Women’s History Month is a special time for me as I reflect on all the great innovations women have made over the years. Women have driven technology forward throughout history. Notable women in cybersecurity like cryptologists Agnes Meyer Driscoll and Genevieve Grotjan Feinstein worked behind the scenes of wartime intelligence and were just two of the 10,000 women who paved the way for trailblazers in cybersecurity.1 Fast forward to 2000, Renee Guttmann became the first-ever director of IT security for Time Inc. and paved the way for not only women in cybersecurity but for the role of chief information security officer in the industry.2 This was after she developed firewalls and encryption products before a commercial internet existed. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023, I join many friends and colleagues to celebrate the accomplishments of cybersecurity pioneers like Agnes, Genevieve, and Renee and most importantly celebrate the cyber defenders that tirelessly take down threat actors every day.
Women are vital to the industry and have played—and will continue to play—a key role in advancing technology and cybersecurity. I’ve been honored to meet and learn from incredible women doing amazing work in the areas of threat intelligence, policy and privacy, security and AI, and more. Yet, as we’ve shared before, women represent a mere 25 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. In an International Women’s Day Microsoft survey, we uncovered the reasons for this to be because of stereotyping of women and gender bias, not enough female mentors and role models in cybersecurity, insufficient training and education opportunities, and uncertainty about cybersecurity career pathways.3
This is concerning, considering that women provide strong skills perfect for cybersecurity such as diverse points of view, deep analytic and risk assessment skills, along with emotional intelligence. While the industry has made enormous strides, there is still work to be done. Together, academia, the tech industry, and government agencies are working on programs and new technologies to overcome these challenges, while encouraging more girls to envision cybersecurity careers.
“Security is not just processes and policies, but there’s also the care work that comes into talking to people and understanding their issues. It helped me bring other people in our organization up to a place where you make it easier for women, specifically in security, to exist.”
—Abir Ghattas, Director of Information Security, Human Rights Watch
Each of us can do our part in supporting women in cybersecurity in our own way. At Microsoft, building a stronger future for women in cybersecurity begins with a strong foundation here at our Microsoft home. All women within Microsoft Security deserve the resources necessary to feel connected, thriving, and empowered to achieve more. Microsoft has been focusing on building a strong community internally to make this a reality. This initiative includes:
These efforts already have led to impressive progress, as the industry is already recognizing several Microsoft Security women in their fields, such as Kate Maxwell, Senior Director of Defense and Intelligence, considered one of the 100 Women in Tech Leaders to Watch in 2023 by Women Tech Network,4 and Edna Conway, Vice President of Security, Risk, and Compliance, chosen the 2021 Executive of the Year by the Executive Women’s Forum.5
Fanta Orr, Intelligence Analysis Director at Microsoft, says that curiosity is one of the factors that make someone successful in the industry. “People who take initiative to solve problems and drive investigations do well. Also, if you’ve been a woman in this field for any amount of time, it means you’ve got grit and wit. On top of that, women are generally great at systems thinking, which is vital both in the policy and technical defense aspects of cybersecurity,” she says.
We care about the entire industry and the promise of the next generation. With our solid foundation of support for female professionals at Microsoft, we are in a stronger position to give back to the community by supporting, coaching, and mentoring women in cybersecurity. We do this by partnering with organizations and projects that practice similar values and focus on diversity for cybersecurity education. The following are a few of the organizations we support by providing resources, mentors, and education:
If we want to thrive as an industry, we must become allies and advocate for each other every chance we get. I am grateful that we have this opportunity during Women’s History Month to lift each other up and that I get to share with you some of the stories from women with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the past years. However, it doesn’t just end after March, as learning about others’ perspectives and transferring your privileges to support each other whether at work, in an interview, or a public place is the essence of being an actionable ally. Allyship is truly a journey as we support and nurture women at every stage of their career. And this means not only mentoring or coaching other women, but also becoming strong advocates when they may not have a strong voice or be at the table to share their perspective. It means being inclusive and welcoming women into your meetings, decision making, events, and recognition. We know that when we do this we will thrive and grow as a community of cyber defenders.
Please join me along with many other women leaders in cybersecurity at our marquee event Microsoft Secure on March 28, 2023, where we will talk about what we are doing to ready the security workforce and how we can inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. We’ll talk about how Microsoft defends itself and its customers, the challenges security teams face daily, and the future of security innovation. Register now.
If you’re interested in learning more about the many opportunities and next steps in cybersecurity, please join us on March 15, 2023, for a podcast called Secure the Job: Breaking into Cybersecurity, hosted by three young cybersecurity professionals at Microsoft. They will interview executives, leaders in cybersecurity, and frontline defenders to understand more about the cybersecurity landscape, roles, pathways, and skills needed to be successful.
Also, check out our website for volunteer opportunities with some of the incredible organizations we partner with. Whether you are a student or already a cybersecurity professional, you can find educational resources and career pathways on this web page along with mentoring opportunities. Together, we can inspire and support each other to build the next generation of women cyber defenders.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us on LinkedIn (Microsoft Security) and Twitter (@MSFTSecurity) for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
1Pioneering Women in Cryptology, Lou Leto and Jen Wilcox. March 29, 2018.
210 pioneering women in information security, Deb Radcliff. March 30, 2021.
3Results based on March 2022 IWD Survey commissioned by Microsoft in partnership with WE Communications.
4100 Women in Tech Leaders to Watch in 2022, Women Tech Network.
5The Executive Women’s Forum Announces the 2021 Recipients of the EWF Women of Influence Awards and E, EWF. October 26, 2021.
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Source: Microsoft Security