My Quantum Leap into Cybersecurity

By Rachel Phillips

To inspire others to go for their dream job, I’d like to share how I made a quantum leap from program management to cybersecurity professional. This was a journey of self-discovery, about shifting my attitude, and mostly about giving myself permission. But first, let’s talk about diversity.

Diversity and Inclusion in Business

Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords, but what do they really mean? Much of the conversation seems to center around women or minorities being underrepresented in business, leadership roles, and Information Technology. To me, diversity isn’t just about differences in race, religion, or culture. It’s about embracing all types of differences, such as working and communication styles, knowledge, perspective, and subculture. It’s about learning to use these differences to advantage in business.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again: diversity in the workplace means a better bottom line.
— Rachel Phillips

An MIT study, which used eight years of revenue data between 1995 and 2002, found that “shifting from an all-male or all-female office to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by roughly 41 percent.”

  Image Source:  Pew Research Center

Image Source: Pew Research Center

Women and men are the ubiquitous argument for fundamentally different types of people, but according to the Pew Research Center, it’s female leadership styles and not necessarily being a female that is at the heart of the most successful organizations. Traits such as compassion or being organized, which are considered feminine qualities, are prevalent in top leaders – who don’t have to be women.

  Feminine thinking seems to make people happier   Image Source:  Inc. Magazine

Feminine thinking seems to make people happier
Image Source: Inc. Magazine

Conversely, in an industry like InfoSec where male personalities are dominant, one doesn’t have to be a man to contribute those masculine qualities. If someone doesn’t gender identify as a man, but exhibits a masculine leadership style as well as thinks and acts just like everyone else on the team, then there isn’t much balance to help diversify that group.

Awareness of Our Own Biases

This imbalance in the workplace isn’t solved simply by hiring more diverse personalities within a department, or having a CIO with a dominantly feminine leadership style. I would counter with: it starts with us women. We need to move beyond a focus on who doesn’t have equal representation, and more toward awareness of our own biases – most importantly, biases we have about ourselves.

  Removing Roadblocks to Diversity   Image Source:  IT Security Planet

Removing Roadblocks to Diversity
Image Source: IT Security Planet

How many women have biases about their own skills, culture, or other ways they interact with the world? Do you give yourself the credit you are due? Do you have a high level of confidence in your professional abilities? According to Selena Templeton, “women tend not to apply for jobs when their experience only matches, say, 75% of what the company is looking for while in contrast, men tend to apply for positions even when their experience only matches 25%.” And I agree with Angie Leifson, who says, in this same article, “apply anyway.” That’s just what I did!

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Years ago I had a boss who told me I couldn’t be a project manager until I had my PMP certification. So I thought, I’ll show him! I went out and got PMP certified and PMI-ACP (Agile) certified, and went on to manage projects for global brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Food&,, and Microsoft’s Bing. But then I realized that what I really wanted was to be an IT professional. Because of my own biases about myself, I never gave myself permission to go after this career.

While completing a Master’s in cybersecurity, I realized that I could have learned everything in a few months with focused self-guided study using free online resources. My belief was that without my degrees and certifications, I wouldn’t be able to “check that box” for online job applications. But what I had been doing all these years was creating my own obstacles. I thought I had to show them my certifications and degrees, but it was me who had doubts about my abilities. It was me who never charged forward years ago into the world of IT. It was me who thought I needed the fancy credentials before I could dare pursue an IT career.

Remember, when overcoming the roadblocks on the path to diversity in the tech or InfoSec fields, make sure that the roadblock isn’t yourself
— Rachel Phillips

Through seeing my own self-biases more clearly, and finally giving myself permission, I made a quantum leap from (mostly digital, some technical) program management to cybersecurity. Even after deciding to focus on cybersecurity, I thought I would never be doing the technical work myself. I even expected that I would have to start at the bottom again – as a security project coordinator or something like that.

In the final year of my Master’s program, I experienced a series of unfortunate events that included major surgery. While I was recovering from the procedure, and a couple months away from completing my degree, I was laid off. It crossed my mind to just not work again until I finished the program, and to give my body the time it needed to fully heal. If I was going to apply for a new job, it had to be my dream job!

So I applied to jobs in the cybersecurity space, all the while thinking they wouldn’t consider me a serious candidate. Then I started getting interviews, all the while thinking I wouldn’t hear back. Then I got multiple offers for jobs in security, all the while thinking.... You see how this goes?

But the key to my quantum leap into cybersecurity is that if I hadn’t had these odd circumstances with my health and my work, I may not have had the time to reflect on my own self-biases that led to a shift in attitude and subsequently the pursuit of my dream job.

Deficits Create Opportunities

All signs point towards a prolonged cybersecurity workforce shortage through at least 2021
— Steve Morgan, founder and CEO at Cybersecurity Ventures

Cybersecurity is such a fast-growing niche – with a workforce shortage to reach 1.5 million by 2019 – that rather than bemoaning our lack of representation, we should believe in our own abilities enough to apply to these jobs that we want! If women are underrepresented in any industry, then learn the skills necessary (or believe in the ones you already have), apply for everything, and just get your talented self in front of the right people and show them why you’re the perfect person for the job!

Remember, when overcoming the roadblocks on the path to diversity in the tech or InfoSec fields, make sure that the roadblock isn’t yourself.

About Rachel Phillips

Rachel Phillips, PMP, PMI-ACP is a cybersecurity professional specializing in information security and compliance program management. She holds a Masters in IT with emphasis in Information Security and Assurance, and a Bachelors in Business Administration with emphasis in New Media and Internet Marketing from Kaplan University.

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