The rise of the Female CISO: How we can encourage more women to enter the cyber security industry
Kate Kuehn is the US CEO of Senseon, a cybersecurity firm that brings together cyber security experts, former government cyber operatives and applied machine learning specialists.
It’s a well-known fact that the technology sector is a male dominated environment. Narrow that down into the cyber security sector and the percentage difference between the number of men and women grows even further. Why is it that half of the population seem to feel excluded from this area of work? And what can we do to break down those barriers?
The first thing to acknowledge may seem like an obvious concept. Women are not Men. Nor should they feel the need to be. The way women think and execute their jobs is bound to be different, and this concept should be embraced rather than shunned in all work forces not just in the tech industry. Women can bring a different perspective to problem solving and decision making. Without their input how can any organisation feel fully prepared for the innovative new threats they are facing daily. It is also statistically proven that companies who have achieved near diversity in their tech workforce are more successful than their competition.
The difficulty in encouraging women into a career in cyber security is the preconception that as a woman in a male dominated environment you’re likely to be treated differently. Many women feel that in predominantly male spaces they can’t compete at the same level, as often work/life balance is harder to achieve. Working mothers tend to gravitate towards functions that have more women as they feel their personal struggles will be better understood. With many companies now introducing flexible working schemes, job sharing and work from home options there is no need for anyone, male or female, to have to make a choice between career and family.
As a mother working at executive level in the tech industry, I have experienced these pressures first hand, with many people considering my decision to take a step back to spend more time with my family career suicide. Some even went as far as to be angry with me telling me I was making the wrong choice. Until women feel that this is unlikely to be a consideration in them getting, and keeping, roles in tech and cyber security there is unlikely to be a change in the gender split within the industry.
Cyber threats that organisations face are constantly evolving. The cyber attackers are developing new ways to breach systems and hack organisations every day. In order to combat this, we need to be putting as many diverse brains together as we can to solve this issue. This is the main concern with a lack of diversity in cyber security. The hackers are using any tools at their disposal to infiltrate organisation’s networks. If we aren’t using all the minds at our disposal by encouraging women into the industry, then we will not succeed.
As someone who has worked in multiple areas of business including sales, security, engineering and operations and now as a c-suite executive, each role had a unique approach to diversity. The technology sector needs to stop approaching it as a blanket issue and start focussing on ways to promote inclusion in each specific sector of a business. The cyber security industry cannot afford to not be constantly bringing in new people and new perspectives to help tackle the continually developing and changing cyber threats. I am particularly proud that at Senseon we are recruiting women into our business and across all departments of our workforce. I want to help encourage women to pursue their passions in whatever area of work they want and not to feel like there are areas they shouldn’t be experiencing because of their gender.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.