I came to Scotland nearly 20 years ago from Ireland, with no contacts but a lot of determination. While Ireland will always be my home, Scotland has given me amazing opportunities and has in many ways become my adopted country.
Having spent my entire career working in the tech sector in some way or another, it was only a couple of years ago that I transitioned into the cyber sector into a leadership role.
To be a good CEO, I have worked with various coaches and mentors to define my leadership style and be the manager my team deserves. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible supporters who pushed me to extend my limits: Ed Broussard from Mudano, Douglas Barnett from AXA, Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham from Police Scotland, Scottish Business Resilience Centre Chair Paul Atkinson, to name just a few. It’s important to have a mentor, someone with whom you can have an honest conversation, trust and challenge you for the right reasons. I’d encourage everyone, regardless of age or gender, to find one.
Admittedly, the mentors and supporters I mention here are all men – this is common for many women of my generation, especially in the tech and cyber sectors. I live by the motto “if you cannot see it, you cannot be it” and, unfortunately, the male bias in these sectors has led to fewer women taking up leadership roles, in part because they have felt it was up to them to break the barrier – a daunting task for anyone.
However, from first-hand experience, I have found that the cyber sector is much more than tech-focused, with a huge variety of skills needed. At its core, the cybersecurity sector is about protecting people and organisations. Perhaps if more people viewed the sector in this regard, we would see more visibility of women in the sector.
I have always tried to approach being a woman in tech as a non-issue where possible, and I know that means I’ve been fortunate. I didn’t set out to be a female leader in the cyber sector – but rather, be a strong and authentic leader in my own right.
That’s not to say there aren’t added pressures of being a woman in cyber.
We need to recognise women deserve to have it all if they want to – and, with the right support, can maintain their sense of self while being a good mum, employee, leader, and more. For me, part of being a good mum is shouting about my children’s achievements whenever I have the chance (as an aside, my eldest is the Scottish weightlifting record holder!).
For example, I used to be very conscious of how being a working mum impacted my work; it certainly affected the types of positions I applied for. When my children were younger, I felt constantly pulled in multiple directions. I’ve tried to minimise that feeling as much as possible for the parents (and everyone else!) at SBRC by implementing a four-day work week across the organisation so that everyone gets more time at home without sacrificing their income. It’s good for the organisation because it’s good for employees.
But it’s not just about being good; I also want to take my position as a leader in tech and cyber to do good. The opportunities to do so are endless: from tracking disease progression to reminding people to take their medication or helping social services to identify and help children on the edge of care, there is so much our sector can do.
This is a key tenet of my work with UNICEF and Parkinson’s Scotland. In fact, I count setting up the UNICEF Data Collaborative Hub at Edinburgh University as one of my proudest achievements, both personally and professionally.
Regardless of gender, I believe we all have a role to play in improving the world for the next generation. If you can find a way to bring it into work and be authentic to yourself, that’s even better. Thankfully, anyone interested in cyber has an incredible opportunity to do good and help protect others – there are so many ways to do so.