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Women in Security: Spotlight on Fatemah Beydoun

24th September 2019

On September 3rd, I and some members of the team attended an awesome security awards conference, hosted by CSO Australia. One of the first of its kind in Australia, the 2019 Women in Security Awards was an incredible culmination of some of the industry’s most highly regarded security minds. It was a celebration of female contributions in cybersecurity, as well as a much-needed platform to showcase the incredible talent and innovation brought forward by women who are often out of the spotlight and working on doing an amazing job.

It gives me great pride to say that Secure Code Warrior’s VP of Customer Success (a.k.a. Chief Awesome), Fatemah Beydoun, was an integral part of that day. She presented her talk, Mentoring for the future: How we can all do better in fostering female cybersecurity talent to a very receptive audience. Though twelve minutes is nowhere near enough time to reveal her long-standing impact with us and the cybersecurity industry as a whole, she has seen (not to mention, driven) critical positive change.

A more inclusive approach.

“When I first started my career in this industry,” Fatemah said, “I was one of the very few females in the teams I was placed in. A lot of the networking opportunities were male-centric as well, making it difficult for me to join in, meet the right people and demonstrate critical value to the business. I sought to change that dynamic, creating a more inclusive space when possible.

For instance, I would often attend industry events and find many company booths would employ promotional models to help draw attention to their stands. That’s okay in theory, but I would often be ignored as I was clearly not the target market. I was in charge of running events early in my career, and vowed we could come up with more inclusive and fun ways to draw attention to our own offerings,” she said.

Fatemah and I have worked together for a long time, and she has always championed inclusivity and diversity within the businesses we have operated in. This has always led to more pathways for women in the team, recognition of key contributions and a cohort that is strengthened by different approaches, opinions, and walks of life.

“Look, nobody wants to be the token female, of course,” Fatemah said. “However, the issue can be that some less diverse executive teams tend to pass leadership batons to those that are like them, that they might relate to on a personal level. These same executives could benefit from a woman contributing on merit and skill-based terms, but often it’s hard for them to get a look-in. If executive management teams are made aware of the strength diversity can bring (and that goes beyond gender), they are often quite willing to create those pathways and start elevating women who are ready, willing and capable of doing an awesome job for their organization,” she said.

Workplace flexibility: key ingredients for success.

I learned very quickly when starting my own company that the best work is done when team members have the room to breathe. Flexibility is important for everyone, but policies that assist working families can be instrumental in retaining vital talent.

One of the first policies introduced here was the Infant-At-Work Policy, allowing new mothers to return to work sooner with the flexibility needed for appointments and the ability to bring infants to work without fear of judgment.

“I didn’t want to choose between being a mum and my career, and the ability to bring my young son to work was such a positive move in keeping me feeling supported and valued,” Fatemah said. “My skills don’t disappear after childbirth, and being a founding member of a startup, well, you just want to get back into it!”

She has even spoken to ABC News on the benefits of flexible work:

Do you have a thriving mentor culture?

To start anyone off on a great career trajectory and keep their momentum going, it’s a great idea for them to have a mentor. In many IT, cybersecurity and male-dominant fields, there is quite an imbalance of executive-level women as compared with men, so it can be a little challenging.

While it’s important for women to see “themselves” in leadership positions, men can also help by lifting up the clever women in their teams and stepping in to mentor them as well, where possible.

“Leadership teams can have a huge impact on diversification in an organization, as well as ensuring that exceptional women get the recognition and career pathways they deserve as much as anyone else. I have seen this in action with Jetstar’s Head of Cyber Security, Yvette Lejins. She is a champion of women and through her own success and hard work, has paid it forward and helped other women conjure the confidence to shoot for the top,” Fatemah said.

As it stands, Secure Code Warrior just celebrated reaching 100 employees. I am proud to say that we have over 50% female representation across the business, and Fatemah is an exceptional role model and mentor to all.

All companies can find immense strength in the diversification of their teams. A range of opinions, from different walks of life, can be the secret ingredient needed to turn good ideas into great ideas. As always, we are all stronger together.

Pieter is the Co-Founder and CEO of Secure Code Warrior, as well as a principal instructor for the SANS Institute. He also co-founded BruCON, one of the most awesome hacking conferences on the planet.

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