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The Media Line: ‘Cyber Ladies’ Are Few but Growing in Cybersecurity Industry

‘Cyber Ladies’ Are Few but Growing in Cybersecurity Industry

Panel discussion at Israeli-founded CyberTech conference in New York City highlights challenges, opportunities for women

By Mike Wagenheim / The Media Line

The speakers’ list read like a who’s who of cybersecurity experts: Former CIA Director David Petraeus, Director General of the Israel National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna and former US Cyber Command Commander Mike Rogers were some of the men headlining Wednesday’s Israeli-founded international Cybertech conference, being held in New York City for the first time.

As for the women, there is still work to be done. Only two addressed the main morning session, including Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk, the corporate vice president at Microsoft, general manager of its Israel Research & Development Center and CTO of the Cloud and AI Security division.

This is exactly why the afternoon featured a special panel discussion of women in cybersecurity, to draw attention to the challenges to, opportunities for and successes of women in the field.

“Like many others in this industry, I started my career in the Israel Defense Forces, serving for 10 years as a cyber officer. I realized that, in many situations, I was the only woman in the room. The main reason is that we’re not exposed to the cybersecurity profession at a young age,” Sivan Tehila, Cyber Ladies NYC founder and Yeshiva University Katz School program director, told The Media Line.

When she moved to New York in 2019, Tehila founded a community of cyber ladies. She says the family has grown to 250 women.

“Another thing I am doing to encourage more women to join the industry is that I developed a cyber program at the Manhattan High School for Girls. We understand that since women make up only 25% of the US workforce, there is a shortage in the field, but there is also an opportunity, and we’re trying hard to provide the best content and the best courses as part of our program. Hopefully, we will get to have more women in these types of conferences,” said Tehila, who also serves as the director of Yeshiva University’s cyber program.

A number of cyber programs in the US are geared to girls and young women, such as Girls Go CyberStart, an interactive online program to introduce high school girls to cybersecurity. It covers topics such as cryptography, password cracking, digital forensics and open-source intelligence gathering. Over 10,000 girls have taken part in the program. Girls Who Code is focused primarily on young students looking to programming as a potential career path, but it is working toward addressing the shortage of women in technology fields in general. The group promotes after-school clubs, summer courses, and summer immersion programs. Recently, the Girl Scouts of America began offering a cybersecurity merit badge to incentivize young girls to excel at cybersecurity. The Girl Scouts Research Institute published a report in 2019 called “Decoding the Digital Girl: Defining and Supporting Girls’ Digital Leadership.” It discussed “how girls are using their digital experiences to improve their lives, their communities and the world.”

Tehila moderated the Wednesday afternoon women’s panel discussion, which included a pair of other Israelis, both of whom took a less-traveled path into the industry.

“I did not serve in an IDF special unit or technical unit. I was in the navy, and I didn’t study computer science, either. But, I was very enthusiastic about the tech industry, so I invested a lot of time in studying, learning, gaining knowledge, honing my skills and what helped me especially was the network I was able to create,” Reut Weitzman, cyber security manager at Sygnia, told The Media Line.

“I was able to surround myself with talented people and amazing experts who were very open. I asked a lot of questions, I asked for guidance, for opportunities and I think the Israeli network allows you to be more open in that regard, so that was the key element to my progress in this male-dominated industry,” she said.

Asking for those opportunities and sounding off as the only woman in the room seem to be necessities for women looking to break through in an industry that, by definition, must adapt to the moment.

“You need to always say what you think, and I think you will find your way. Still, surprisingly, there are not too many women in the industry, but I think this is changing,” Nirit Icekson, vice president of marketing and sales development at HolistiCyber, told The Media Line.

“I won’t tell you how old I am – that’s classified information, just like a lot of things in cybersecurity – but I can tell you that when I started my career, things were worse. Now, doors are opened and our counterparts on the men’s side are completely open. I think that IT in general and in cybersecurity specifically, they have to be innovative and open in nature and I think plays into the role of, ‘yeah, let’s not do it like we did 10, 20 years ago,’” said Icekson.

All three Israeli women on the panel noted that the industry is not just for those on the technology side, and positions are especially open now for those who have an interest in the business and who bring skills from other sectors.

“I think because people are becoming more aware of cybersecurity in general. I get the impression that women in the field are surprisingly very technical, but some of them are coming from different backgrounds, and that’s the interesting thing in cybersecurity. You can come from sales, marketing, you can come from an IT background. Because it’s a global market, so many people can work remotely, which is helpful for women, too,” said Tehila.

InfoSec Institute estimates that there is a worldwide staffing shortage of nearly three million in the ranks of cybersecurity professionals, with half a million open positions in North America alone.

While few of the headline speakers at Cybertech NYC were women, it was notable that the various vendor displays and exhibitions were well-represented by women, signaling perhaps that the balance in the industry is shifting, and hasn’t quite made its way up to the highest levels yet.

“I was the only woman in the room for a very long time. In some cases, I still am the only woman, but I see that more and more women are coming into this industry, especially in my company. We have so many talented women in the professional positions, in incident response, in adversarial tactics and security,” said Weitzman.

“It’s especially important because this is how we create the women’s alliance, so other women will feel more comfortable to get into a room full of men and see that she will not be standing in the spotlight by herself,” she said.

In 2019, Cybercrime Magazine published data showing that women made up approximately 20% of the global information security payrolls. While paltry, that figure was up from 11% six years earlier.

The women at CyberTech seem unwilling to allow six years to go by for that figure to double again.

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