Aside from scuba diving and working with Cisco customers to improve cyber resiliency, cooking is one of my greatest passions. My favorite dishes are a fusion of the best ingredients, each complementing the other and accentuating the right flavors to achieve culinary heaven. You see, if you stick with one ingredient, you are stuck with one flavor profile and the dish is left bland and unmemorable. It’s a similar issue with diversity in the cyber profession.
Decades of a male-driven business environment have led to a repetition of the same mindset, narrowing the capabilities of companies to “be more” and limiting their potential. The tech industry, and specifically cybersecurity, has historically been dominated by men. I know this, as I’ve been in the high tech space for over 30 years and have seen many male figures influence business, have the ultimate decision-making power, and accept or override the innovative thinking of individuals across their organizations.
Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege to be surrounded by amazing women throughout my career, influencing, motivating and rooting for me along my professional journey. In fact, I wouldn’t have entered the cybersecurity space had it not been for my good friend and mentor, Rebecca Jacoby, SVP Operations at Cisco. She encouraged me to consider the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) role as an opportunity to rotate in the field and apply my skills and leadership traits to the explosive and unpredictable field of cybersecurity. Needless to say, that nudge shifted the direction of my career, introducing me to many humbling, empowering and motivating experiences.
However Rebecca wasn’t the only female leader that influenced my career. If I hit the rewind button back to my early 20s, when I was just starting off in high tech, it was a female manager who, while developing my early career, also held me to the same expectations as that of the older and more experienced peers, helping me develop the skills, confidence and poise to succeed. When I decided it was time to shift my career in a new direction, another strong woman took a chance on me, seeing something in me that she later said – “I knew you would not let yourself fail.” This knowledge, mentorship and guidance shaped the direction of my career and molded my leadership approach.
It is these valuable relationships that encouraged me to reflect internally, to understand and empathize with others, and to tap into my hibernating strengths as well as the best of those around me. Absorbing and learning from diverse perspectives and mindsets not only bolsters my own ongoing professional evolution, it also enables my team as a whole to excel and reach greater goals.
In the presence of these strong female mentors and partners, I learned the value of building partnerships and alliances that prompt teams to overcome any obstacles, ultimately instilling in me the power of an “us” mentality, which today is the pulse of the InfoSec team at Cisco. The more I evolved throughout my career, the more this approach became a personal conviction and a conscientious pursuit for myself as a manager. You see in cybersecurity, partnerships, puzzle-solving mindsets and behavioral analysis are critical factors in dealing with an evolving threat landscape. It is only when we embrace diverse perspectives that we are able to truly cultivate a more inclusive environment that helps each and every one of us become better individuals and cybersecurity professionals.
Cisco has a great culture in supporting and encouraging change, enabling people to connect with each other in different ways. The Women in Cybersecurity Community is a torch of Cisco’s efforts to drive gender diversity and carve paths for women to take on cybersecurity careers and excel in their journeys, ultimately shaping a stronger cybersecurity team and industry. Women have always been the secret to businesses’ success, but it’s long overdue that we move them into the spotlight to take their rightful role in business.
This isn’t solely a women’s fight, we are all in the same boat and must go beyond talking about what’s right — we must chase it, embrace it, and cement it into our standards. Men have a responsibility to advocate for the advancement of equal opportunity. Cisco’s Men for Inclusion, an initiative I co-sponsor, embodies this responsibility, with a network of male leaders driving efforts for an inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging for everyone and ultimately embraces all of our differences to establish a stronger Cisco. It’s through this understanding and empathy that we can drive positive change and reshape norms. The advancement of diversity cannot be an accidental occurrence but a conscientious choice that we make and live by. To all decision-makers, I say it’s time you make a choice – the right, smart and only choice.