Panel discussion by ICE71 and Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide
“Women Powering the Growth of Cybersecurity” is a panel discussion helmed by women who are making an impact in the cybersecurity industry. The webcast hopes to inspire more women to pursue a career in the industry through the sharing of experiences by women who have treaded this path before.
The panel discussion was held on Zoom on 21 September 2021 and featured women who are at various stages in their cybersecurity career. It was moderated by Linda Nguyen Schindler, programme head of ICE71 (ICE71 is the co-organiser and a cybersecurity start-up ecosystem builder co-founded by NUS Enterprise and Singtel Innov8. More about ICE71 below).
For cybersecurity teams, having greater gender diversity provides a broader range of perspectives and skillsets which are critical in staying ahead of inventive cyber criminals. The cybersecurity industry has long been a male-dominated one but women are gradually making their mark in the industry. According to the Cybersecurity Workforce Study by ISC2, higher percentages of women are assuming cybersecurity leadership positions despite being outnumbered by their male counterparts. While this is encouraging, there remains palpable hesitation about entering the industry without a technical background.
The truth is, the cybersecurity sector is powered by a wide spectrum of roles and not all are technical in nature. In relatively nascent markets like Singapore, this diversity of jobs plays an even more critical role in helping cybersecurity companies innovate and scale. By creating greater awareness about non-conventional roles, women are more empowered to find the best application of their talents in the cybersecurity ecosystem, whether technical or not. With this in mind, ICE71 had brought together four female panelists in cybersecurity who have come from varying backgrounds ranging from communications to law.
Read on to know more about each speaker and her takeaways for us.
The first speaker was Chloe, a current Year 3 student at the Singapore Polytechnic pursuing a diploma in Infocomm Security Management. Chloe is also a recipient of the Singapore Digital Scholarship and an intern at GovTech at the time of this webcast. For Chloe, her stumble into cybersecurity was propelled by her brother, a graduate of the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing.
Chloe’s advice to all individuals who are keen on a career in cybersecurity is to be curious about it. Some of her recommendations are to research more into the areas in tech which one is interested in, such as watching videos on malware attacks or phishing attacks, just to name a few.
Chloe also mentioned how she copes in her course is to balance out work and play. For her, this includes setting aside one hour of her time daily to do whatever she likes. On top of that, Chloe also sets goals for herself when it comes to her health such as exercising about 10 to 20 minutes daily.
The next speaker was Pamela Lim, Manager at the Ecosystem Development Division of the Cybersecurity Agency of Singapore (CSA). Pamela has over six years of experience in cybersecurity, working with organisations across various sectors, including Financial, Energy and Healthcare. Her current role requires her to work closely with the industry and ecosystem builders like ICE71 to understand demand and supply in order to bolster growth for the local cybersecurity ecosystem.
CSA’s role involves facilitating public-private dialogue which is important in strengthening Singapore’s defence against evolving cyber-attacks through timely resource and intelligence sharing. This can be viewed through the activities which the CSA has implemented such as the CSA Cybersecurity Industry Call for Innovation.
Pamela’s foray into cybersecurity was purely coincidental. She applied for a position in Data Analytics for her internship, but was offered an opportunity to try out a role in cybersecurity instead. Despite the unplanned detour, Pamela has never turned back since and believes that “cyber is not going to go away”.
The increasing relevance of cybersecurity means that companies, wealthy or not, are dedicating time and resources to remain relevant amid the evolving digital landscape. For those interested to take advantage of this demand and get their feet wet in cybersecurity, Pamela recommended to leverage government initiatives such as the IMDA TechSkills Accelerator, which helps mid-career professionals expand their tech skills and stay competitive.
The third speaker, Beatriz Silvera, is the Head of the Cyber Security Fusion Center for APAC and acting Cyber Intelligence Center APAC Lead at Citi. She has more than 17 years of experience in intelligence and successful investigations related to cyberthreats, cybercrime, complex frauds, financial and organised crime. Previously, she worked as a Police Commander in Brazil and had also been a Cybercrime Intelligence Officer at INTERPOL’s Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore.
Beatriz is not only a notable figure when it comes to the world of cybersecurity, but is also an overall role model. Beatriz is someone with multiple achievements, many of which had not been mentioned above — for instance, she had graduated with a law degree.
Beatriz emphasized the importance of having family support to balance both work and family. Speaking of family, she mentioned that companies should be more inclusive such as by implementing programmes to help women re-enter the workforce after having kids.
“Diversity is when you invite different people to a party. Inclusion is when you call them to dance together.”
Beatriz talked about the importance for employers to not only encourage diversity, but to also exercise inclusion in the workplace. While women can bring diverse perspectives to the table, true value can only be unlocked when companies go beyond in helping its staff be open to new mindsets and ideas. Additionally, companies can reinforce an empathetic workplace culture through support programmes that are built on inclusion. For example, Beatriz shared about her company’s ‘back to work programme’ which supports mothers who may face difficulties in re-adapting to the workplace after a period of absence. By being inclusive, cybersecurity companies benefit not only from a constant supply novel ideas which help them stay competitive, but they are also able to better retain talent amid the talent crunch since employees feel valued for their contributions.
Apart from the implementation of company-wide policies that are helping to uplift women, it’s equally important for women to support each other and themselves. Beatriz found that women tend to be quick to judge themselves and put themselves down. She encouraged women to be more confident about showcasing their abilities and be more open about what they are able to contribute. By sharing their achievements, women are also helping others to navigate the cybersecurity industry by becoming important role models that younger women and girls can look up to for motivation and improvement.
Lastly, Beatriz shared some advice for those want to try getting their toes wet in cybersecurity before embarking on a total career switch. “First, decide on what you like and where you want to be in future.” Once that is laid out, she suggests considering “how your past experiences can be applied to where you want to be and what is lacking”. From there, individuals will have a clearer idea on the which skills to focus on and easily find the right courses to take from online platforms such as Coursera and Udemy. Alternatively, individuals can consider looking to the NUS Institute of Systems Science (NUS ISS) for courses designed to equip professionals with skills sought by employers in the cybersecurity industry, such as ‘IOT and 5G Security’ and ‘AI and Cybersecurity’.
The last speaker is Anna Koh, SVP for Marketing and Business Enablement at CYFIRMA, an ICE71 Scale start-up.
Anna is in charge of all aspects of the company’s brand and marketing strategy. She has brought the brand to market, allowing businesses to view how cyber-intelligence can be a driving force to mould their cybersecurity strategy. Anna partners with sales and channel teams to expand the company’s presence across the region and deliver CYFIRMA’s threat discovery and cyber-intelligence platform, DeCYFIR, to both the government and businesses.
Anna is another strong lady defying the odds in the cybersecurity field. Anna initially pursued a degree in communications but managed to pivot her career goals to align with that of the cybersecurity field. She credits her success to her managers who are understanding when it comes to her needs and also her husband who is extremely accommodating.
Some valuable advice Anna had for all the strong ladies out there is to avoid imposing the stress they face at work onto their families back home as it will be unfair to them. She mentioned that we should strive to achieve a balance between work and life so as to not build up unnecessary tension at home.
Audiences can know that if these women are able to survive in this male-dominated industry, they will be able to do so too. Until the data is strong enough to prove a point, we can only rely on open sharing of experiences from women who have excelled in this industry. They exemplify the importance of role-models in showing what is possible — if they can do it, so can the rest of us! Passion is contagious and it is through capturing the journeys and contributions of women in cybersecurity that we can attempt to move the needle on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity.
Although they might have initially come from different career paths, cybersecurity was still a path they have been able to thrive in. A common thread amongst most of the panelists was that they never decided to pursue cybersecurity from the outset, which is not surprising for the nascent industry. So instead of asking how they ended up in the cybersecurity space, it may be more useful to find out what made them stay. Beyond personal motivations, the availability of options that allowed both Anna and Beatriz to strive for work-life balance was empowering. This empowerment should form part of the larger goal that organisations must continue to work towards to retain more women and flatten the cybersecurity industry’s gender ratio. Some of their endeavors are planned and some are not, however, these women showed us that when there is a will, there is a way, and that anything and everything is possible!
We hope that this talk was informative for individuals who are keen in pursuing a career in cybersecurity. For more updates, you can follow ICE71 LinkedIn or Facebook pages. You can also follow NUS Hackers and NUS Greyhats which are student-led interest groups which hold workshops and hackathons for individuals who are keen in learning these skills. For entrepreneurs who want to venture into cybersecurity, the NUS Venture Building programme is something that can kick-start your entrepreneurship dreams.
Lastly, if you missed the webcast, you can always rewatch it in this Facebook live recording!
About Innovation Cybersecurity Ecosystem at BLOCK71 (ICE71)
ICE71 is the region’s first cybersecurity entrepreneur hub. Based in Singapore, it is a partnership between Singtel Innov8, the venture capital arm of the Singtel Group, and the National University of Singapore (NUS), through its entrepreneurial arm NUS Enterprise. ICE71 strengthens the region’s growing cybersecurity ecosystem by attracting and developing competencies and deep technologies to help combat the increasing cybersecurity issues faced in the region.
About Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW)
Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW) is the largest business platform for female founders and business executives in Asia. FEW’s mission is to empower women with essential skills and networks to help their business growth and personal development.