Cindi Carter is a Field CISO for the Americas region at Check Point.

Happy International Women’s Day! As we recognize this day and celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women, let’s also note that there is still much more work to be done, especially in relation to getting women involved in cyber security.

In this dynamic interview, Check Point Field CISO Cindi Carter discusses diversity, innovation and women’s empowerment in the security space. Cindi explores hidden aspects of these topics and also sheds light on the tremendous opportunities available for organizations.

Leverage the power of these perspectives to adapt your organization’s approach. Level-up all aspects of your cyber security strategy, including your talent strategy.

What impact does diversity have on innovation and problem-solving within cyber security teams?

Across the past 30 years, we have seen some of the most rapid technological advancements in human history. These advances have made both our business and personal lives easier and more convenient – by leaps and bounds.

At the same time, digital technologies have introduced enormous risks. As the technology evolves, so too do cyber crime techniques.

When I step back and think about who I prefer to hire, I intentionally look for people who may have a different viewpoint; people who can see things in ways that might make new avenues of exploration or new approaches accessible.

Of the requirements that I have for candidates, a technical background or a cyber security degree is the least of them. When working through a problem or a challenge, it’s sometimes extremely beneficial to have the perspective of someone who may not have grown up in IT or grown up in cyber.

In my view, diversity is a business-performance issue, not a compliance-with-the-mandate issue. Evidence shows that diversity impacts problem solving and innovation. Companies that are more diverse are more likely to achieve goals and outperform their peers.

We need creative and critical thinking skills on our teams – and those talents come from people with all different types of educational backgrounds, and from all different walks of life.

What initiatives can organizations pursue to retain and advance women in cyber security careers?

The gender imbalance in the cyber security field is non-trivial. Women make up just under 25% of the cyber workforce.

To not only retain women, but to also advance women’s careers, I believe that organizations should have professional forums that can offer resources and mentorship. These types of forums or special interest groups can support career aspirations and assist women in navigating their careers.

There are so many different roles in cyber security. There are at least 10 different primary cyber security “disciplines,” if you will. Within those disciplines, there are over 45 different types of roles.

So, when you consider the distinct career paths, specializations within the field, and the unique skillsets required within each, having professional forums can provide critical support.

Maintaining professional forums for women can also have a positive outcome for the organization as a whole – for all of the reasons that I mentioned in the previous answer in terms of contributing to innovation and problem solving.

How can CISOs and the organizations that they work for do a better job of collaborating with educational institutions, encouraging more women to pursue cyber security degrees?

Personally, I am involved in several different initiatives in this space across community colleges, technical communities, and through volunteer outreach programs.

At Check Point, we deliver a program called Secure Academy, which provides cyber security education courses to different types of institutions and diverse populations of students. At the end of the day, the students build the skills required to excel within the cyber security industry.

In a similar vein, CISOs, cyber security staff and organizations can create cyber training programs that can be shared with educational institutions. In turn, the institutions will be able to support and deliver a higher level of cyber security education to students.

You referenced them briefly – Would you like to talk a little bit more about the initiatives that you’re involved in that are designed to empower women in the cyber security space?

I am on a couple of different advisory boards for educational institutions. My roles include assisting with curation of educational material, offering 1:1 time to help women get a better sense of how to build their careers and answering questions, among other things.

It’s easy to make the false assumption that cyber security students have a strong sense of what it’s like to be a security practitioner. But people can get all of the education required and still not have any real understanding of what an SOC analyst does all day or the responsibilities involved in being a Chief Information Security Officer. So, in speaking more directly to my advisory capacity, I aim to offer a bit of that real-world perspective.

I am also the founding President of Women in Security – Kansas City, a non-profit that supports women at all career levels within the information security field.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the audience?

As I noted earlier, technology has enriched our lives – it provides so much value – but it has also made us vulnerable to cyber crime.

We see that in the news everyday. And cyber crime is everywhere, affecting hospitals, schools and grocery stores, among other pillars of daily life.

As we continue to leverage digital technologies for business and personal gains, we’re going to see an increasing number of cyber crime-focused headlines. And we’ll feel the impact of those cyber attacks and data breaches.

But here’s the truth – I also believe that we don’t have to accept that kind of future. We can build a world where our organizations and personal lives remain unshaken by cyber crime. It’s a future that we all want – one where security prevails over vulnerability.

At the same time, that future may feel a bit out-of-reach because our talent pipeline is shrinking. As we strive for a cyber secure future, we need to actively support the next generation of professionals.

Around the world, we need to empower as many people as possible, especially women, to play critical roles in securing our digital ecosystem. Together, we can turn the tide, creating a more diverse, significantly more secure and more resilient cyber security environment.