R.I.S.E. stands for Raise-Inspire-Support-Empower and is a fantastic mentoring scheme that brings practical guidance and support to women early on in their cyber security career, and to help retain and grow female talent across the industry. Mentors also benefit from networking, relationship building, communication and exposure across the industry. The R.I.S.E. mentoring scheme has been running since 2020 with significant success, forming over 200 mentor-mentee pairs to date.

Equality vs Equity and the Role of Mentorship

This year’s International Women’s Day re-focused everyone onto the topic of equity. Equity recognises that each person is different, has different circumstances, and needs different tools and opportunities to reach an equal outcome. A panel session hosted by Liz Steyn, CISO Operations Manager at BAE Systems discussed the role of mentorship in creating an equitable cyber security industry. On the panel were mentors Krishna Dhanak from the Ministry of Defence and Justin Hayes – Head of Cyber Security at BAE Systems – alongside mentee Gi-gi Simmons.
Equity can sometimes be criticised as unfair, which typically comes from a place of privilege where it is harder to see the invisible barriers and circumstances faced by others. Having a mentor is not restricted to those deemed worthy of additional support, but should in fact be sought by everyone to gain support, guidance and wisdom tailored to the individual personalities, experiences and career paths.
"Women in senior roles within the cyber security community are few and far between. While we’ve certainly seen many improvements over the years as more women have joined the cyber security industry, there’s still a long way to go" Mary Haigh, Chief Information Security Officer at BAE Systems
A good mentor will make an effort to understand an individual’s circumstances, challenges, insecurities, and invisible barriers to success, rather than focusing solely on their strengths and goals. Mentorship can provide an objective, long-term perspective from a place of experience and wisdom. It is encouraging to know that a senior leader has most likely faced very similar insecurities, doubts, concerns and confusion over the course of their own career, and some of these experiences should be shared as part of the mentorrelationship. Both parties being open and showing some vulnerability is vital to a successful mutual mentorship, which supports the building of an equitable community of professionals.

Being a True Ally

Improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the cyber security industry is impossible without allies to raise you up and speak up on your behalf.
Robin Oldham, founder and CEO of Cydea, spoke about the role of male allies in support of women in cyber, starting with accepting that while men certainly do not “have it easy”, what can be said is “women have it harder”.
Mary Haigh, CISO at BAE Systems, and Pete Cooper, ex Deputy Director Cyber Defence Cabinet Office,
shared their conversation about the role of male allyship in championing women in leadership. Men mentoring and supporting women is hugely valuable for both parties, in a team or business seeking to improve its gender balance. Learning to manage people from different backgrounds will also make you a more successful leader – while enabling a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.
From a board’s perspective, DE&I is actually inherently linked to the success of a business, and thus women’s needs and challenges should be woven into key conversations every day rather than considered a side activity. When it comes to poor behaviour towards women in the workplace, no matter how large or small, it must be called out and addressed every single time. It is not enough for an ally in a leadership position to choose what to let slide and what to challenge.

Tackling Microaggression

Microaggression is an instance of subtle, indirect discrimination against a marginalised group, which can be easy to brush off when examined as a single event. But, if this happens often, the cumulative effect – especially when coupled with overt discrimination – can be literally traumatic. ‘How to tackle microaggression’ was the focus of a workshop led by BAE Systems’ Gi-gi Simmons, member of Women in Cyber Security, and Dav Panesar, chair of the Embrace group for supporting cultural and ethnic diversity.
The workshop was designed not to tell people what to say and not say, but rather to encourage discussion, openness and the sharing of experiences. To build understanding of others’ circumstances, the sometimes negative impacts of well-intentioned words or actions, and how to drop your defences and roll with the change.

Apprentice to CISO

Another panel was hosted by Harriet Rogers, Strategic Threat Intelligence Specialist at BAE Systems, with panellists Purvi Kay, BAE Systems head of governance risk and compliance, Chanda Azam, BAE Systems
DevOps engineering apprentice, and Christine Maxwell, Ministry of Defence Chief Information Security Officer, to discuss the different journeys in a cyber security career.
When Christine started her career in accountancy, the cyber security industry didn’t exist. She instead moved from accountancy into IT and then IT security across the banking, energy and government sectors, bringing her to her current role as a cyber security leader for the UK government. Similarly, Purvi started in aerospace engineering before she discovered the cyber security industry, where she has held leadership positions across UK government.
Today there are cyber security degrees, apprenticeships and training programmes to enable and encourage people into the industry whether from school or from a totally different field. Chanda is kick-starting her career in cyber as an apprentice, and has benefited from the networks and resources available to cyber security professionals today. However, women in cyber still face challenges in reaching their full career potential.
Mentorship is key and there is no rule against having multiple mentors to bring different perspectives to your career. It is also important to find the mentor or mentors that are right for you, as it really is a personal relationship. Taking that step and operating outside of your comfort zone will always be key to success and growth.

Connection and inspiration

As well as inspiring speakers, panels and workshops, the event also coordinated speed-networking and brought together mentees and mentors; those new or strengthened connections may well be the most important thing gained from an event such as this.
The day ended with final remarks from Purvi Kay, motivating every person in the room to proactively take forward the advice, opportunities and connections from today, as they returned to their jobs tackling the world’s biggest cyber security challenges.
  • Interested in Mentorship?

    BAE Systems’ R.I.S.E (Raise, Inspire, Support, Empower) mentoring initiative is designed to support, retain and grow female cyber talent across the industry.
    Not limited to BAE Systems, R.I.S.E is open to cyber–focused organisations and individuals who are eager to get involved as either mentors and/or mentees. R.I.S.E members are matched with suitable mentors/mentees and supported through the process with access to regular group catch ups, roundtable discussions and networking with R.I.S.E members. You will have the chance to try out different matches, engage with professionals spanning the cyber landscape and draw on the support of a community championing the progression of women in cyber.
    Learn more
  • Women in Cyber Security (WiCS)

    Working to support, develop and network with talented women in the cyber security industry. Here at Digital Intelligence, we are committed to helping our staff grow, develop and excel within the cyber security industry. We are also committed to improving the proportion of females within the wider industry.
    Learn more

Gi-gi Simmons

Senior Security Consultant, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence