4 important tips for mentoring, coaching and growing women’s roles in cybersecurity

There is no single solution to foster employee growth in the cybersecurity industry, or any industry for the matter. However, there are some tips, tricks and best practices to help women excel and thrive in an industry largely dominated by men.

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Women are underrepresented in every industry, at every level of companies. Even more discouraging, a report from the Wall Street Journal suggests that there are significantly less women in the higher ranks of companies, indicating that growth of a female employee plateaus before their careers have even taken off.

Not surprisingly, a mere 11 percent of the world’s information security workforce are women and less than 2 percent of those women hold C-Suite level positions. This begs the question: how can the women that have become industry leaders help those in entry-level positions grow and develop their careers? Put simply, by acting as mentor to foster career advancement and encourage continued growth.

While there’s no silver-bullet solution, here are some tried-and-true strategies and best practices for leaders to cultivate talent within their organization and build female leaders within the cybersecurity industry.

1. Step out of your comfort zone

Although this is often easier said than done, it never hurts to branch out and seek new experiences. Inspire innovation by encouraging women to speak up, provide input and take charge. Studies have shown that many women don’t speak up during meetings for fear of not being heard or being judged harshly, but as an industry leader, it is your responsibility to create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard.

Urge employees to embrace new situations, step out of the box and stand out from their peers. Provide opportunities for employees to take on new roles and responsibilities to hone their skills and uncover previously unknown talents. By building a work environment that encourages employees to step out of their comfort zones, you’ll foster employee growth, as well as the growth of your organization.

[ MORE: Why cybersecurity needs women ]

2. Be responsible, respectful and ready to learn

As a mentor, it’s your responsibility to set mentees up for success so that they are responsible, respectful and ready to learn in all future endeavors. As a leader, you are the coach to your employees. Company culture is key to creating responsible employees that embody key values such as respect, honesty and integrity. Culture persuades employees to be responsible, respectful and ready.

Building a culture that allows employees to make their own decisions on how to carry out tasks instills pride in each job, and by rewarding those who step up to challenges and acknowledge success, you’re able to produce responsible workers. By respectfully acknowledging employees’ successes and failures, leaders are able to develop mutual respect between junior staff and senior leadership. Above all, it’s important to establish a willingness to learn and continued development as critical components of your corporate culture. Encouraging and providing learning opportunities at all levels will establish a positive work environment in which employees will not only survive, but also thrive.

3. Be dedicated to your own success, but also to the success of others

It goes without saying: everyone likes to be acknowledged for a job well done. Giving credit where credit is due is absolutely crucial to building a positive work environment. Successful leaders act as team players and not only acknowledge, but also celebrate the success of their employees. This type of atmosphere will encourage employees to work hard for recognition without neglecting to acknowledge the success of others along the way. Remember we are all in this together.

4. Find a balance

In many industries assertive, aggressive women are perceived as bitchy or overbearing whereas a man with the same or similar approach would be seen as strong and confident. This negative stereotype often leads women to be uncomfortable in leadership roles in the workplace – and is detrimental to their career growth. If we wish to attract more women to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, it’s time to breakdown these misguided notions and rise above the labels.  

[ ALSO ON CSO: 10 tips to attract women to infosec jobs ]

Women that fret about being labeled as “bitchy” may ignore or overlook admirable qualities that may make them a strong leader; a woman who is strong and direct can and will be an asset in any organization. No matter what gender – self confidence is key. We as leaders, coaches and mentors who embody this competency – confidence – will lead as an example for junior staff to follow now and in years to come.

If we want to solve this persistent challenge and cultivate female talent within the cybersecurity industry, we must take ownership of our careers and move ourselves forward. We must be role models and we can only do that with ensuring we have mentors and role models of our own.

Remember we are all in this together!

Cheers!

Tammy

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