Leading with who you are is one of the most important actions that women can take to grow their footprint in the cybersecurity workforce, according to various female cyber leaders.

At the Women Tech Leaders event hosted by GovCIO on April 13, various government officials and industry leaders detailed what it takes for women to stand out in a field that has historically been dominated by men.

“What is your talent? What is your passion? What are you interested in? What is your purpose? That’s what’s going to catch the connection,” according to Elizabeth Kolmstetter, chief people officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Making vital connections with people who are higher up is crucial, as they can serve as mentors for women looking to grow in their own tech careers.

“I think that it’s really about building that network and learning from others, right, you get a large diversity of experiences, of skills, and perspectives,” said Serena Chan, senior technical advisor of operations and infrastructure center at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

As part of being a mentor to someone, Chan argues that when women take up the mantle of responsibility, they must also be willing to work on their “communication skills.”

“Learning goes both ways, right? – mentors can also hone in on their own communication skills and how to part [their] own wisdom to them, but also about gaining different perspectives from them as well,” she said.

Although women only make up about 24 percent of the cybersecurity workforce, CISA Director Jen Easterly has set a goal to increase that number to 50 percent by 2030.

“Attracting and retaining great talent requires emotionally intelligent leaders who know how to build that trust, who can cultivate that environment where people love what they do, they respect their teammates, they feel empowered by their leaders and they feel like they’re making a difference every single day,” Easterly said last year. “And the really good news is – this is great news – research shows that women actually outperform in the important facets of emotional intelligence – to include inspirational leadership, coaching and mentoring, and adaptability.”

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.