Building Diverse Cybersecurity Teams With Intention & Authenticity
Written by Linda Luty
Director, Information Security and Risk Management
When discussing diversity in cybersecurity, there is an elephant in the room: this is a predominantly male field, with women making up only about 24% of the cybersecurity workforce.
Moving into information security was a natural fit for Amy Bogac, director of information security and risk management at CF Industries. After spending several years of her career in IT, she realized how much she enjoyed her time doing cybersecurity investigations and related work, and was called to the security side of the business.
Bogac acknowledges, however, that this can be daunting for a woman who may be considering entering into a career in IT or cybersecurity.
“It is daunting in any situation to look where you want to go and not see someone like you. When you don't see a role model or a reflection of yourself in the role that you're shooting for, it is daunting because now you’re paving the way,” said Bogac.
“But many people don't even realize they are part of the security process already. Once you start looking at it from that perspective, it can be an easy transition,” she said.
Whether working in cybersecurity or another area of the business, Bogac emphasized the importance of communication, mentorship and a mindset of learning and development as core to how women can advance their careers.
No matter the dynamic, communication is key. Bogac’s background with an undergraduate degree in communication helped her with interpersonal communication tactics and has shed light on the importance of being transparent and straightforward – especially when communicating complex information.
Since communication styles don’t just vary by culture or gender, Bogac’s philosophy and advice on communication are simple: be authentic, transparent and clearly articulate your intentions.
“I know if I authentically show up every day, I can be successful in a lot of different environments. You do have to flex, you do have to be aware of the differences in communication that exist between men and women,” said Bogac.
“I am always working to build trust with the leaders above me, and they trust that I’m doing the right thing because I provide transparent communication and am receptive to feedback. If you don’t start by communicating what your intentions are, there is no way to measure your success; mistakes will happen and that is ok, this is a skill you must actively work on,” she continued.
Concepts like this may seem fundamental, but they are difficult to master, nonetheless. “Acknowledging that every interaction starts and ends with how you communicate is so important. It’s true in our personal lives, and it’s true in working in cybersecurity,” said Bogac.
Team Building and Development
Bogac has a passion for education and developing teams, and she recognizes that skills in communication are not always taught on the job. She sought to fix that.
“We do an event called ‘Learning Bytes’; it’s a lunch-and-learn intended for people to grow their communication and presentation skills for the IT and security department. If you are working on a new product or you've learned a new skill and you also want to grow your presentation skills, your soft skills, this is a safe place to do it,” she said. “This helps our team grow, and that has been so transformative and engaging for our employees.”
Bogac also led an initiative to create an IT learning and development committee. Team members got creative in seeking discounts from their training providers and found free resources to help further develop the team. This initiative engaged and upskilled her team, and teaching the “soft skills” is helping her team expand their skills and become more effective communicators.
When presenting technical information, it’s vital that the presenter understand the information and the audience. Both initiatives at CF Industries are intended to help sharpen her team’s technical and communication skills; both help to build a bench for the future leadership of IT and information security.
Mentorship & New Talent
Entering a male-dominated, highly technical field can be intimidating for women who are looking to explore cybersecurity as a career option.
“That is why it's so important for women, and especially women in cybersecurity, to find groups to network together. Not because they're such dramatic differences in our experiences from our male counterparts, but because that is something that works for us: strength in numbers,” said Bogac.
She acknowledges, though, that it’s often more difficult for women to make the move into a field that often requires technical skills and prior experience in the job description.
“Many women don’t ‘apply up.’ They often look at job descriptions and only apply if they check every single one of these boxes. It is daunting because that isn't necessary, but we hold ourselves to a higher standard that holds us back. Any HR professional will tell you that those job descriptions are written for the ideal candidate, which they know there aren't going to find any one person that fits 100% of the time,” said Bogac.
Cybersecurity and IT are skills that can be learned if the person has the right mindset. So Bogac encourages women to “apply up,” find a mentor and build a network to further enable their careers.
“If people want to help foster diversity and cyber security, you have to be approachable. None of us knows everything, and the reason that we all have cybersecurity teams is because each of us is a building block. And each one of us can have a different strength and bring a different experience to the table. Then the fun part for me happens – I love building great teams.”
Special thanks to Amy Bogac and CF.
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