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How to Take the Next Step as a Woman in Cybersecurity

For women in cybersecurity looking to take the next step in their career, navigating that pathway can be challenging.

Women make up only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce, and this number has remained stagnant in the last couple of years. Due to this lack of female leadership, some women in the security space are left stuck and unsure of what moves are needed to advance their career.

Recently at our Women of WhiteHat event, JeanAnn Nichols, an executive coach and speaker who works solely with women in technology, spoke about how to help women in cybersecurity thrive by encouraging them to pursue their own passions.

This blog is for you if you are a woman in the technology field who has:

  • Established your technical expertise
  • Recently identified an eagerness to take on more responsibility
  • Realized you want to advance your career

Below are some tips from JeanAnn’s talk to help women in cybersecurity and beyond achieve the goals they’ve always wanted for themselves.

Adjust the Mindset

 Despite the popular phrase, “climbing the corporate ladder,” most career paths do not have a literal straight line. In fact, most appear to be arcs with time across the horizontal axis and satisfaction across the vertical. Some arcs are smooth and steady, building to a long peak and then a small decline before retirement. Others have two lines, which can represent a person continuing their main career and pursuing a side passion.

The main question you should be asking yourself is: what should the arc look like?

No matter the career path, when an individual is evaluating their position and where they want to go next, it is important to adjust the mindset to the future. Multi-decade views provide perspective and confidence. Take, for example, if a project fails. While the pain of the misstep may be fresh right now, the chances that the misstep will matter a decade from now to you are very slim.

Consider the element of height for the arc and how big of a contribution an individual should make. Women should be asking themselves the following questions:

  • What functional area do you want to focus in?
  • What area would be most valued by your company?
  • Are the costs and rewards of the next step worth it?

Look at the big picture. Every career has a beginning, middle and end. You should be asking yourself if the arc is consistent with your values, personality, character and driving and adjust accordingly.

Finding Your Why and Knowing Yourself

 When looking for a promotion or to switch into a different area of your company, it is important to know what you are bringing to the table and what you’re looking for next. Evaluate what you are good at and what you enjoy. The end goal should be to move to a position that increases the amount of time you get to spend on projects you take pleasure in.

Be honest with yourself, don’t mention something to a supervisor just because you think you should or someone else tells you that you should. You can use the insights from this self evaluation to create opportunities for yourself.

Asking Others for an Evaluation

 Now that you understand where you want your career to go and know what you want, it’s time to understand how others perceive you. Perception is reality. Supervisors will not give you a job if they don’t see you performing how the job requires.

Ask your work colleagues for an evaluation. Do not just ask people at your level. Ask supervisors, individuals who might be a step or two below you, and people in other departments who work closely with you. Questions such as, “What am I known for?” “What do you consider me an expert in?” are great starting points. Let the discussion flow naturally and do not be afraid of criticism.

Taking Action

 Once you’ve heard the opinions of your colleagues, take action to fix any gaps between your current skills and expected skills for your desired role. If any of your colleagues identified an issue, work on fixing it. Learn new skills that might better prepare you for the next role you are trying to take, even if it means learning them on personal time.

Do not be afraid to mention to key people what you’ve been working on either. If you’re not comfortable pointing them out yourself, have a colleague describe you or mention your activities to a supervisor.

Using the tips above can help build your personal brand and increase your value to your cybersecurity company. While there is no written guide for women in this field to become the next VP or director, following these tips can help you realize where you want to go and help lay the groundwork.