Women Impact Tech’s work in the cybersecurity industry

Paula Bratcher Ratliff owns and is president of Women Impact Tech, an organization committed to bringing women and diverse professionals into cybersecurity. They have clear goals, committed members and proven results.

– Get your FREE cybersecurity training resources: https://www.infosecinstitute.com/free

– View Cyber Work Podcast transcripts and additional episodes: https://www.infosecinstitute.com/podcast

0:00 - Women Impact Tech

3:11 - Paula's career

8:30 - Entering cybersecurity from different industries

11:40 - Employee retention in cybersecurity

16:32 - Cybersecurity hiring improvements

20:52 - Changing internal promotions

28:20 - Services from Women Impact Tech

32:50 - What Women Impact Tech does at events

36:30 - Effective strategies to bring equity in cybersecurity

43:52 - Protecting women online

47:44 - Upcoming Women Impact Tech events

50:00 - Outro

About Infosec

Infosec’s mission is to put people at the center of cybersecurity. We help IT and security professionals advance their careers with skills development and certifications while empowering all employees with security awareness and phishing training to stay cyber-safe at work and home. More than 70% of the Fortune 500 have relied on Infosec Skills to develop their security talent, and more than 5 million learners worldwide are more cyber-resilient from Infosec IQ’s security awareness training. Learn more at infosecinstitute.com.

[00:00:00] Chris Sienko: Is Cinderella a social engineer? That terrifying monster trying to break into the office? Or did he just forget his badge again? Find out with Work Bytes, a new Security Awareness Training series from InfoSec.

This series features a colorful array of fantastical characters including vampires, pirates, aliens, and zombies as they interact in the workplace and encounter today's most common cybersecurity threats. InfoSec created Work Bytes to help organizations empower employees by delivering short, entertaining and impactful training to teach them how to recognize and keep the company secure from cyber threats.

Compelling stories and likeable characters mean that the lessons will stick. So, go to infosecinstitute.com/free to learn more about the series and explore a number of other free cybersecurity training resources we assembled for Cyber Work listeners just like you. Again, go to infosecinstitute.com/free and grab all of your free cybersecurity training and resources today.

Today on Cyber Work, our guest is Paula Bratcher Ratliff, owner and president of Women Impact Tech, an organization that is committed to bringing women and diverse professionals into cybersecurity. They have clear goals, committed members and proven results. I should also mention that if like me, you're in the Chicago area, you can check out a Women Impact Tech event at the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, on Thursday, April 27th. Tune in today to find out more on Cyber Work.

[00:01:33] CS: Welcome to this week's episode of the Cyber Work with InfoSec podcast. Each week we talk with a different industry thought leader about cybersecurity trends, the way those trends affect the work of InfoSec professionals, while offering tips for breaking in or moving up the ladder in the cybersecurity industry.

My guest today, Paula Bratcher Ratliff, is the owner and president of Women Impact Tech, where she leads strategic direction and daily operations. Paula spent the past 20 years architecting and leading teams that provide workforce solutions for staffing, RPO, MSP, and consulting services for Fortune 500 companies in North America and globally. She has led corporate supplier diversity, sustainability, and diversity inclusion initiatives throughout her career.

Women Impact Tech has allowed Paula to bridge her industry expertise and passion for diversity and inclusion into one leadership role. Paula loves to live life to the fullest with her wife and their young daughter and son. Paula has an MBA in business from Bellarmine University and a BA in Communication from University of Louisville. Paula, thank you so much for joining me today. First of all, welcome to Cyber Work.

[00:02:35] Paula Ratliff: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:38] CS: Yes, I was very excited when I heard about Women Impact Tech. We've talked to a number of organizations along these lines. I just got off the Line with Dara Gibson of Women in Cybersecurity, in the Arizona division, and we've worked with Women's Society of Cyberjutsu and others. I'm always excited to talk to another organization that's helping women get a leg up in tech and security in general.

I'd like to start with the story of your career so far. Can you tell me about your journey with cybersecurity and tech? Was there an initial formative experience that got you excited, or was this something that interested you from childhood?

[00:03:23] PR: Well, it's a great question. So, no, I did not think I would find myself in tech. I did not think I would find myself related to anything in staffing, to be honest. I kind of fell into that. I was working for a publications company out of college, and they went through a restructure as many of us hear about in our career. And when they did that, I decided to go get my MBA. While I was working on my MBA, I had this amazing company, ManpowerGroup. They came to me through a headhunter and asked me to come and lead their organization, a branch operation in Louisville, Kentucky.

I knew nothing about staffing, and eagerly, I learned a little bit about it just enough to be dangerous. I tell this joke, Chris, and my mother never let me forget it throughout my 22 years that I was with that company. But my mom kept saying, “Are you sure? You're going to go back and work on your MBA. Are you sure you can do this job? It's the new industry for you. You don't have experience.” I said, “Oh, Mom, don't worry about it. I did some research and most of my sorority sisters that are in the industry are the pretty ones not the smart ones.” So, I learned to eat those words, Chris, for a lot of years, and I stayed in the industry for 22 years and my mom would always remind me, “Hey, you got your MBA, and that industry was more for the pretty girls, not the smart one.”

[00:04:47] CS: Moms never forget those things, do they?

[00:04:51] PR: Never, Chris. She never let me live it down. Early in my career, I met another young lady who was very focused in IT sales, and so she took me under her wing. We would do joint sales calls together. I grew up and learned our industry on the more traditional side of the house, and she brought the specialization of IT sales. So, we partnered really early in my career, and I decided my passion was on the IT side of the house, and got very passionate about selling IT staffing, really early in my career. And then as I grew up in the industry, and in ManpowerGroup, I had the opportunity to lead our IT sales organization, across North America and then across the globe, with our largest global clients.

Cybersecurity, now, this is how my worlds collide. One of the things I loved about cybersecurity early in my career is I knew a lot of women who were getting into cybersecurity early on, wasn't a big population of women in tech at that time, and still not today. But because the jobs were growing fast and furious, a lot of women were taking transferrable skills and getting into cybersecurity.

So, that was a passion for me to watch these women with nursing degrees, with biology degrees, with a teaching degree, and they were transferring these very interesting different backgrounds and skills into cybersecurity, and being very brilliantly successful. That caught my interest early, early, early on, and I continued to advocate for women in tech, specific around cybersecurity, because I made a lot of women who say, “I'd love to get into tech. Where do you recommend that I go with my career if I want to get into tech?” You probably know the statistics. But they're saying, today, women and technology, we make up about 28% of all tech jobs.

When you look at cyber and the pace that cyber jobs are going to grow, I think it was – Cybersecurity Ventures said they anticipated a 30% growth in those jobs by 2025. And then, another 35% growth by 2031. That's astronomical. I mean, we know tech jobs are growing, but not at that pace. Nothing like that.

So, I tell every woman I meet that says, “Hey, I might want to go into tech”, my passion around cybersecurity is so many transferable skills are a great match. And women typically have a lot of the core, I don't know what the right word is, but they have a lot of the core competencies around tenacity, around problem solving, detail orientation. A lot of the things that just cybersecurity specialist had a tendency to have it's just part of their core concepts of skills. And women typically have those inherently. So, that was part of the reason that I became really passionate and started following the cybersecurity space so closely.

[00:08:12] CS: Yes, I love that you mentioned that specifically because as I said, my previous guest was Dara Gibson from Optiv, and she specifically came to – she works with cyber insurance, and she came to it through education. She was like a great school teacher. We talked specifically about changing into cybersecurity roles from other positions. As soon as you said nurses, I had not heard that one. Can you tell me a bit about some stories that you've heard about women who have entered the industry from very different angles? And what were the end points? What were the things that they especially connected with from their skill sets?

[00:08:56] PR: Well, I think most of them it's around problem solving. So, when I get into the stories, they all give me these great stories, and it's about transferable skills. But as I start to peel that onion, and find out what is that real core asset that they have that makes them really passionate towards cybersecurity and ultimately really good at it. What I typically find is it boils down to problem solving. They're intrigued by really being detective like, and understanding different ways that people think, funny enough, being a mom, and really preempting what children are going to do, and saying two steps ahead of them.

A lot of those skills are skills that we see for women that have transferred into cybersecurity that make them really good at their job, and it's because they're open minded, right? And they love to problem solve and look at a mystery, and check things for multiple angles. Probably, the second thing I hear is that attention to detail. Because women have a tendency – I don't know, if it's genetic – we have a tendency to be very, very detail oriented and under the covers of every single thing that we do. I think those attributes I find are the ones that regardless of the transferable skill, whether they came from a science background, or an audit background, and they get into cybersecurity, a lot of times, I find that those attributes are the things that make them most successful at what they do.

[00:10:37] CS: Yes. Absolutely. One of the things that we talk about on the show a lot is, among many other reasons, the reason to be thinking in terms of diversity and equity and inclusion in terms of hiring, is that that's the only real way that you get that wide range of thought the way that someone – security problems that are being end run because of people who are using it, because they have a physical handicap. And they're using this to sort of circumvent or, as you said, just the way that women approached the problem, or people of color or LGBT. They're seeing things that the average person is not seeing, because if they've been sort of working in tech since childhood, they know the correct way to do it. And they're like, “Well, why would anyone do it any other way? You just hit the hotkeys here or whatever.”

So, I think we got, there's a lot to unpack with all of that. So, one of my quick ways to get to know our guests before the show is to look through your experiences on LinkedIn. I do it with every guest, though. Your upward progression seems to be, obviously, you said it's centered around manpower. You started in sales, and you moved your way into larger and more complex responsibilities. Your skill set now includes such big picture responsibilities as workforce solutions, and SaaS or software as a service, and CRM, customer relationship management. Can you talk about some of the ways that working directly with organizations and companies to handle logistics of employee retention, and the correct software and customer management tools for the job has influenced your work with Women Impact Tech?

[00:12:17] PR: I would say, the complexity of the technology and different types of technologies we use in human resources in general, whether you're on an agency side and you support with staffing, or you're just on the HR side of things, and you're working with human capital and your talent. The technologies that have emerged are quite remarkable.

But one of the things that we've had to really be careful and watch are bias. We're seeing bias in hiring in really significant ways and we've seen it for years. We know that. But it's been such a relevant topic, as companies are trying to improve their DE&I initiatives. It’s not – I will say, companies are doing the right things these days. They're not just talking the talk. They're truly trying to walk the walk. So, they're putting in every barrier or hurdle that they possibly can through a technology aspect to ensure that they are taking out as many bias as possible. In HR, and hiring, and even agency panels, it's very, very important that we provide diverse panels, and use technologies that help us do that. I find a lot of times, traditional staffing. Listen, I grew up in staffing, so I can say this. I tell people all the time, if you give a company an out, they're going to take it.

So, tech is still one of the lowest unemployment rates. It's still scarce talent. They're hard to find. So, if you say to companies, or you say to a hiring manager, “Hey, this is the best talent in the marketplace.” If that is a white male, they're going to say, “Oh, gosh. Thank you for sending him to me.” And they're going to take that talent and run with it.

I do think it takes just a little bit deeper dive to ensure that you're spreading your net fairly and widely. There are technologies that will help you do that, and then you still need that human touch to ensure that your panel is a diverse panel representing communities. We know that the best teams in companies are the teams that are diverse and thought diverse in innovation. They're bringing diverse ideas and they're mirroring and matching the marketplace in which they sell. Tech is no different. It's lagging behind many other groups. But we know the tech departments where innovation is king, so to speak, those departments that are bringing diverse thinking and diverse talent are the most successful. And cybersecurity is one of the most important just like you said. Unfortunately, those that want to do bad things with technology are three steps ahead of us most of the time, and they are diverse in their thinking. They are not traditionalists. Most of them are – we can't think like they think, because they come from a very different background, that they are thinking out of the box very creatively to get to create tension and –

[00:15:34] CS: Disruption.

[00:15:34] PR: – uproar. Yes. So, the more diverse your team is, in thinking innovation, and differently, and creatively, and problem solving, and mystery solving, those groups tend to be most successful when they take a very reactive or proactive approach, instead of a reactive approach and they stay two steps ahead of what could happen, because they have diverse thinking on their teams.

[00:16:06] CS: Yes. I'm glad that you said that, and, obviously, you’re in the hiring position. But as you said, if a company – if you give a company an out, they'll take it. Usually, for expedience sake, and usually because it's hard work to – why look through 500 resumes when you can look through three and have one that goes to the same gym as you or whatever.

So, can you talk about some ways that you've seen that have successfully disrupted that easy way out or whatever? Either on the hiring side or on the company side? You said you've seen improvements. Can you give me some concrete examples?

[00:16:48] PR: Yes. I think the tech industry is really driving change in a way that I've always been proud to work with tech companies and in the tech space. But here's a perfect example. After the Roe versus Wade uproar that we've had, the tech companies were the forefront of coming out very publicly and saying, This is what we're going to do to support our female or our women in technology if they need safe health care, and they feel that their rights are not being appreciated in a state that they live. We're going to ensure that we pay for travel. We're going to do these things.

That was big for tech. They never are the forefront of things like that. So, I was like, “Wow, look what's happening.” They are the ones that are stepping out, in many cases, offering better benefit packages, they are offering benefit packages that appeal to caretakers so that women, whether it's on the early stages of childcare, or it's on the late stages of elderly care, they know women burden those responsibilities. And they're making flexible choices in the workplace for ensuring they can have a good balance of women in the workplace.

Unfortunately, we know women of color, burden it at a greater percentage than other women in the workplace. So, those companies that are really trying to advocate and bring women of color, specifically black women, to their tech departments, they're going above and beyond in a way that I've never seen in my 20 plus years in staffing and supporting tech.

The other thing that I love that I'm seeing more and more of, is companies used to just put numbers out there. They said, “Oh, we have a DE&I initiative”, and they throw these numbers out. Today, companies are going above and beyond. They're not just given the number, they're tying bonuses to it for executive leadership. They're building stronger BRG programs. They're building really great retention programs. They recognize that women are leaving tech. Very successful women are leaving tech, and part of it is because they don't have the role models that other industries or other groups have of women in leadership that they can emulate. And they think, “God, if I want to be a strong leader, and I want to move to the executive level, I can't stay in tech, because there are no leaders in tech that are females that are successful.”

So, they're building stronger retention programs. They're building great Halal programs, so it doesn't – you mentioned, you didn't use these words, but that bro culture that we hear so much about in tech. They're trying to combat that with real programs of sponsorship and allyship so that their counterparts that are male, can reach in and really elevate women in tech in a way that we haven't seen in the past.

I think all those things are making a difference, especially in cybersecurity where probably more than any other tech roles, they're being very open to those transferable skills, and the types of leaders they're bringing into that space because they know the demand is going to continue, and that innovative thinking is more critical than the certifications that they might have for the future of their success.

[00:20:14] CS: Yes. I was going to say, even in the four years that I've been – I got almost five years that I've been doing Cyber Work now. I feel like I've seen the needle move in real time in terms of people previously saying, “Oh, if you have diversity of thought, you don't need diversity of hiring and all that.” But it's like, they're starting to realize that there's only so much you can do with the sort of evasive excuse answers and things like that. Yes, I mean, retention, as you said, stays up better. It's better business value, but it's also just ruined. I love it. I think it's so much fun.

So, you mentioned retention programs. One of the questions I used to ask early on, and I'd never – a lot of guests didn't have like a clear path, but it sounds like you do. That is a question that I've always had in terms of, if you bring in a bunch of women, or BIPOC candidates at the entry level, and then you say, “Yay, we made our DEI numbers or whatever.” But there never really seemed to be a way to sort of build the bench in a way that you would sort of break through to the masthead of the of the C suite and things like that. Have you seen some examples of ways that sort of not just hiring, but promoting internally, is able to be changed in a really systemic way?

[00:21:41] PR: Yes. We do live events across the country, Chris. It always frustrates me a little bit. It never fails. We have great speakers that come and speak on all different topics. Cybersecurity is always a hot one, because everybody has a really strong opinion. And they're always interested in what's happening in that space.

So, across all the different talk tracks, the one we'd typically state towards tech skills, and tech innovation, and then leadership. And then the third one is just career progression in general. That's our three real pillars of thought leadership that we bring to each of the conferences. It never fails. There's always someone that is speaking that really, you can tell Chris, they've had to go through kind of the class of hard knocks, right? They've got the scars. They've got the wounds. They've made it, despite how horrible their lack of support was along the way, and they have a little chip. You can tell. They kind of feel like – they'll even talk to the audiences, you can expect these things. It's okay, here's the things you can do to overcome it.

I always – after each one of those, or I can hear just a taste of it, I remind our audience and everyone that's a part of our conferences, that we have a chance to change things. That as women in the industry, we have a chance to reach down and elevate and lift women up, so that they don't have to have those scars, Chris. They don't have to have those wounds. I do think we're at a tipping point where women that are elevating in tech, have the opportunity to really disproportionately change the statistics and the numbers of how women are advancing from a 28% of tech, to less than 10% of executives. We have a chance to change that number and the numbers in between. And I really encourage women to do that.

I just had the sheer pleasure. We hosted in San Francisco. Tencent was one of the companies that did our reception. They were the sponsor of our reception. Their CEO came and she spoke and she was amazing, and articulate, and smart, and beautiful, and a mom. I can't tell him the audience when you're looking for someone to emulate. Here's a woman who has it all. I know we think we can't. But she's showing you that you can, and she constantly talked about, Chris, how each step along her leadership journey, she pulled other women along to help drive her vision of what she could do in the gaming industry to make an impact. She's frustrated. 50% of the gamers are women, but less than 10% are developers. So, she's really trying to change all of that and believes the more that she can make that shift, the more empowered her games will be, or empowering her games will be for the women that play them.

So, I do think when you meet executives and women in the C suite, either in tech or just across the board, those women that are making a journey and a path easier for women to move up in leadership roles, especially in tech. I think they're the ones that deserve all the recognition right now, and that's not to diminish the ones that decide it's too much and I need to step away. I admire that too. Because it is tough. I'm a late bloomer, Chris. That's what I would always tell. I adopted two amazing kids very late in my life. So, I'm a mom of a five-year-old and a six-year-old and it's very hard to have it all. I'm not going to say you can't do it. But I do think there's an art to having it all running a business, being a leader, and still being a great mom without a tremendous amount of guilt.

[00:25:41] CS: Yes, totally. I'm glad you mentioned that too. Previous guests, Karen Worstell, has been in cybersecurity for 25 years and she said exactly. I was able to stay in this long by just thickening my skin and taking everything that came at me and not putting up with it. But then also admitting not everyone should have to do that. We're still losing great candidates, because that doesn't have to be a necessary skill set. For a lot of people, don't have to have that, that kind of thick skin and it sucks it's required of women, and minority candidates, and diverse candidates that they have to somehow both do really, really well at their job, and also just be completely impervious to insults, criticisms, fighting, whatever.

[00:26:34] PR: Well, I jokingly tell people, Chris. I'm older. So, I'm in an older generation and it's so sometimes surprising to me how far we've come and that I get to put pronouns by my name. Because I can remember a time in my career, Chris, were avoided pronouns, like the plague. I never used a pronoun for fear. Somebody would be like, “Oh, so is your partner a woman?” I just avoided it, because I was in a company, in the Midwest, a Fortune 150 and I was careful. To be blunt, I was very careful. And I think about how far we've come that now, it's so socially accepted that you use your pronouns, and that so many companies are looking for diverse talent, and diverse partners, and that the LGBT community is so embraced now, because they recognize that diverse thinking. I'm blessed to get to be a part of it. I'm not so sure I expected that early in my career that I get to see that on the last side.

[00:27:39] CS: Yes. Like I say, even in the last five years, it's been amazing to see. So, I want to start talking specifically about Women Impact Tech. Is it WIT? Or W-I-T? How do you sort of refer to that?

[00:27:52] PR: We use Women Impact Tech. We have another amazing company that's a nonprofit that uses the WIT acronym. So, I try not – people will sometimes use it to speak to us. But there is a phenomenal women in tech group that uses WIT pretty frequently. So, I try to keep them separate.

[00:28:15] CS: So, can you walk me through the pipeline of from someone meeting you at your organization, at a convention, or a trade show, or introducing themselves on one of your forums, and sort of what services you provide them to working towards that first cybersecurity job interview?

[00:28:31] PR: Yes, that's a great question. So, we do our live events, and really, they're focused in two areas. One is for networking. When they come to one of our events, they get a badge. If they love cyber, we try to do ribbons on the badges. So, cyber is really bright and stands out, so they can find other women in cybersecurity, that they can network with easily. That's one experience and being an attendee. Of course, they have the thought leadership we talked about.

And then, the other side of our live events, is the sponsors. We really work with companies that we can help propel, and really encourage them to showcase the things that they do for diversity inclusion, for women in technology. So, my sponsors are there. It's a great marriage between the two populations. Between thought leadership, we do a lot of networking where they aren't just meeting a network of women in their respective field like cybersecurity, but they're also meeting sponsors, who are interested in hiring talent in the cybersecurity space as well.

We have a job board where all of our jobs from our sponsors and then also other partners around the country, post jobs. I would say about 20% of the jobs in our job board are in the cyberspace. So, I think that's always very telling of how fast that group and that space is growing, and we encourage women, definitely. And of course, our sponsors and companies that we partner with encourage women into this space as well.

The other thing, we have a group of recruiters, that recruits not only for our live events, but also support our talent solutions. Companies will say to us, “Hey, it's great when Women Impact Tech drops in a city and you support us and you help make these great matches at the events for us to meet these amazing talented women technologists.” Most of our technologists have five to seven years’ experience and they love the live shows, because they get that match right there. But they'll say to us, “I can't wait till you're back in San Francisco in March of 2024. What can you do to help us?”

Oftentimes, we are helping companies through perm placement, or contract staffing, really marry and find the talent that they're looking for, with, of course, a definite lane in and support of underrepresented communities, and specifically women for their panels so that they can ensure to diversify the talent that they're hiring.

So, talent solutions is something that we offer our attendees, as well as the networking events, and then the third thing, is membership. So surprisingly, Chris, a lot of companies don't have a large enough population of women in their tech departments to have an affinity group and ERG or a BRG, specifically for women in tech. They may have a large one for women, but maybe not women in tech. So, we offer a membership platform for corporations and individual members so that they can network and have access to the network of women around other women technologists around the country in real time, and all the thought leaderships, our recordings from all of our live events at their fingertips in real time. As well as live webinars that we do on a monthly basis to give them additional education in the three pillars that we talked about earlier.

[00:32:11] CS: Love it. So, I've had the pleasure of talking to you and working with organizations aimed at bringing a more diverse group of people into the cyber security workforce, including women's Society of Cyberjuitsu, The Wicke6 Cyber Games, Women in Identity, and my previous guest, Dara, from the Arizona Women in Cybersecurity or WiCyS organization. So, like many of those organizations, Women Impact Tech hosts a series of conferences, and I'm very excited to see that you have one coming up very soon in Chicago, which is where I am. So, for our listeners who might want to attend, or if it's too late to sign up, to get news about next year, what are some of the highlight events that happen at Women Impact Tech? And what should new attendees prioritize to give them a sense of what the organization has to offer at the event?

[00:32:53] PR: Yes. I think the best thing is to network, right? I tell the women that attend, we're in the beautiful Willis Tower in Chicago. So, it's a gorgeous venue. You will meet – last year was our very first time in Chicago, by the way, Chris. I don't know why. We had not been in your fair city before. But it was definitely one of our most successful conferences last year and already this year, we're almost completely sold out of sponsorships in 2023.

So, I'm thrilled to say the there's a great interest in women technologists in the Chicago market. The other thing I would say is, you can't underestimate the power of your network. So, the biggest thing that a woman in technology can get from our conference is expanding her network significantly. I tell people every single day, when I get the platform, to remind them a chance conversation with someone can truly change the trajectory of your career. If you have the right conversation, and it's a meaningful connection, that really will have a significant impact in the future of your work.

Unfortunately, if you've studied the layoffs that occurred, Chris, in fourth quarter and first quarter, when we looked at those statistics at Women Impact Tech and with a partner on Tiamo, we studied how that talent was shuffling. We called it the great reshuffle because 90% of them were finding work. Within 90 days they were just very quickly reshuffling. Unfortunately, the women were a – they were lagging about 90 days behind their male counterparts in landing another job. We looked at this phenomenon and said, “Is it about the job title? Is it years of experience? Is it about geography?” And the answer was no, Chris. It was purely based on gender.

If you try to dissect that, it's because our networks are smaller. There's fewer women in tech and our networks are small. So, events like this give women the power and they are empowered to build their network very quickly. We anticipate 400 to 600 women technologists to be at the conference in Chicago at Willis Tower, and it's a great way to build your network, and really meet with companies. If you're in a company that you can't see the foreside of your career growth, we have a group of companies there that truly want women to not just survive in tech, but to thrive in their career in technology. So, I think they will love the opportunity and the experience if they give it a chance.

[00:35:38] CS: Oh, yes. That's awesome. Is it April 27th? Is that right for the Chicago meetup?

[00:35:44] PR: It is.

[00:35:45] CS: Okay, great. We're going to make sure this gets up before that. If people want to map in the sponsorship role, but tickets are available for people who want to attend, still?

[00:35:57] PR: Absolute. They can go to our website, it's www.womenimpacttech.com. They can see a recap, the types of companies that were there last year. They can order their tickets right there. They can check out our job board and see what types of jobs the Chicago sponsors and companies are offering right now, and even remote jobs around the country from other companies.

[00:36:23] CS: Nice. All right. Well, you heard it. This is the call to action. If you're in Chicago, come check it out. So, as you noted in our initial conversations, and as we were just talking about now, cybersecurity has got quite a bit of catching up to do as regard to anything resembling gender parity, like you said, 24% of the total workforce are women. And even smaller, only 11% of C level executives are women.

I want to sort of – I guess, we've talked about this a little bit, but if we can talk about what you've seen based on your work with Women Impact Tech, what’s some of the more effective strategies have been, to bringing more women and diverse candidates into cybersecurity? Because, I think again, you said that tech companies are more interested in doing it for reasons of, like you said, we need more people, want to do the right thing, growth, yes, exactly. But you still sort of see that the cases of people saying, “Well, no one – we didn't get any diverse candidates. I'd like to, but they didn't” – can you talk about some examples of ways that you've seen people kind of push through that or do the next step down to actually, like, reach out to these types of candidates and define these candidates that are going to be interested in what you have? Because I think there's also something to be said about if you're neurodivergent or disabled, or you said, a black woman with a caregiver issue or whatever. And you see this job description that says, like, “We work hard, and we play hard.” You're like, “Well, any, for me.” But 16 hours a day to do my job and then go out and talk about video games at the bar or whatever. What are some of the ways that we can sort of get past that particular type of culture?

[00:38:24] PR: Yes. Well, I think it starts at the executive level, right? So, companies that are really taking the lead in the most successful programs around DE&I, whether that's the neuro disabilities, a progress, whether it's around gender equity, LGBT. Whatever their goals are, the companies that are standing up in an executive level, and really pushing that initiative throughout their organization, and creating a culture where they know they're going to be more profitable as an organization with diverse thinking and diverse talent, those are the ones that are making the further strides, and it's reflective of their ability for profits.

Google stood up, I can remember reading one of their annual reports, and they credited diverse hiring as one of the contributors to their tremendous success and advancement, and I think the numbers like 21% business growth that quarter. I think as we see more and more companies, with brands like Google, and Microsoft, and IBM leading the way, with diverse thinking and being transparent. I think that's another thing that’s on the horizon, but not enough companies are doing it, sharing the transparency of their data.

Now, we know it's not great across any workforce organization. Most of them struggle with DE&I, especially the large Fortune 500 companies. But then more transparent they are with their data, and being able to come and show incremental improvements to those numbers, I think, that's how you really impact change. Certainly, I think we choose Women Impact Tech 100, where every year we evaluate what companies, how companies are being reflected by their workforce in their working culture and environment. We look at women, what women are writing on Glassdoor and other public forums about true culture. We don't just look at their website.

What are other underrepresented communities saying about the culture? Are they truly, walking the walk and not just talking the talk. When we do that, I'm always impressed with the number of companies that continue to show progress. The ones that are showing progress, you can tell they've got executives in place to lead their DE&I and our strategies. Even if they aren't transparent, exactly what the numbers are. They're transparent about their strategies and they continue to hire and elevate partnerships like Women Impact Tech, where you can tell they're diversifying a traditional agency partnership for AfroTech and Women in Tech, and Women Impact Tech, and all these different organizations that are doing great quality work to diversify talent in the workplace.

So, I think the companies that are looking to make an impact in diverse decisions and hiring are finding those partners. There's not a ton of us, but there are some of us, and companies that are really serious about impacting their numbers are finding us in the market, and they're really looking to change their numbers and their statistics, and I think that's brilliant. Because we know profitability, and innovation, all those things improve, the stronger you bring diversity to the table.

I can remember, Chris, talking to a gentleman from Microsoft many years ago, and he was a part of their DE&I organization. I was probably – it's probably been maybe eight years ago, and he shared with me a program that they were doing around neurological disabilities, for repetitive tasks in one of their tech areas, and the loyalty of these employees, and just how successful their program had been, and that they had zero turnover. They kept an amazing group of people and that talent continued to grow, and that the families of that talent, were so supportive of their brand and social media in product purchase and marketing. It was just amazing when I heard his story, and that's been 8 to 10 years, Chris, that companies are doing these exploratory programs that are making a real impact. It takes innovation. It takes thinking out of the box to be able to have diverse thought and innovation in your hiring and your talent communities.

[00:43:18] CS: Yes. Also, I think, the ability for people who have always had the sort of universal approval of everyone in the room to hear, “Hey, this isn't working right, let's try this.” And be able to change and say, “Oh, yes, good point. Let's do this thing that we've never done before and that I maybe feel weird about having never done before. But it’s now or never.”

One of the things that you mentioned in our initial conversations that we've talked less about is this, and quote, “Due to the lack of gender equality in cybersecurity, many of the resulting products developed, aren't made to protect women online. This is especially a danger of women, increasingly the target of dangerous and violent cyber attacks.” So, can you talk about some examples of this that you've seen and talk about some ways that you and the folks, Women Impact Tech have been working to bring attention to and change this massive dereliction of duty?

[00:44:17] PR: Yes. I'm so fortunate. It hasn't been personal. But I definitely have met with companies that have seen this type of cyber attack towards females in their organization. A lot of it during COVID, because we had a lot more people working from home with excess time on their hands, and we saw a lot of bullying, and just verbal attacks that we didn't see prior to that time. I think a lot of the cyber specialists that I've talked to, they weren't prepared for that. They weren't really expecting to see women and children preyed upon as a population, because we had idle hands. I hate to say it that bluntly. But I think we had a lot of idle hands. We had idle time, and sometimes, will bring out the worst in the worst people.

I think we were ill prepared for that. We weren't thinking as cyber specialists or analysts that we needed to stay two steps ahead of that. And I do think we learned a very powerful lesson that we should be expecting ill behaviors from certain types of people in different time periods. I think, sadly, it's no different than the AI innovations that we're seeing, and because there aren't a lot of female developers on the AI side, we're having a lot of bias in that space for technology.

I do think cyber, we've been somewhat fortunate, because there was some disproportionate number of women working in the cyber space, specifically to be expecting the type of attacks that we saw towards women, and even children through a pandemic. I think we're still experiencing that with AI, currently, right now, almost at the height, because of gender bias in development. So, we're going to have to really, I think, for certain jobs, take a deeper analytics approach to what is the impact of not having better equality from your technologists that are developing a lot of these tools? And if it's not just about AI, and things like that, and we go back to cybersecurity, do you have enough diversity on your team that can really stay three steps ahead?

The answer is no. We don't have it yet. I think we're making strides. I think that companies recognize that it's a problem. But I think we're going to continue to see it even in security around schools, and now that we're moving our school kids. I have a kindergartener who's on a laptop anytime we have a snow day or inclement weather day, we're 100% working on laptops. I think the more we're moving education for very small children to technology, schools are going to have to think about better cybersecurity practices, and predators that could potentially get to our children through technology. I think all of that is better managed if we have greater gender equality, looking out for the betterment of the consumer.

[00:47:45] CS: Yes. I completely agree. And yes, I have many female friends who have, shall we say, spicy opinions on Twitter. And I know for a fact that sometimes they have to have someone else take over their account, because of the sheer number of insults and possibly death threats. It's a very real thing and it's very scary. I cannot imagine going through it, and I hate that they have to as well.

So, I mentioned – as we wrap up today, I mentioned the Women Impact Tech conference in Chicago, and that's April 27th, which I think is a Thursday. Do you want to talk about any other upcoming Women Impact Tech events in other cities and how our listeners can get involved?

[00:48:24] PR: Sure, I would love that. I don't know all the dates off the top of my head. But we have seven cities this year. We just completed San Francisco. We’ll be in Chicago. We have Boston, Atlanta. It's our first time going to Atlanta. So, we're really excited to being in the Atlanta market. New York City, Seattle, and Also new on the agenda for February of 2024, we have Austin, Texas. So, looking forward to a very big schedule this year.

I'll tell you something we're doing new, Chris, that we had not done prior to this year. We're doing a lot of exclusive events for clients that are asking us to come in and bring in diverse talent for them in their own headquarters for our hiring events, where they're looking for specialists, either in cyber, or it could be in different areas of technology. But we're hosting at their events. We're doing one for Peloton in the month of April, super excited and doing one for Marriott coming up as well, where we're hosting at their headquarters and actually bringing in lots of talented women technologists to help build the equality in their tech groups.

[00:49:42] CS: Love it. Now, for people who don't have the wherewithal to travel to these places, are there virtual components to these conferences?

[00:49:50] PR: Yes. They can join our membership program, and through our membership program, they can have access to every event that we host around the country, as well as any of our live webinars that we host on a monthly basis.

[00:50:02] CS: Love it. Also, in general, we have lots of listeners who are just dipping their toe into cybersecurity and stuff. What advice would you have for them like when they land on the Women Impact Tech website? Where should they go first? Who should they contact? What's the first plan of attack to get yourself sort of acclimated?

[00:50:24] PR: Yes. I think that first thing to do is register for one of the conferences that might be closest to them. Or they can click on “become a member” and get acquainted with our community of other technologists. And one of our recruiters of tech will reach out to them to find out what their interests are, and where their career journey, where they want their career journey to go, and we'll start to help them along that path.

[00:50:50] CS: Love it. One final question, if our listeners want to know more about Paula Bratcher Ratliff and your work with Women Impact Tech, where should they go online?

[00:50:57] PR: We would love you to just join our website at www.womenimpacttech.com. From there, you'll get access to our Twitter page, our Facebook page, TikTok. You can follow us and stay current on all the events that we're doing around the country.

[00:51:12] CS: Paula, thank you so much for joining me today. This was such an inspiring discussion with you and I wish you all the best in your cause here.

[00:51:21] PR: Thank you so much, Chris. Please come see us in Chicago. We'd love to have you.

[00:51:26] CS: I am going to do my level best. So, that sounds like a lot of fun.

[00:51:30] PR: Sounds great.

[00:51:31] CS: As always, I'd like to thank all of you who have been listening to and watching the Cyber Work podcast on a massive scale. The numbers keep growing in the subscription area. Thank you for subscribing on YouTube. Thank you for putting us in your pod catchers. We're so glad to have you along for the ride.

Now, before you go, I want to invite you to visit infosecinstitute.com/free to get a whole bunch of free stuff for Cyber Work listeners. Our new security awareness training series, Work Bytes is a lot of fun. It's a live video scripted comedy. It features a host of fantastical employees including a zombie, a vampire, a princess, and a pirate, making security mistakes and hopefully learning from them along with you.

Also, visit infosecinstitute.com/free for your free Cybersecurity Talent Development eBook. It's got in depth training plans for the 12 most common roles including SOC analyst, penetration tester, cloud security engineer, information risk analyst, privacy manager, secure coder, and more. So, there's lots of scene, lots to do all on one little website there. It's infosecinstitute.com/free.

Thank you once again to Paula Bratcher Ratliff and Women Impact Tech, and thank you all so much for watching and listening. As always, we'll talk to you next week. Take care now.

Join the cybersecurity workforce

Are you a cybersecurity beginner looking to transform your career? With our new Cybersecurity Foundations Immersive Boot Camp, you can be prepared for your first cybersecurity job in as little as 26 weeks.


Weekly career advice

Learn how to break into cybersecurity, build new skills and move up the career ladder. Each week on the Cyber Work Podcast, host Chris Sienko sits down with thought leaders from Booz Allen Hamilton, CompTIA, Google, IBM, Veracode and others to discuss the latest cybersecurity workforce trends.


Q&As with industry pros

Have a question about your cybersecurity career? Join our special Cyber Work Live episodes for a Q&A with industry leaders. Get your career questions answered, connect with other industry professionals and take your career to the next level.


Level up your skills

Hack your way to success with career tips from cybersecurity experts. Get concise, actionable advice in each episode — from acing your first certification exam to building a world-class enterprise cybersecurity culture.