SailPoint Spotlight: Women in Cybersecurity

Authored By Alpana Tyagi

At SailPoint, it’s important for us to realize the critical role diversity plays in the cybersecurity workforce. Today, women only comprise 20% of the cybersecurity workforce, and here at SailPoint we continuously strive to include more women in our crew.

I strongly believe that representation matters so I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the background and careers of some of the most amazing women that are part of the SailPoint cybersecurity crew and are responsible for protecting our organization. These women are challenging the status quo every day and taking a charge in paving the way for others in the field. I hope their journeys inspire more women to take up the field of cybersecurity and realize that everyone’s journey will look different but regardless of the hurdles there’s nothing that will stop you from succeeding in the field but your own doubts.

Heather Gantt-Evans, CISO SailPoint

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you on your Cybersecurity career journey?

I did not actively seek out a career in cybersecurity. However, I did seek out a career in technology. I was a single mom and the technology field offered me the stability I so desperately needed. I had almost completed my Masters in Technology Management when I got picked up to do government contracting in support of the US Air Force. I started as an IT Business Analyst when shortly thereafter, cybersecurity found me! A government contract came up to support Air Force Cyber Command as a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst. A kind mentor took a chance on me and gave me the position since I had All-Source Threat Intelligence training in the US Army. It was really his gentle mentorship and encouragement that inspired me to make a career in cybersecurity.

What do you think your career will look like in 10 years? Do you expect to see more women leaders in the field?

I hope that in 10 years I will still be surrounded by an amazing team like I am now. I hope that I will still be leading transformative roadmaps to continuously improve, optimize, innovate, and learn. In 10 years, I also hope to be helping to protect a larger subset of companies through Board of Director work. And last, but not least, I hope to see many women that I have mentored excelling in leadership roles. I think high visibility representation is such an important first start in inspiring other women to join the cybersecurity career field.

Who made the biggest impact on your professional career and how do you “pay it forward”?

People who believed in me so passionately that they convinced me to dream bigger and bigger. Wow – you just do not realize how far that vote of confidence that comes with words of encouragement can go. I try to pay it forward by sharing similar words of encouragement so that others can realize their potential.

What are some of the challenges of our field? What would be your suggestion to women looking to enter the field of Cybersecurity?

There are two challenges in cybersecurity that I will focus on. The first challenge is that cybersecurity experts are trained to find the security control deficiencies – this means it can be hard for us to stop and appreciate progress and it can even make it challenging to partner. For example, if you are only thinking about the security flaws in your IT or business partners’ plan – you may get hung up in just telling them “no way” instead of finding a way together. This is where the empathetic leadership that women often exhibit can make a huge impact! The second challenge is with diversity – we can do so much better – and, in my opinion, it starts with elevating representation. That is why I am so proud of the women on my team who even thought to do this blog post! 😊

Felisha Richardson, Manager Threat and Vulnerability Management

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you on your Cybersecurity career journey?

I wanted to go to school for architecture, but at the time I was graduating the recession had hit so that career went out the door. My backup was computers which led me to choose Kennesaw State University Information Security and Assurance Major. During school, there weren’t many women, black women at that, in my field. I was the only one in most, if not all, of my classes. When I started my first job, it became even more apparent that there were not many black men or women in cybersecurity within the company. Meeting the men and women who looked like me at my first job is what inspired me on my journey. They believed in me, told me I was rare, and that I can change the perspective and minds of younger generations of black boys and girls. In our community, it’s always sports that will get you out and be somebody. And that is not true. We are more than just athletes.

Cybersecurity was not a big deal in companies when I first started – there was not a lot of buy-in. But now, it’s becoming if a top, if not the top, buy-ins for companies. It’s great to know the company understands why we are within the company but what is even cooler is what we do for companies that people do not see.

What do you think your career will look like in 10 years? Do you expect to see more women leaders in the field?

In 10 years, I hope to have started my nonprofit that gives back to kids by mentoring, providing life skills, and teaching them about technology and coding. I do expect to see more women in the field, we are booming right now and we aren’t slowing down any time soon.

Who made the biggest impact on your professional career and how do you “pay it forward”?

My first manager gave me a chance and wanted to teach me how to survive in the workplace and in this world. I pay it forward by giving others chances as well. Knowing their potential and what they can be is a key factor.

What are some of the challenges of our field? What would be your suggestion to women looking to enter the field of Cybersecurity?

I feel like some women are not taken as seriously as men. Our words need validation. Also, being a black woman in this field is challenging alone. I’ve been at companies that treated me unfairly compared to my white coworkers. I, also, got paid less for being a woman even with having the same degree and skills as my colleagues. 

I would tell women entering the field to know their worth and to stand their ground. Never settle.

Viraj Gandhi, Sr. Staff Product Security Engineer

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you on your Cybersecurity career journey?

I have a master’s and bachelor’s degree in computer science and spent a decade in Agile/Scrum software development before plunging into the cybersecurity space. I have experience working with a variety of teams to help drive security improvements across the enterprise by providing security advice and risk assessment.

An exciting part of this cybersecurity journey is the constant innovation and the race to secure this fast space environment which needs strategy, operations, and infrastructure. Due to the obvious race between the attackers and the defenders, be ready to adapt as the threat landscape evolves. Therefore, you are never bored and stuck with projects, the career in cybersecurity is a journey, not a destination.

What do you think your career will look like in 10 years? Do you expect to see more women leaders in the field?

I see myself as accomplished information security, privacy, and IT management leader with a strong business, risk, and technical background, while at the same time being the best wife and mother. Cybersecurity is an industry that needs more women to bring more gender equality and create more diversity; this gender gap has not gone unnoticed. The transformation taking place now is due to the results of various initiatives across the globe with the common goal of supporting women in cybersecurity. Often it only takes one woman joining as a leader to see a positive snowball effect.

Who made the biggest impact on your professional career and how do you “pay it forward”?

I honestly think it would not be fair to only give credit to a single person. My mother raised me single-handedly and taught me to always be hungry and humble, and my first manager after transitioning into this cybersecurity field told me to believe in myself and build a support network to learn diverse skills in this field.

I believe in giving back to the community. Currently, I am volunteering and supporting WiCyS community to encourage and empower women to be part of cybersecurity.

What are some of the challenges of our field? What would be your suggestion to women looking to enter the field of Cybersecurity?

A challenge I see in this field is staying up with the latest attacks and constantly thinking creatively as its ongoing race between the attackers and the defenders. Be passionate, be a lifelong learner, and, most importantly, build an expanding, diverse support network to advise and encourage you with your personal and professional growth.

 Stacy Lange, Cybersecurity Program Manager

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you on your Cybersecurity career journey?

I am currently a program manager on the cybersecurity team working with our metrics, training, and project management programs. 

I had an interesting start in my Cybersecurity career; I was on active duty in the Air Force as a nuclear missile operator and when I left the AF there weren’t a lot of jobs those skills translated to. After moving to San Antonio, I happened to be in the right place at the right time with my Air Force Reserve (part-time military) role and was offered the chance to stand up the new Air Force Cyber Command. I learned very quickly through that job that on-the-job training can be so important for new skill sets. I worked in threat intelligence, cyber operations planning (offensive and defensive), and program management roles over my time with the AF. Each job brought an opportunity to grow my cyber skillset and challenge myself. 

What do you think your career will look like in 10 years? Do you expect to see more women leaders in the field?

I’m super excited to see where my career can take me in 10 years and hope wherever it is that I am still growing and learning every day. Fifteen years ago I would have laughed if you told me I was going to work in cybersecurity at all and my answer would have been “Ummmm I am not a technical person”!  I love that you don’t have to be a developer to thrive in this career field and everyone is willing to help each other learn and grow. 

I would love to see more women in this field.  For so long, I think women have been intimidated because it has been such a male-dominated role. I think we owe it to younger generations to expose them to every aspect of cybersecurity because there really is something for everyone— developing, intelligence, program management, risk, operations… you name it!

Who made the biggest impact on your professional career and how do you “pay it forward”?

I have 2 very strong mentors from my time working for the Air Force (one is a female civilian employee and one is a male senior officer) that have both pushed me to constantly challenge myself and never doubt my abilities.I have watched them lead by example in valuing the inputs and contributions of everyone on their teams regardless of position. They have taken numerous opportunities to expose me to both the fun and challenging side of this career field and presented me with new opportunities to explore that I might not have otherwise considered. They have been a great sounding board for me as I have considered career moves, helping me see the bigger picture with each decision.

What are some of the challenges of our field? What would be your suggestion to women looking to enter the field of Cybersecurity?

I think one of our biggest challenges is getting people over the hurdle that you have to be an insanely smart developer/coder to succeed in this career field. Those skills can be very intimidating for people, and we owe it to younger generations to expose them to all aspects of this industry. 

Erika Shepherd, Cybersecurity Sr. Program Manager

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you on your Cybersecurity career journey?

I’ve been working in IT (software and infrastructure) for almost all my career but only started my journey in cybersecurity in the last 4 years. I was offered a great opportunity to join a newly forming team and it has been a great experience so far with a lot of learning.

What do you think your career will look like in 10 years? Do you expect to see more women leaders in the field?

This industry is changing so much; I look forward to my continued involvement in this space. As technology advances, I think the complexity will be greater. That just means it will always be interesting. I definitely expect to see more women leaders in the field; we need more of them because I truly believe that diversity, not only in gender perspectives but cultural ones, are key factors for the success of teams and companies.

Who made the biggest impact on your professional career and how do you “pay it forward”?

I’ve been very lucky to have great bosses, colleagues, and friends who have helped me in my career. It’s all about having a great network and each “node” in the network provides different types of wisdom, perspectives, and inspiration. I try to pay it forward by being open to helping anybody who is interested in advancing their career.   

What are some of the challenges of our field? What would be your suggestion to women looking to enter the field of Cybersecurity?

Although the first thing I thought about was that the breadth and scope of the cybersecurity space is so great and circumstances change so much that it’s hard to feel like you have a handle of things; that is not uncommon in many industries. I think the biggest challenge in our field is to forge great partnerships with the other business units and make sure that cybersecurity is seen as a business enabler and not seen as an obstacle.

I think there is a role for anybody interested in cybersecurity – there are so many knowledge areas and capabilities that there is something for everyone. You will never be bored!


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