Powerful Women in Cyber

by Nancy Fowler

The world of cybersecurity can be a lonely place for women, who are outnumbered four to one by men. But events such as a recent panel help strengthen a growing community dedicated to supporting and empowering women in the field.

Maryville University hosted the “Powerful Women in Cyber” panel which drew 72 attendees from across the U.S. and beyond. The panel, in partnership with Venture Café St. Louis and supported by PNC, was an outreach event of Maryville’s student organization, Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS).

According to a Cybersecurity Workforce Report, women make up 24% of those working in the field, up from 11% in 2017. But the profession can still be an uncomfortable and even hostile place for women, many of whom earn less than their male counterparts.

Maryville senior Andrea Rodriguez, who studies Cyber/Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism and is president of the Maryville’s WiCyS chapter, organized the event. For Rodriguez, being female and a person of color in majority white, male classrooms has sometimes felt isolating. But she didn’t let her discouragement take over.

“Cybersecurity is something I enjoy,” Rodriguez said. “Why let anyone stop me from following my dream?”

Cybersecurity is an exciting and rapidly developing field, said “Powerful Women” panelist Alma Maria Rinasz, a software developer advocate in Austin. “I learn something new every day,” she said.

But it hasn’t always been easy to be a minority, according to Rinasz. One of four panelists, she stressed the importance of forming and nurturing relationships with other women in the workplace. Using the term “work wives,” Rinasz said these connections can help women stop second-guessing themselves. “Stick to your guns,” Rinasz advised, urging attendees to speak up and be specific when they see or experience racism and sexism in the workplace.

“You need to raise the flag,” Rinasz said. “[Say that] this happened in this situation with this person and it’s problematic because of A, B and C.”

Panelist Sarah Baldeo, CEO of a cybersecurity advisory group in Toronto, agreed.

“If you ignore racism and sexism then you’re just enabling it as something that’s appropriate,” Baldeo said. “Many people may not even realize the behaviors they’re engaging in.”

And if no one’s paying attention? “I say to them, ‘Be a Kamala Harris,’” Baldeo said. “And when someone interrupts you, say, ‘Excuse me, I’m speaking.’”

Rodriguez was delighted with the turnout for the event and hopes Maryville will hold similar gatherings in the future. Rodriguez’s own future plans include pursuing graduate studies in cybersecurity and eventually working in a hospital setting and possibly developing apps.

During her time at Maryville, Rodriguez has gained mentors and confidence through the WiCyS group, a national organization whose only Missouri chapter is at Maryville. She notes that male allies on campus have also been part of her supportive community.

Rodriguez heard from several former professors immediately after the “Powerful Women in Cyber” panel, who congratulated her not only on the event but also her own journey.

“A lot of them said they’ve seen me struggle,” Rodriguez said. “And now they see how I’m helping other people who may be struggling.”

Mark Your Calendar!
Additional “Powerful Women in Cyber” events include:

  • Cybersecurity Office Hours with Maryville University’s Cyber Fusion Center experts to learn how to protect your startup, small business or nonprofit from security threats free of charge.
  • “Powerful Women in Cyber” Meetup on Thursday, March 25 at 5 p.m. CST to connect with other women interested in or working in cybersecurity.



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