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Hacking Stereotypes

As a woman in cybersecurity, I have experienced some challenges, but I have also had

incredible opportunities to learn, grow, and make an impact in a field that is constantly evolving. From my background as a Chef to my transition into cybersecurity, I have learned that diversity is critical for success in any field.

Before I began my journey in cybersecurity, I spent 20 years working as a Chef. The conditions in the culinary field when I started were harsher for women than what I've experienced in cybersecurity. I assumed this going in, so transitioning into another male-dominated field was not something that intimidated me. Learning entirely new things outside my comfort zone after I had proven myself to be a knowledgeable and respected figure in my prior field proved more challenging. The self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and the need to overcompensate for my lack of experience all resurfaced.

As a female, it can be more challenging to gain recognition and respect in this field. Often, it

may require extra effort to be noticed and acknowledged for your talents and abilities. There is also a societal expectation for women to have a broader range of knowledge and skills to be considered experts. It takes courage to speak up and assert your opinions, especially if your male counterparts are used to dominating the conversation and making themselves heard, and this can be an uphill battle for many women. I already learned these lessons, so it wasn’t at all surprising when I encountered some of them again. All women and especially women of color, regardless of the field they are employed by, have stories of challenges, discrimination, and unfairness. It can be discouraging when you feel like you're not getting the same degree of respect as someone else at your same professional level. However, I have learned that the key to success is to embrace these challenges and use them as motivation to push forward.

Building strong relationships and camaraderie is essential in any field, which I learned quickly in the culinary industry. The ability to work together efficiently and effectively during a busy shift when everyone was getting their butt kicked created a sense of mutual respect and admiration between line cooks, chefs, dishwashers, and serving staff. This strengthened our support of each other and solidified our commitment to a common goal. It’s no different in cybersecurity, mostly without the butt-kicking. Similarly, building strong relationships and networks with colleagues is important for both personal and professional growth. Throughout my career, I have developed a habit of volunteering for projects and assuming additional responsibilities to use them as learning opportunities and collaborate with my co-workers. But be aware that there is a delicate balance between taking on too much or possibly being exploited, and actively seeking out opportunities to learn and develop skills without burning yourself out.

It’s also essential to find a position where you feel comfortable and supported. It was high on

my list of priorities to work for an organization that values diversity, respects individuality and

provides a supportive and inclusive workplace based on mutual respect. Unfortunately, some

companies may not prioritize these principles, which can hinder your ability to succeed and

contribute effectively. When exploring job opportunities, it's crucial to ask questions, research the company's values, and consider how well you might fit into the culture. By finding a place that aligns with your personal and professional goals, you'll be more likely to feel empowered to speak up and share your ideas, ultimately leading to greater success and fulfillment in your career.

Encouraging and fostering diversity and inclusion is so important in cybersecurity, and in all

fields, for that matter. When we embrace different perspectives, ideas, and backgrounds, we

can all learn and grow together. It is time to move beyond just checking the diversity and

inclusion box and actively work towards creating a better and more equitable future for everyone in cybersecurity. While it can be challenging to enter a male-dominated field like cybersecurity, there are many resources available to help women succeed. One of the most important resources is the support of other women in the field. It can be helpful to seek out female mentors and peers who can offer advice and guidance on navigating the challenges that come with being a woman in cybersecurity.

Another way to promote diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity is to encourage more women to pursue careers in the field. This can be accomplished through outreach programs and initiatives that aim to introduce girls and young women to cybersecurity and other STEM fields. By providing young women with the tools and resources they need to succeed in these fields, and encouraging them to believe they can thrive in areas that have traditionally been male-dominated, we can help to create a workforce that values differences and promotes fairness.

About the Author: Kathy Collins is a Security Consultant with Secure Ideas in Jacksonville, Florida. She is a former Chef turned penetration tester, Fullstack Academy graduate, keyboard nerd, and holds a few boring certifications.

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