Inspiring women inspiring men
By Sabrina Castiglione, Chief of Staff at Tessian and WISE Young Women’s Board member.
Sabrina (pictured centre) at the WISE Conference 2018 in Manchester.
June 5th-7th saw the Information Security industry descend on London Olympia for InfoSec Europe 2018. The second annual Women in Cybersecurity breakfast saw the beautiful Pillar Hall graced by women that already defy the odds by being part of the technology industry, where female representation was last reported at only 17%.
The breakfast was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of women who have overcome stark probabilities, and fittingly the keynote speech by Felicity Aston, a polar explorer leading international teams of women to achieve record-breaking feats in extreme environments, showcased that despite stigmas or preconception, women working together can achieve incredible things. Apart from being brilliant and boundary-pushing achievements, Felicity explained how the expeditions gave the women platforms to promote, in their own countries, female achievement, and give women in those countries the opportunity to see successes of ‘people like me’.
A common observation in discussions about low female representation (in senior roles in all industries, and in general in STEM industries) is that female role models are less visible. For example, at the WISE Conference 2018 a speaker referred to a study that showed that when asked to name ‘inspirational women in STEM’ most people can only name (if anyone at all) Marie Curie… who lived over 100 years ago. So promoting the visibility of female role models that can serve to inspire other women is undoubtedly important.
However, there’s another important side to female visibility that is less feted; inspiring women don’t only inspire women.
On the InfoSec panel was Ted Claypoole, Partner at US/UK law firm Womble Bond Dickinson which sponsored the breakfast. Ted spoke about collaborating with former White House CIO Theresa Payton on a number of books they have co-authored, and about his female mentor and role model, Rhonda MacLean, and how her influence has inspired him and helped him throughout his career. I caught up with Ted after the event and he had this to say of his mentor:
“My first important data security client was Rhonda MacLean who was the CISO for Bank of America (and later Barclay’s Bank) and leader of the U.S. President’s critical infrastructure task force. She taught me how to bring all the stakeholders together for important decisions and how to fight for resources to protect data.”
Ted’s is a great example of the kind of mutual benefits that can arise from collaboration when factors limiting diversity can be set aside.
The significant majority of the Women in Cybersecurity breakfast attendees and all the speakers (bar Ted), were female. This isn’t unusual at events aimed at female representation and support, but it does create an interesting dynamic and made Ted’s commentary stand out. We’re at a point where advocacy for female representation is growing, however, there’s a trend of seeing it as an endeavour mainly by women, for women. However, there’s an argument to say that this approach can’t get us all the way to where we aim to be – true gender equality where it really doesn’t matter what gender you are. If the benefits and struggles of female advocacy are solely in the domain of women, we may eventually get to a position where women can have an equally successful career path, but it could end up a being a parallel but separate women’s path to success, rather than a path to success that can be walked by anyone.
Ted’s example shows that the benefits of increased female visibility and representation aren’t just felt by women, and that if people don’t have access to incredible role models from half the world’s population we all, regardless of our gender, lose out on opportunities to be mentored and inspired.
It made me wonder: What other great examples of inspiring women did the men around me have, that should be made more visible? I asked my male colleagues at Tessian to answer that question, and speak about women that had influenced them and contributed to their success. Here are a selection of anecdotes from the team, spanning education, inspiration, and career mentorship:
“Mrs Smith – Fran as we call her now – taught A-Level economics. I’d studied it at GCSE, but at that age, school was just school; Maths was the subject I’d found easiest, so it seemed inevitable that I’d fall into doing that at university. But she was powerfully inspirational; she turned just another class into something different – a genuine intellectual challenge, a subject I wanted to spend more time, my own time, exploring and learning about. Her teaching made me truly aware that the things you learn in academia can affect both individuals’ lives and societies. Before, I’d viewed subjects in the abstract, but she brought to life the interaction between individuals and governments, institutions and countries that have a tangible impact on the real world, and that it’s possible not only to be a bystander but to use knowledge to make decisions which create these effects ourselves. It was one of the earliest times I felt really thrilled to pursue something beyond the rote reasons of passing an exam or getting a degree as just another necessary step to get a job. Fran had studied at Oxford and was a real advocate of the University, inspiring me to push to apply there myself. She helped me through that process and ultimately I ended up reading Economics and Management at Oxford – following in her footsteps as it were! – which was the first step in defining my own career and how I would use my knowledge to have a real impact on the world around me.”
– Chris, Business Development
“Even before I first worked on embedded systems, I had been interested in electronic hardware design. Some years ago I heard of a brilliant commercial project which put the whole circuitry of a Commodore 64 on a single chip, designed to fit inside a joystick. It turned out that had been completed by a fully-self-taught ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) designer. As someone who started out on a Commodore 64 myself and dabbled in small commercial electronics projects, I was incredibly impressed. I watched one of her talks where she spoke about those life experiences that moved her toward electronics, and many of the elements she described resonated with my own experiences learning the field. To this day, I follow her work (e.g. on the Steam Controller for Valve, and her co-founding of a company building an augmented reality system, CastAR). Her name is Jeri Ellsworth and her perseverance, commitment and innovation, are a true inspiration.”
– Mac, DevOps Engineering
“The best manager I’d ever worked for was Emily. In a short period of time, I grew and advanced so much, from working for Emily on a project to being able to become a project manager myself, with little support required from anyone else. Emily helped me achieve this in two ways: she really focused on and helped me realise, my strengths, and she continually stepped away so that I kept stepping up. Focusing on my strengths gave me the confidence I needed to go and get things done the way I believed was best, and to be myself, rather than constantly worrying about my weaknesses. Continually stepping away meant that I was always being empowered and pushed just enough to take on more responsibility until eventually, I could manage the project independently.”
– James, Special Projects
There will be a multitude of other examples out there of brilliant female endeavours that contribute to the aspirations and successes of others, whether through up-close mentoring or seen from afar. As part of the push to promote progression and recognition regardless of gender, it’s these kinds of examples we need to take time to celebrate and highlight, so that the benefits can be felt – not only by one gender or one group of people but by everyone – and so that we can all profit from the encouragement, guidance and inspiration that these exceptional role models provide.