International Women's Day: Career Advice from Women of the NightDragon Community

Happy International Women’s Day from NightDragon to all the incredible women in our network and beyond!  

Historically, the cybersecurity industry has been a very male-dominated field, with only 24% of cybersecurity roles filled today by women and an even smaller percentage in top leadership positions.

NightDragon commits to diversity, equity and inclusion and takes an active role in the industry to help support these efforts at our portfolio and broader industry. This includes many partnerships with leading DEI organizations, including The Athena Alliance, The Cyber Guild, Cybersecurity Gatebreakers Foundation, NextGen Cyber Talent and more. We’re proud to also see strong diversity amongst our own team, portfolio, Advisor Council and more.  

In honor of International Women’s Day, we reached out to some of our incredible community of women to share some of the learnings they’ve experienced as successful executives in this sector and what advice they’d offer to the next generation of cyber leaders. Together, we can make an impact on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in this sector to help secure our world for tomorrow.

Insights from the women of the NightDragon network on International Women’s Day:  

Lisa Aaron, Governmental Affairs Consultant, Lisa Aaron Consulting:

“I believe there are a few things women can do. First, make sure you have the certifications and credentials in security, there are lots of resources available. Second, find a good mentor in cyberspace (male or female) and finally, let your perspective be heard! In such a dynamic and changing space, we must have diversity to develop and implement the best solutions.” 

Dorin Baniel, Principal, Head of EMEA, NightDragon:

“As the fastest growing industry out there, a career in cybersecurity today means providing yourself with opportunity to not just take on powerful positions, but influence their creation. With over 3M job opportunities and an immense amount of innovation generated at lightning speed, being in cyber is a fast-paced and dynamic environment, solving for problems that impact each and every one of us daily. The forward-thinking nature of cybersecurity leaders, especially CISOs, has resulted in an environment that nurtures, trains and grows individuals looking to enter the space, who often find themselves advancing just as quickly as the industry is advancing. If you are looking to combine your passion for people, technology, and business in one, this is the spacefor you, with many paths towards success that all start with one thing: applying.”

Coco Brown, Founder and CEO, The Athena Alliance:

“For women looking to break into cybersecurity, connecting with other professionals in the industry is key. Particularly in a male-dominated industry, having female peers who understand the challenges you face and can guide you with the right insights and connect you with the right people is extremely valuable. Athena Alliance is proud to have many highly experienced women leaders in the cybersecurity space. To find mentorship, our members lean on our Member Success Team to help make introductions that will open the door to more opportunities.”

Amy De Salvatore, Partner, NightDragon:

“Cybersecurity is a bold profession with a global mandate to stave off some of our toughest adversaries.  Given the intrinsic warrior mentality incumbent to the cyber industry, it comes as no surprise that this space has been historically male dominant. I would say to a fellow female warrior that if you have an unwavering commitment to innovation, are committed to the mission of making the world a safer place, and have conviction in yourself and your ideas, then cyber is the place for you! The best advice someone ever gave me sounds simplistic but true – Just be yourself.  If that doesn’t work, then you are in the wrong place.  Cyber, especially in the workplace, is both your playground and your battlefield, so trust in yourself, apply yourself, and the industry will emerge stronger and fairer with you in it.”

Katherine Gronberg, Head of Government Services, NightDragon

“Cybersecurity companies have many roles that are not “hands on keyboards” roles, i.e. roles that are very technically demanding such as engineering.  If you find yourself in, or are aiming for, such a role, never refer to yourself as “not technical.”  This is extremely self-limiting and, after a short time at any cybersecurity company, it simply won’t be true.”

Hannah Huffman, Vice President, NightDragon:

“When trying to break into an industry like cybersecurity, building a network is critical. Cybersecurity is a nuanced industry, in a constant state of flux, driven by an ever-evolving threat landscape. A strong network is invaluable, sectors breaking down the industry to its core principles, guiding you to roles that match your skills, identifying that speak your interests and unlocking opportunities. Great ways to immerse yourself in the community can be by attending cyber conferences like RSA, BlackHat, DefCon and BSide and by nurturing relationships with security professionals (analysts, consultants, CISOs), market thought leaders and security investors. Women in cyber is a close knit (and growing!) community, constantly looking for ways to elevate other women in the industry – don’t hesitate to put yourself out there and connect!” 

Katie Jenkins, EVP and CISO, Liberty Mutual:

“There is great variation in the roles and skills that comprise a security team, so an ideal starting point is to gain a point of view on where your interests and strengths align to a role. This will take some work in talking with people in the industry, reading various security job descriptions and professional profiles of those working in security, or attending ‘meet-ups’ for security practitioners. With that interest in mind, it becomes easier for me to be approached by someone who expresses interest in security education or threat analysis, for example,  to connect them to opportunities, rather than an open-ended interest in our field.”

Vijaya Kaza, Chief Security Officer & Head of Engineering for Trust and Safety, Airbnb:

“Opportunities in CyberSecurity are endless. Stay in the game and keep at it. Perseverance and Resilience will trump everything else in the long run.”

Sarah Kuranda Vallone, VP, Marketing, NightDragon:

“You don’t have to be technical to have an important place in the cybersecurity industry. We also need those who can help tell stories, write policies, design user-friendly UIs, write meaningful marketing text to reach new customers and more. If you feel called to the mission and the impact you can have in cybersecurity, there is a place for you and we need you! Don’t be afraid to step in and see what impact you can have!”

Dr. Bilyana Lilly, CISSP, Chair, Resilience Track, Warsaw Security Forum:

“Start by building your knowledge of the fundamentals of computer science, network security, and cybersecurity frameworks and regulation. Identify the areas of the field that you are most passionate about. Develop an extensive network in the community and attend online and in-person events to acquire additional knowledge, learn from your peers, and find mentors who will be your champions in your career. Embrace a continuous learning mindset and a high tolerance for uncertainty – the cybersecurity landscape is constantly and rapidly evolving and you need to keep up with the major advances in defense and offense alike. And last but not least, enjoy the process!”

Barbara Massa, COO, Partner, NightDragon

“Educating yourself about the vast array of opportunities is a great first step as you consider a career in cybersecurity. Cyber is no longer a deep dark place; don’t be scared off! It’s full of interesting roles that range from highly technical in nature to those that require investigative, creative, analytical, or even journalistic type capabilities. Connecting with professionals in the cyber industry through networking events, online forums, conferences and social platforms is a great place to start to understand all the avenues a career in cyber can offer.”

Heather McMahon, Former Defense Intelligence Senior Executive & Veteran, Counterintelligence Officer, Board Member:

“For the most effective responses to challenges in cyberspace, blend cybersecurity with information security, counterintelligence, and insider risk programs, and of course your organization’s operational needs. With both the risks and benefits of cyber rapidly changing lives, businesses, and even governments, it is more essential than ever to get involved in building the future. Women, you have the skills, insights and persistence needed to lead change.  Find a mission that moves you and step in. The best teams are greater than the sum of their parts. Today’s risk and complexity demands the best of us, and women are great at building successful and inclusive teams.” 

Debbie Sallis, Executive Director, The Cyber Guild

“Believe in yourself and build your posse! Be ‘out there’ and active in programs to build relationships with those who share in a mindset of “stronger together”.  Goodness comes to us and through us – self advocate and help others do the same.  For those new to cyber or transitioning back to work you will find fab mentors. Cyber professionals who are intentional about advancing their careers will find amazing sponsors. See you out there!”

Happy International Women’s Day! To see more members of our NightDragon team and network, visit our Team page.