Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “It had long come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Now is the time for women to make things happen.

We have created a digital world knitted together by millions of connected devices modeled after our own human brains. Every new technology opens the door for greater expansion and innovation while also breeding new challenges to solve, including security and privacy. Yet, we are not innovating fast enough to counter these challenges. There is a ton of work to do and a significant shortage of over one million cybersecurity professionals in the industry. Even more staggering, women comprise only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce.

Now is the time for women to “happen to things” as Da Vinci said, and seize the opportunity to contribute to an industry that is impacting the way each of us lives and works.

My own Da Vinci story began as an undergraduate in psychology at the Ohio State University. I worked in the educational robotic department and documented the behavior of students as they manipulated robotic arms. As I watched nearly every kid get a laugh out of their ability to hack into and reset the machines, I wondered what it would mean for the technology to actually make a difference in people’s lives. This early experience was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with self-efficacy and the ability of technology to solve human and worldly challenges. More importantly, it set into motion a passion for bringing kindness and humanity to an industry traditionally governed by uniform thought.

As malicious actors continue to test our technologies and develop innovative ways to break down our security and privacy barriers, the cybersecurity industry needs to get creative and expand beyond traditional roles and technologies. We can fight for and win back trust in technology, in communities and in ourselves. This includes growing the talent pool to include and embrace diverse perspectives.

Increasing the number of women in the cybersecurity profession broadens the spectrum of ideas brought to the table and strengthens every company’s position in combating the most sophisticated attack methods. But it doesn’t stop there. Retaining talented women is just as important as getting them through the door.

If every experienced professional in the industry selected one person to coach and inspired them to stretch beyond their limiting beliefs or surpass the barriers holding them back, it would take only half a generation to have enough competent people working in a respectful environment to develop an abundant, innovative workforce. At Cisco, we call that the Multiplier Effect.

With each new technology and subsequent attack method, the cybersecurity industry is growing at an exponential rate. We cannot afford to exclude major pools of job candidates, which is why it is crucial for companies and leaders to build inclusive and respectful work environments.

After all the bugs are patched, the gear is installed and the lights are blinking, the only thing left is the data and the human stories people remember about each one of us. We in the industry need to extend a helping hand to people on their journeys and build a more cohesive cybersecurity ecosystem. Let’s join together and “happen to things.” We’ve got this.

Michelle Dennedy, VP, is Cisco’s Chief Privacy Officer. Recently, she keynoted the 2017 Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) Conference, sharing her personal career journey and the unique opportunities that exist for women in the cybersecurity industry.


Michelle Dennedy

No Longer with Cisco