for me, it was all about passion, commitment and hard work, which brought me to the tech career that I am in now. Throughout my journey for more than two decades, I have been inspired by people from the least expected domains from the industry. The industry leaders who work for the community provide another level of inspirations and energy for me, and my mom has been a teacher in her entire career. So for me, paying it forward to education was natural. And technology and cybersecurity provide me to do that.

 

Yasmin Duggal  08:27

It's interesting, because I think you've both had... you've both started a passion due to kind of inspiration around you whether that's your family or government initiatives. Paulina, what about you? Because obviously, you were studying kind of my generation but in Albania, was it something a lot of women studied in Albania? Or do you think you were going against the grain I suppose?

 

Paulina Cakalli  08:52

Yeah, so it really depends. So first of all, my parents are like both farmers. They don't have like a uni or anything. Because when they were in my age in Albania, there was communism. And they didn't have the opportunity to go at uni and you know, follow their dreams. But yeah, I have always liked mathematics and science in general. My uncle, who was a math professor, was the first person who saw my passion about science. And sadly, I haven't been encouraged to study science. Like all my family members were pushing me to medicine, but I knew what I was meant to be. I followed my instinct and here I'm supporting other women to be part of tech industry or cybersecurity. A lot of women studied for computer science or cybersecurity, at the different states who started the career as everywhere in the world, you know, in Albania to the number of women in cybersecurity is very low, unfortunately.

 

Yasmin Duggal  10:02

So you went back to your university, didn't you, to...?

 

Paulina Cakalli  10:05

Yeah.

 

Yasmin Duggal  10:06

You were an assistant lecturer.

 

Paulina Cakalli  10:08

Yeah, so, until 16 years old, I didn't have internet or a PC, to be honest. So my career started when I went to uni. So my parents bought my first PC when I was like, 16 years old. I was at high school. I didn't know anything about coding, computers. I didn't have internet. So it was all new to me. But I had, like, a very strong passion about mathematics, physics, chemistry, about science in general. And yeah, when I went to uni, I followed my instinct to study for mathematics and informatics engineering. And yeah, when I went to uni, I started my career in tech. It was my passion, and I followed my passion. So yeah, here I am today.

 

Yasmin Duggal  11:00

And were there a lot of women coming up in the years after you in the courses that you were helping to teach?

 

Paulina Cakalli  11:06

Yes. So there are a lot of women that go in like scientific subjects, like, you know, like,  they go to uni, for Informatics or computer science, etc. But the difference is that, for example, their family, they don't know a lot about, which are the opportunities for cybersecurity, for example, because in my opinion, a lot of parents, they think about their daughters like, you know, "I want my daughter to be a teacher or have a profession that will give her time to focus on her family, to help raise children", for example, so not a lot of people support women there to going tech and cybersecurity. But recently when I was a lecturer, I was of course, supporting women to be part of tech and cybersecurity, because there is no difference between women and men. So why not?

 

Yasmin Duggal  12:11

Yeah, no, definitely. It's, it's fascinating, you know, that you've all come into tech and cybersecurity in completely different places across the world as well. And you've all got to a point where you've chosen to give back.

 

Paulina Cakalli  12:25

Yeah, the funny thing is that when you say, "Oh, I work in cybersecurity", a lot of people think like you are a criminal or, you know, hacking stuff or doing anything. And you're like, "No, it's not like that," because they hear things from the news, you know, and sometimes, you know, they don't hear the right things. And then maybe they're afraid to support their children, like the daughters, for example, to be part of cybersecurity.

 

Yasmin Duggal  12:56

Yeah, we're the good guys. We're not the guys in hoods hacking computers! So you all got into tech, into cybersecurity, a male dominated industry for sure. And I'm curious to know, kind of either early on when you started that technical career, or later down the line, as you progressed and became more senior, were there challenges you faced? You know, because you were a woman, and I know Aileen, you kind of stumbled into cybersecurity. Right. So it was, you were approach by startup. So did you witness any kind of gender imbalance when you moved up into a more senior position?

 

Aileen Ryan  13:40

Yeah, so I suppose all of my career has been in tech, it's just the last five or so years have been focused on cybersecurity related products, but so for sure, a gender imbalance everywhere I've worked for all of my career, you know, definitely. And that said, frankly, at all levels of the organization, but, you know, we know that the percentage of women pursuing academic studies in STEM subjects is quite low. And then there is a further big challenge in career attrition. So, you know, the higher you go, or the older you get, or the more senior you get in any organization, the fewer and fewer women there are at the table. And, you know, that's really concerning. And it's a very, very complex subject. So otherwise, we would have fixed that challenge, by the way, but there are there are so many different reasons and potential concerns in there. It's a really knotty issue. I do remember in one role many years ago, one very nice gentleman was saying that he hadn't received any comments back on his document and I knew I had sent him back and send him a critique of his documents. So I said, well, on a conference call, "no, I did send you some notes." And he stopped. And he said, "So, in a hospital, a surgeon does not ask the janitor to critique his work." Well, I was like, "oh my god, I really can't believe you said that, you rude man." And I mean, it really shocked me. And I think that was the very, very worst that I've ever experienced, thankfully, in my life, but actually, I decided that I was going to turn that into a bit of a superpower. And so. So I developed this approach, which I still use today. And openly any of my colleagues who listen to this will go, "Oh, I know her secret now." But what, what I find works incredibly well is that the power of people underestimating you as a woman, right? So you may be the only woman in the room and you may not be particularly vocal in the meeting, but by listening and absorbing, sometimes you're able to come in and either close down an argument or bring a point to a conclusion, or, you know, just suddenly kind of move things out of conversation into decision making. And I find that being a slightly different voice in the room actually can be used to your advantage. And that was something that I learned from that experience with the gentleman.

 

Yasmin Duggal  16:35

Definitely. I'm completely shocked that someone said that to you at work. But sadly, I'm sure similar comments have been made to a lot of women. But I think there's definitely power sometimes isn't there, not being the loudest voice in the room and by waiting to make your point? And like you said that being a decision maker? Unfortunately for us, I think we have to earn respect a lot of the time, it's not just a given. But I think like you said, there's a lot of power in not being the loudest voice all the time. Paulina, you spoke before about the difference between us growing up here, you growing up in Albania? Do you see a huge difference between when you worked in Albania to when you've worked in the UK in terms of male attitudes towards you in this role?

 

Paulina Cakalli  17:30

So I think that gender diversity in the workplace is something that, you know, businesses and organizations have been working towards for decades. So, as we mentioned before, like, a low percentage of women work in tech, like around 19%, if I'm not wrong, here at Netacea, we have created to good gender diversity, I think different countries, you know, have different work culture, but related to woman in tech it's the same here and in Albania, and it will take a long time to have an equal representation in my opinion.

 

Yasmin Duggal  18:12

Yeah, it does. I mean, just my conversations, but, you know, conversations I've had with other people as well, it does seem to be like you said, there's different work cultures in different countries, but this just seems to be a sort of universal issue or challenge that women face in the industry. And Uma, I think when we spoke previously, you talked about when you moved to the US or when you moved to a more senior position later in your career, were men not taking you seriously in those kinds of senior tech roles?

 

Uma Rajagopal  18:46

Correct. And that woman right, early on, the hardest personal challenge was dealing with imposter syndrome. That's when you doubt yourself and your abilities, especially in my career. Early in my career, I was intimidated by everyone else in the room, mostly of men, right? I was scared to even speak up or share my ideas when I was the minority, and also being an Asian, and a woman. After all that struggle I went through, later on I realized that it's okay to take pride in myself and share that with the others who supported me. So fast forward, especially women in cybersecurity are still very much in the minority, particularly in the technical fields, like penetration testing, whether it is intentional or not, it introduces a bias in the way people treat you or speak to you. When you say that you are a hacker, you are a penetration tester, right? It doesn't happen to me often these days. I don't know because maybe the industry is changing, or because I'm more recognizable in my field or maybe because I became more effective over time, but in the past, I have been interrupted in the technical discussions, talked over by men in the room assumed to be a junior. And I also, I was assumed to be there to take some notes, not to even participate or have a seat at the table. So a lot of time, there's no intent to marginalize or exclude you, but I felt like just people make assumption based off of your, their prior experiences. So a few years ago, I just want to touch upon this strategy, a female White House advisor had started using to get their point across the table that actually went viral. It's called amplification, then a woman made a point or contributed in an idea that acknowledged another woman in the room who would repeat it and give credit to the original speaker, when the other woman nationwide heard about it, and use the technique, and I also used that technique in my workplace, I got great results, not only I elevated the other woman in the room, it got good results, but my question is, why must it be only the women amplifying each other's ideas? Men can help out with this too. So think about a discussion there the diverse point of view there, acknowledge and consider the very best ideas then, right? I mean, it is a win win situation for all. Let us not underestimate the importance of men around you acting as a link, sometimes this biased behavior is not often visible, until it is pointed out to the men, right? So once it is highlighted when they start recognizing it, men can help address too. So because there are few women in the industry, tech industry or cyber industry, we can't solve these issues on our own. We need allies, friends who can help to change this culture.

 

Yasmin Duggal  22:03

Yes, definitely. And it's interesting, what you said about male colleagues making assumptions. Obviously, that's not an issue or challenge exclusive to tech, or cybersecurity. But is that something Aileen or Paulina that you've come across? I mean, I've come across it in my career, that's something you've come across as well.

 

Paulina Cakalli  22:23

It's very similar...

 

Yasmin Duggal  22:25

That was a very quick "Yes."

 

Paulina Cakalli  22:26

Yeah. It's very similar for me too like, I started my career when I was like, 20 years old, and my first job was working in IT. And there was like, 11 men, and I was a student, you know, and only 21 years old. And I was sitting all day on that chair, you know, no one asked me like about my ideas, if you know, if I had any ideas, really. And even when they went out for lunch, for example, they didn't invite me, let's say so. There were some cases that yeah, I felt too much what she said really.

 

Yasmin Duggal  23:09

What about you Aileen, have you had assumptions made about you as a woman?

 

Aileen Ryan  23:14

Yeah, I mean, all of the classic things that Uma touched on there, like somebody thinking you're there to take the notes, or somebody asking you if you'll make the tea. And I remember one time travelling with a male colleague, who worked for me, and we were staying in hotel, and I had a call, really late like, 11pm, I was already asleep. I answered the phone, and it was reception, the reception desk asking what time did Mr. X need his car out the following morning? And I said, "Well, you're going to have to ask, you know, the man himself, because I'm not his PA, I don't know what time she needs his car out tomorrow morning." And so you know, sometimes that's just the way life is, you're not going to change the world overnight. And slowly, slowly, we're making an impact. And one of the crucial things that we can do to make an impact, I think, is to be seen or to do things like this to be vocal to be out there, because other younger women, you know, there's this phrase that you can't be what you can't see. And so by showing people it is possible as a woman, to hold a senior role in a very technical field, and to do all of the other things to have your family and you know, so it's not necessarily a choice of your career or have a rich, rounded life, actually, it may not be the easiest path to pursue, but it is possible to pursue a career in tech, and yet be very fulfilled in every other element of your life as well.

 

Yasmin Duggal  24:52

Exactly. And something I picked up on now was this idea of being seen, and this is why I wanted to do this episode of the podcast because to me, it's so important to have women not just working in tech or cybersecurity, and not just kind of diversifying the workforce, but having women at the forefront, and having women as the face of the brand sometimes and letting women showcase their skills and speak on panels. And, you know, there's, there's a real kind of stereotype of tech, I suppose, as white middle aged men. And it's breaking that stereotype, I think. And like you said, I think a big part of that is, is being seen as a woman that works in cybersecurity specifically. I think we've touched on this slightly, but I just wanted to throw kind of an open question out there to all of you. Why do we think more women don't go into cybersecurity? Is it just outmoded, outdated attitudes that we've covered? You know, do we need to be encouraging from a younger age? Do we think attitudes are changing?

 

Uma Rajagopal  26:08

Okay. So I’ve got to say that, again, female representation and inclusion in the cybersecurity field that has come a long way. But we still have to make progress, right, women now make up about 24% of the cybersecurity field. And I want to bring this point, there is a tendency for women to not apply for the jobs unless they meet 100% of the requirements, right, as opposed to men who are more likely to apply for the job, even if they meet 60%. So women are taught to be perfect all the time, that has to change. Women are less likely to apply to jobs when the posting has a language like Hunter or Ninja, which we tend to see in our technical or cyberspace. So men are going to apply for those, the employers can do something better, they can increase the female candidates by just changing some of those job postings for gender preferential language, and also take out the job requirements that are not absolutely necessary, right, or label them as nice to have. But I've seen in the recent years, the job employers have changed the language a little bit. We know candidates have a diverse experience, but we encourage you to still apply even if you don't meet 100% of qualification, and it's phenomenal that will take us into the right direction. That's what I think, one of those important factors that's contributing for women not to get into technical or cyberspace.

 

Aileen Ryan  27:45

I think another factor there, I completely agree with what Uma said, I think another factor is that there's a lot of research that has been done, which shows that women are attracted to careers where they feel that they can make a difference. And so it's not necessarily about, it's not technology for the sake of technology, it's how can we use technology to do something that's amazing. And so you see women being drawn into medical fields, you see women being drawn into teaching, learning, education type fields, because those are careers where you can easily join the dots between what you're doing and the difference that you're making. And in tech careers, that hasn't always been the case, right. So sometimes what you're doing is a long way from... It's one, one little piece of the puzzle that goes in to ultimately make a difference. And so helping to create that line of sight between what you're doing, and the impact of what you're doing, I think is really important. And I do think in the statistic there of 20 something percent of women are in cybersecurity roles, that's higher than in a lot of other disciplines. And I do think it feels to me intuitively like cybersecurity is an area where you can see the impact, you know, you can, you can join the dots between "this is what happened, this is what I did, and this is what the impact was and it was good." And that kind of outcome orientation of being able to present that is going to be really helpful in encouraging other women into this type of career.

 

Yasmin Duggal  29:26

Yeah, and I do think because of the way the world is headed, especially as we've seen in the past week or so, you know, cybersecurity is entering the mainstream, a hell of a lot more than it was before, you know, even kind of pre COVID. It's a word that is on people's minds now like cybersecurity, cyber warfare. Cyber attacks, I think people are generally more aware. I think it's language that people are starting to understand as part of our kind of everyday rhetoric. I'm going to come to you Paulina now. But I suppose we've covered the why women maybe don't get into STEM subjects, specifically cybersecurity. But I suppose now the question is, how do we change that? We're all talking today because we're passionate about the subject. So how on a kind of granular level, do we help to encourage women into STEM subjects, specifically cybersecurity? Paulina, you were nominated for Cyber Woman of the Year last year. Now you're setting up your conference back in Albania. So how important is it to you? And what are you doing to encourage women to follow a similar path?

 

Paulina Cakalli  30:38

Yes. So first of all, it's very important for me, and also, a lot of women don't go into cybersecurity, because I think there is a barrier since you are very young. And it's like, you know, going in a trip, and if all your friends will say to you, like, look, it's not a good idea to go in. I don't know, in Scotland, for example, at this moment, and you will be like, okay, I'll not go there. You know, and it's the same with cybersecurity. And the other thing, in my opinion is that it's a new industry, if we compare to other fields, which will take more time for us to become aware of it. And coming to the second question, as you mentioned, one of my goals for this year was to organize the B Sides Tirana, which is a security information conference in Albania, and influencing encouraging women to join this conference and to join tech and cybersecurity, because it's like any other field, it just needs time and work like any other field. So one of the things is encouraging them to do like online training and start this early in their age, like doing online training on Udemy, or other training platforms that are related to tech or cybersecurity, or companies can create like more internships and benefits packages that appeal exclusively to women. So giving a chance to be part of this industry let's say, and, of course, support amazing talent and share their achievements. Like, you know, some companies do or like we have done at Netacea, so talk about women that are doing great in science in tech in cybersecurity, give a good example to, you know, to the young generation.

 

Yasmin Duggal  32:36

Aileen, you've mentioned, you've done a lot for kind of female recognition at Siemens.

 

Aileen Ryan  32:41

Yeah. So when I joined Siemens, one of the industry associations that's very important for the area where I work is called the GSA, the Global Semiconductor Alliance. And they have a Women's Leadership Programme, a Women's Leadership Initiative, and Siemens was not a member of that. And Uma talked about the concept of allyship and women helping women but also encouraging our wonderful male colleagues, to be our allies as well. And in that context, it has struck me many times that it's not like men, particularly men in senior positions, they don't have an agenda to not have females on their teams or not have female representation. It's not a grand conspiracy. It's just actually, most of the time, they're too busy doing other things to even think about it. And so sometimes the best thing that we can do for ourselves is to ask, right, "could I have the money so that we can be a part of the Women's Leadership Initiative?" Answer within 24 hours back from the CEO, "Yes, of course, sounds like a great idea." I mean, it was just such a no brainer, but many people I think, would have just gone "oh, do I dare ask that question? What's that person going to think of me if I asked that question" or whatever. And sometimes you just have to go, "actually, perhaps the only reason why we're not doing X is because nobody's thought about it." You know. And so it's not that the door is closed. It's just that nobody else has opened it before. Coming back to that topic of the Women's Leadership Initiative. They ran an amazing award last year, which they called their Female Up and Comer award and it was for women who were less than five years in their career. And the little twist that they put on that award was that each company could only nominate one person for the award. And in a company like Siemens it 280,000 employees. Initially, I was thinking, oh my god, what? How the hell am I going to figure this out? Do I just nominate somebody and hope that nobody else has seen this competition? Or do I actually take a more coordinated approach, and I took the latter approach. And eventually we came up with, inside in our organization, 15 amazing young women on this, I think, hopefully a wonderful career path, which would be, you know, really fruitful for them and really fruitful for the company. What was really interesting to me was, once it became a competition, we had lots of people, I asked each manager, effectively to pitch their particular female so that she would be the chosen one to represent Siemens, and everyone just got totally behind it and a wonderful experience to organize that and see that you can make a difference. And you can get people really excited about how do we help them on their career paths. And also, some of the findings that we had in the backend were things like, well, do we help women to think about applying for patents? Do we help women to apply for speaking opportunities at important engineering oriented events like our Tripoli events and stuff? And, and so just by taking one small action, actually, that has snowballed into a number of other initiatives that I hope will be really helpful internally.

 

Yasmin Duggal  36:18

That's amazing as well, that you asked one question, you received the answer you were looking for. It snowballed, like you said, to support other initiatives. I think there's a common thread between what you and Paulina have said in spotlighting female talent in the industry through Paulina's conference in Albania and through awards, like you mentioned. Uma coming to you. So well, pre COVID, you were going into schools, weren't you, to mentor students and encourage them into IT and, STEM. Are you able to do that after COVID? Are you able to go back into schools?

 

Uma Rajagopal  36:55

Yes, first of all, I just want to add just one thing for women thinking about getting into technology, and cybersecurity. So anybody who's thinking about, directly talking to these women, please come on in. Cyberspace is a great, great place to work. I have been surrounded by clever, helpful people who are keen to learn and keen to share their knowledge. If you're curious, love to solve puzzles, not get bored. This is a fantastic field to work in. Don't be put off by the antisocial basement hacker type of image. Cybersecurity is really not like that. We are all professionals with a serious and important role in helping to protect the businesses, consumer, the nation, the wider society, and also generations to come. So before COVID, you know, I was able to go into many local high schools, to teach them on what is important on cybersecurity and how they can come into, you know, getting into the technology field. And by during the pandemic time, we switched everything to virtual. In spring, in April, I'm actually going into one of the high school where we are talking about how they can get into cybersecurity. So as leaders, right, we can think about identifying talents and train them. So there are a lot of internal rules that we can create, we should have the cyber and knowledge for them to come in. But we can always train them, right, it is going to be the real game changer if we can get more women in the cybersecurity space. So because as you know, women naturally know how to manage and mitigate risk, which is what all cybersecurity is about, right? So that's why I'm really capitalized in InfoSec Girls, Girls Who Code programme, and to get them up to speed.

 

Yasmin Duggal  38:59

Amazing, and it's so nice to hear that you're able to go back into the schools physically in a couple of months. It's amazing that we've been able to carry on things like that through COVID but I think it makes all the difference. Being there with the students in person, right. One thing I wanted to ask to each of you, today is all about celebrating female success. We're encouraging women into this career. Can you each pick one career highlight to share with us today? Paulina, I'll come to you first.

 

Paulina Cakalli  39:41

So my career highlights I'll say is breaking into the cybersecurity industry. And, of course, yeah, besides Tirana being nominated like two times or three times, I think, as Woman Cyber of the Year, so I'm 27 years old. So this is only the start of my journey. Yeah, I'm very happy.

 

Yasmin Duggal  40:07

Lots more career highlights. And Aileen, I'll come to you next. One career highlight that you'd like to share with us.

 

Aileen Ryan  40:15

Yeah. So you mentioned that I joined a startup in 2017, which had products that were applicable in the cybersecurity domain. And being a start up on you know, it was relatively immature organization with no clear go to market strategy. And that was one of the initial things that I set out to change within the company. And I built a consortium with two universities and one small business partner. And we applied to an organization in the UK called Innovate UK and Innovate UK is tasked on behalf of the government, leveraging innovation for the betterment of the UK business community, and as well as academic community. And so I built this consortium, I built a project proposal to allow us create a cybersecurity demonstrator for connected and autonomous vehicles. And the process itself was very time consuming, but so unbelievably proud of myself and of the consortium and the team, that we were awarded the maximum grant available back in 2019. And that project is just coming to an end today, actually. That, for me, was a real career highlight, because it was incredibly meaningful for us as a small company, right, it was a material amount of money to allow us create something that has been really valuable in terms of proving our concept in the market and opening lots of doors for us. So I think that was a really kind of foundational step, which set the company in the direction which brought us ultimately to being acquired by Siemens, it was a really meaningful, kind of pivotal moment in the maturing of the organization. And I did that, I led that by myself, even though at the time cybersecurity was not my original domain of expertise. So from that point of view, and coming back to Uma's comments about imposter syndrome, you know, you can convince yourself that, oh, I don't know enough about subject A. But sometimes you have to ask yourself, well, if not you, then who? Who else is there who knows more? And many times the answer to that question is nobody else knows more, so just do it.

 

Yasmin Duggal  42:47

Fantastic. And Uma last but not least, can you pick one career highlight to share with us and round us off?

 

Uma Rajagopal  42:56

Yeah. Amazing, Aileen, and Paulina. I learned a lot about you guys. Thank you. Well, yeah, there are a lot of highs and starting from successful programme actually since, I worked on a multi year project on sending a satellite to space. That was great, and getting a Master's degree at a time, everything was falling apart. But I really wanted to highlight this, you should not be afraid of this. One big risk I took, there was one probably resonate with a lot of working parents, especially mothers, right. When my twin boys, I had a twin boys, were newborn, I took a step back from my role, leading the team in order to become an individual contributor. So that was a really a daring step, because my career was progressing steadily at that time. But I had to take that choice. And it was the right decision for me and my family. And I'm really proud of that decision I did, I would say even today, I feel like that is exactly what pushed me into where I am today. And I needed to do that time and I never once regretted my decision to do that.

 

Yasmin Duggal  44:15

Amazing, that was fascinating to listen to and such a kind of broad spectrum of highlights as well there. Unfortunately, all we have time for today on this International Women's Day episode of Cybersecurity Sessions. But I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all our guests today. Paulina, Uma and Aileen. It's been absolutely fascinating and a privilege to speak with you. I hope everyone listening enjoyed that as much as I did. And if you did, please do subscribe, leave a review and have a listen to our other episodes if you haven't already. Or you can follow us and tweet us @cybersecpod on Twitter. Thank you so much to my panel and to everyone listening and we will see you for the next edition of the Cybersecurity Sessions podcast.

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