MeriTalk recently connected with ManTech’s Seana McMoil, Senior Executive Director, National Cybersecurity Programs, on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted agencies’ cyber defense plans, and the importance of raising awareness of women in cybersecurity as October is National Cybersecurity Awareness month.
MeriTalk: With the percentage of women in the worldwide cybersecurity workforce at 24 percent in 2019, researchers are calculating that, in order to fill the gaps in the cybersecurity industry worldwide, the statistic of women employed in the field must reach 50 percent by 2030. Do you think this is a feasible goal given your experience so far in the industry?
Seana: It will improve but will continue to be a challenge. Proactive efforts and investments need to be made to educate and grow the number of women in cyber. For example, or more of an analogy – many years ago, India and Indian-based companies made significant investments to become a powerhouse for IT services through university programs, etc. Similarly, in 2013, India’s Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) made a pledge to increase the number of reverse engineering professionals in the country from less than 5,000 to 100,000 by 2015 through training and awareness. This year, an Indian State Commission teamed with a non-profit to develop and launch an effort to train 5,000 women, ages 16-25 in cyber safety. That same shift in focus hasn’t quite happened yet in the United States.
At ManTech, we are working hard to do our part. We offer apprenticeships and internships that give access to tools and learning opportunities for women at any point in their career. These programs facilitate an easy and less daunting shift into cyber that someone might not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue.
Something unique that younger generations have right now is technology at their fingertips. The perspective is shifting so that cyber is merely an extension or aspect of everyday technology. In the past, information technology was an abstract concept that could only be explored by those invested in pursuing computer science disciplines. The advancements in technology worldwide and proliferation in its use will certainly contribute to a jump in the percentage of women in cyber by 2030, but we will still be challenged to meet this goal of 50 percent.
MeriTalk: What is your current role at ManTech?
Seana: In my current role, I’m considered a Cyber Cross-Cut Lead. I support five divisions within the Federal Civilian sector, which covers departments and agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, Department of State, Treasury, Commerce, Department of Transportation, Veterans Health Administration, and the Department of Justice. I’m engaged in developing the horizontal cyber practice to build and grow existing cybersecurity offerings. I’ve worked on developing more branding around our cyber capabilities as well as assisting with proposal development as we go after different opportunities within multiple government markets. As part of this role, I also provide leadership, coaching, and mentoring to other cyber professionals across ManTech. I make it a point to help support not just our women delivering cyber services at ManTech, but also women who are wanting to make the transition into cyber-related opportunities.
MeriTalk: As we enter National Cybersecurity Awareness month, how can we provide better pathways for women in STEM and cyber career fields?
Seana: I believe we need to generate more awareness about cyber beyond the typical focus on coding, hacking, etc. There are many facets to cyber, like risk management, security architecture, engineering, analytics, and security operations, to name a few. By introducing the different facets of cyber beyond just coding and hacking, we can attract a wider range of interests that draws in a greater population of women and girls. The industry has an opportunity to increase awareness among the younger generation, especially by getting involved in community service, sponsorships, mentorships, school clubs, and programs where women can mentor, guide, and share their stories.
MeriTalk: How has your career led you to where you are now?
Seana: Some of my female colleagues have followed very well-defined career paths. Mine wasn’t as structured. I’ve held a variety of roles ranging from external facing consultant roles to internal facing corporate IT and cyber roles. Almost always I was open to new opportunities that presented themselves throughout the years. Taking on diverse roles and pursuing an atypical cyber career path enabled me to gain a well-rounded perspective of the industry. Because of that, I’m able to deliver more value and success to customer and company missions and objectives.
MeriTalk: Can you speak to the importance of mentorship when it comes to increasing the number of women in the cyber workforce?
Seana: It remains a challenge to find women as mentors within cyber given their lack of representation in leadership roles. That said, finding mentors who take on more technical or supportive roles – male or female – still offers just as many valuable lessons learned as those designated as leaders. There are many facets of cybersecurity to learn about which can be achieved by working with those at all different levels.
While there are certain challenges we face as women that female mentors can more easily relate to, one doesn’t have to be gender-specific when looking for a good mentor. There were many great male leaders who helped me along the way. Having different types of mentors for different facets of your career can be beneficial. The mentee gains a more well-rounded perspective that way.
MeriTalk: What advice would you offer to women pursuing roles in this area?
Seana: First, don’t get discouraged. It may be easy to as it’s currently a male-dominated field, but there are many women making strides today. It’s also important to acknowledge the internal biases we all have as humans. For example, while your manager may be encouraging you, they may also be inhibiting you without either of you knowing it, and you may even be inhibiting yourself through your own internal biases without realizing it. Learning how to navigate around situations like that by raising your professional profile, making yourself heard in a constructive manner, and persevering through adversity will be most helpful.
Second, it’s crucial to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and to not be afraid to make your own opportunities. This allows you to leverage unique opportunities that may not immediately seem to align with where you want to go, but helps you to grow as a professional. These opportunities may pay dividends down the road with the valuable knowledge and perspectives you gain, while still leading you to roles that you originally envisioned.
Third, communication is key. Many assume managers are the ones who do all the communication down to their staff, i.e. managing down. It’s actually a bilateral relationship. Looking at it this way allows you to softly influence managers (i.e., managing up) in a direction you may need in order to be successful.
Lastly, I encourage women to leverage certifications as an accent to their experience. Expanding your knowledge base through certifications is a great way to learn. However, you must find a way to gain experience that backs up all that was learned from a particular certification. It’s the best way to execute the knowledge gained and deliver value.
MeriTalk: With regard to CDM being a major focus for your clients, how has the pandemic shifted priorities for providing your clients tools for success in the CDM space?
Seana: Data protection, identity management, access management, and Zero Trust are becoming increasing priorities for every organization with staff working remotely. Prioritizing these aspects is key in enabling us to continue supporting the mission for our customers at ManTech.
With so many staff working remotely, it’s also important that we continue making adjustments in how we provide opportunities for our staff to learn and grow at ManTech. Luckily, we’re able to offer a wide range of online learning opportunities remotely. Our employees and customers can engage in commercial cyber-related training through our learning management portal in our Advanced Cyber Range Environment (ACRE). We also offer Skillsoft which provides hundreds of courses on a variety of topics that can be accessed whenever an employee has down time. Additionally, we offer our staff the opportunity to pursue Master’s, Bachelor’s, and certification programs online to meet educational requirements in cyber, cloud, analytics, and more. These benefits, and more, have assisted us in being chosen as an Employer of Choice in 2019.