Historically, women have been underrepresented in technology-related disciplines, particularly cybersecurity. This begins early on, with fewer females being interested in technology at the grade-school level, which results in fewer women choosing cybersecurity as a profession in industry or academia (read more about the science, technology, engineering, and math gap in this report). The women who do choose to work in this field typically experience greater obstacles in building a successful career compared to men, despite respected studies that have highlighted the benefits and importance of having a balanced and gender-diverse environment (see for example this research detailed in the Harvard Business Review).
As a scientist who has been in the minority throughout my education and career, I have had great opportunities to learn from very successful women in science, technology, and leadership. Because of their tremendous impact on my career, I made women's empowerment one of my career goals. Luckily, cybersecurity is my expertise, so I can put more resources into supporting women in this field.
Recently, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST) and the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age organized the first edition of the Women in Cyber (WiC) Mentorship Programme, which aims to empower women in the cybersecurity sector.
This programme engages role models and leaders in the field and connects them with talented women seeking mentors worldwide. It is an outcome of the CyberDrill 2020 Empowering Women in Cybersecurity Webinar, where the need for female role models and mentorship was identified as pivotal for increasing the number of women leaders in cybersecurity.
I was invited to serve as a mentor in the first WiC Mentorship Programme, which began in March 2021 and concludes in August 2021. I have been honored to support three wonderful mentees from the Middle East and Africa. We meet in monthly mentorship circles, in which we spend time getting to know more from each other and discussing the mentees' objectives for this experience. As each mentee came to the programme with a slightly different purpose in mind, I tried to provide personal support where it was needed in addition to participating in group discussions, which were organized by the mentors or by the programme leadership. This support ranges from offering tips tailored to the mentee's specific work environment to suggesting courses and trainings, as well as career-related advice. Additionally, I took the opportunity to familiarize my highly competent mentees with ICANN's overall role in the Internet ecosystem as well as more specific topics such as Domain Name System (DNS) security threats.
In addition to mentorship, the women participate in keynote webinars delivered by inspirational women that have successful careers in cybersecurity, as well as a series of technical and soft skills training courses.
As we near the end of the programme, I have gained great appreciation for the initiative and the effort that went into it, given how important such an initiative it is for the future of the global cybersecurity workforce. My personal experience working with my mentees gives me faith that there are many talented and ambitious women working really hard to grow in the field of cybersecurity, and the future for women is bright.
Although I personally find it useful to be mentored by an experienced person regardless of the gender, given that this field is still male-dominant, having a female mentor who has been through the same experiences can ease the process and extend the mentees' reach. Accordingly, I encourage other women to consider joining the programme either as a mentor or mentee, to help this important network grow.
It is worth mentioning that learning was bilateral; I also learned many things about my mentees' working cultures and backgrounds. I do not perceive the end of this round of the programme as the end of the relationship with my mentees; rather it is just the beginning. We plan to stay in touch and continue to support one another as we grow in our respective careers.