Wednesday 14 December 2016

The birth of the Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN)

This post has been written by the AWSN founder, Jacqui Loustau AWSN is an industry network with the aim of connecting, supporting, collaborating, and inspiring women in the security industry. 

The network literally came to life after my son was born, during my maternity leave. Lack of sleep, happy hormones, the need to do something other than change nappies and clean the house, I decided to start something I have always felt passionate about. I wanted to connect with other women in security, to see if anyone else felt the same way as I did and understand if they had the same need to help our industry.

I wanted to share the story of how AWSN started, because I think it is important to understand where the vision came from, how it was formed and what we are trying to achieve.

AWSN founder Jacqui Loustai

Throughout my 15 years in IT and security, I was lucky to never really feel discriminated against or bullied in any of my organisations/projects because I was a woman. I have also been lucky enough to work in teams with women. However, I know that there are many other girls/women, who have not been so fortunate. Many of them feel alone, helpless and frustrated. They are awesome at their job, but talk of quitting the industry just because of these terrible experiences. This is a shame.

It may seem like a small thing, but entering a conference where a sea of men greet you, can be overwhelming and scary, even for someone quite social like myself. Add on top of that someone who is shy, someone moving to a new country or transitioning into the security industry. 

This can be tough, very tough.

I even experienced some of this anxiety when I moved to back to Australia from France 3 years ago, as I knew no one. My whole security career was pretty much built in Europe. I wanted to go to security conferences to meet people and to start building my network. I remember the first time I went, I got cold feet and quickly retreated to the ladies toilets! There I met Helaine Leggat. My savior...I was embarrassed, but explained to her that I had just arrived back in Melbourne and I knew no one. Straight away she tucked me under her wing and started introducing me to people. 

Slowly, I got to know people and realized that even in Australia, the female population was small in conferences and security industry events. The women are out there but the numbers aren’t attending these events. “Where were they?” The women I have spoken to about this have mentioned that this is largely due to family commitments (most of the events are during kid pick up or drop off times), other priorities (working part time/busy), unaware that these events exist and some have said they feel uncomfortable going (due to the ‘men’s club’ atmosphere).

I found that I would see the same ladies at majority of the security events. After some time, I decided to setup a Linkedin group of women in security. Slowly the numbers grew as people picked up that a group like this existed. They were all enthusiastic about women in security and wanted to help out.

During my maternity leave, Bonnie Butlin and Grant Lecky who lead the international alliance Women In Security & Resilience Alliance (WISECRA) from Canada, contacted me and mentioned that there were a number of people wanting to take this women in security network in Australia to the next level and asked if I want to lead it. I said “Why not!” I needed some mental stimulation as talking only to a baby and toddler was starting to drive me crazy!!!

A small group of us started organising casual networking lunches and they slowly started to grow as the word got out. It was nice to talk to other like-minded people and to try and help support those having certain difficulties. To be honest, this was the most I thought it would ever go. I never anticipated or expected there to be so much interest and so many people wanting to build this into something more.
This initial stage of casual lunches we have found to be fundamental to the development of the network. It is important to create a ‘trusted’ network of women before anything else can be achieved where women are able to speak freely and not in fear of repercussions. We needed this time to support one another and to understand each other’s motivations as a group.

As the network matures we absolutely need supportive men to be part of our cause. We recognize that we cannot reach parity without all parties being involved. But this must come at the right time so we ask for your patience and understanding.

AWSN Four Objectivies
None of us in the group are trying to separate or isolate ourselves. We don’t want to be boxed into a ‘mothers club’ stereotype. The fact is that women are still in the minority working within the security industry, and it doesn’t need to be the case. Until that changes, this type of group is needed to help Connect like-minded people both nationally and abroad, to Support those already in industry to stay, to Collaborate on ideas on what to do about this shortage and to Inspire those in other industries and youngsters to join us. We all enjoy working in security and see its great potential. We all recognize that diversity of minds and abilities in a workplace in any industry is beneficial, but particularly in security.

Below are the AWSN’s 4 main objectives – Connecting, Supporting, Collaborating and Inspiring.

AWSN’s 1st objective – Connecting

The AWSN aims to connects women from all areas of security, all ages, locally, nationally and internationally. We are an open network, which welcomes people seeking to or pursuing careers in security to join us. If we are to help this skills shortage and to combat cybercrime and other aspects of security, we need people drawn from all backgrounds to help think in creative new manner.

AWSN is connected with WISECRA, which consists of 22 other women in security associations like ourselves.
Through this network we help members connect to others in their city, nationally and globally. We also connect likeminded people working in the security industry professionals each other. Amazing friendships and work partnerships have already formed.

AWSN’s 2nd objective – Supporting

For instance, women working in IT are in the minority and working in cybersecurity, we are only 10%. To increase women’s numbers working in all aspects of security, women need to help and support each other. We are fully aware that we cannot do this alone. I could not have come this far in security without the support and guidance of many supportive managers. I have had a number of male and female mentors, who have supported my development and I am thankful for that.

Through AWSN, some enthusiastic graduates/students, who have made close connections and developed opportunities in the security industry.

We can show them how their studies have linkages to security. For example, one of our active members is studying a Masters in Statistics and Operations Research, how amazing it would be to have someone with that knowledge and skillset in security. We found her first and we hope to support as many of these grads as possible as we want them all to stay working in security!

Many of our members have found mentors from this network. It is important to support one another.

One member came to one of our early AWSN lunches eager to learn and find a mentor. She had been ‘thrown in the deep end’ to be the CISO for a not-for-profit organization and had a team of zero people. We helped her find some keen grads, who wanted the work experience and to work for this very worthy cause. We partnered the graduates with a mentor to help take the load off the CISO, connected her with some strong mentors to help her prioritise her work and guide her through this tough time. This helps both the CISO and the graduates, who can then put this work experience on their CV’s and provide them with referees (the CISO and their mentor). The grads also know that they are helping a great cause.

I also see that small and medium sized businesses need this type of model and assistance to help with their security. So potentially we can help this student-to-industry gap through these rapidly growing small businesses. 


AWSN’s 3rd Objective – Collaborating

AWSN’s first major project was to contribute to the international book ‘Women in the Security Profession’ where Helaine Leggat, Yvonne Sears, Jeanette Jackson and myself contributed on behalf of Australia and wrote about what our security jobs entail.
We are all passionate about trying to get and keep more women / girls in the security industry. AWSN is collaborating with other organisations/associations who want to do more of the same e.g. through talking at RMIT and other industry events.
As we are all very busy women, we do not have the time to re-invent the wheel, compete with others. We want to use our time efficiently and contribute to other existing programs. For example working with and supporting the Department of The Prime Minister and Cabinet for women in cyber - security.

We see ourselves as a ‘network’ of women working in various careers of security. AWSN is a conduit to other initiatives and programs around the country and world. We do this by connecting the right people and if necessary, supporting them. For example, we recently helped a student find security related work experience in a not-for-profit organization and paired her with a mentor to help support her through that experience.

As we have women from all areas of security and at all levels – Business Continuity managers, Defence/Military, Cyber, Vendors/sales/marketing, consultants, security analysts, pen testers, programmers, data scientists, lawyers, fraud, forensics, security awareness, security operations managers, business analysts, auditors, risk managers, investigators, ciso’s the list goes on, we have the opportunity to collaborate on a range of topics. It is important to the AWSN to not just stick to cybersecurity or IT security, as learning from each other’s area is what enriches each of us!

AWSN’s 4th Objective – Inspiring

We hope that by attracting women and girls from other industries into our network and mentoring them to show that a career in security is both exciting and a great future, that we can help industry. This is not just for women and girls, but also for men and boys too. We want to change the stereotype, perception of what Security careers are and inject diversity of thinking and experience.

This is why we volunteer our time at events such as Go Girl for IT (where girls across Victoria listened to a panel of women talk about different careers in security). The girls were fascinated by what we did. They were amazed that it wasn’t just about firewalls, hacking and privacy settings on Facebook.

We want more women to present at conferences and other events on their ideas and success stories. During our upcoming lunches in Melbourne, we will invite 3 people to present: one senior leader to inspire; one changer to disrupt our normal thinking; and one student/junior member to practice presenting. Many women are self-criticizing and need an encouraging environment to present and get feedback. Our lunches will provide this sounding ground.
We are starting to write articles about the amazing work women are doing in our industry and have created the Security Job Profile Project to provide honest descriptions of what working in security means on an everyday sense.
We also need senior security leaders to help mentor us. There is currently a shortage of experienced CISO’s in Australia and worldwide. We need these senior leaders to step up and assist mentor and inspire the next generation of CISO’s and leaders in other fields of security.

We never would have imagined that we would be where we are today. AWSN is not perfect. However, we are volunteers and trying to be the best we can. AWSN is a network that has a lot of potential, but to keep it going, we need active help!

For those that do not know me, I am a working mother of 2 young boys doing this work for the AWSN in my very little ‘spare’ time (mainly on the train to and from work). We have chapter leads, most of whom are also working mums, so please forgive us if we take time to respond and have patience with us if we don’t always get things right.
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I would like to thank everyone who has supported us on this incredible journey of creating the Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN). I never would have won the 2016 Australian Information Security Association (AISA) Award for Diversity, without the help, enthusiasm and dedication of so many people.

Many of the nominees not only within the Diversity category, but other categories for the 2016 AISA Awards are part of the AWSN network. They have all done incredible work. In a sense, we have all won. A small battle is won by the fact that our industry has recognized that Diversity in Security is an issue. It is something that needs to change! 

However, for me it is not just gender diversity. 

We need diversity of thought and experience. The only way we can do this is by inspiring and supporting anyone interested in pursuing a career in security. Security needs a huge uplift if we are to win the upcoming cybercrime battles and the continuing “war on terrorism”. Diversity needs to be marketed the right way, it needs business minded people, it needs to be communicated right so that everyone wears a security hat. Most people in our network agree that this is not just a gender issue, but we can only focus and help one sector at a time, which is why we are here! It’s great to see that organisations such as AISA and larger are also making efforts on this front.

Thanks to all the chapter leads and committees whose hard work has made this network possible. 

  • Melbourne – Michelle Weatherhead, Iresha Fernando, Micah Agustin, Kelly Taylor, Claire Fulford and Helaine Leggat
  • Sydney – Heather Hoddinott, Fatemah Beydoun and Yvette Lejins
  • Canberra – Chris Miller, Christina Rose and Amy Roberts
  • Perth – Sam Moody
  • Brisbane – Sheena Downey, Mandy Turner, Jodie Siganto and Sarah Hufnagel
Thanks also to our sponsoring organizations, providing kindly donated time and money for our cause – Ernst and Young (EY), Medibank, BAE Systems, Enex TestLab, Enex Carbon, Australian Information Security Association (AISA), Thales, Q1 Recruitment and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

 This post has been written by AWSN founder Jacqui Loustau & coded by Mandy Turner on behalf of AWSN. 

(c) AWSN 2016

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