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IWD 2024: A founders advice on breaking cybersecurity stereotypes
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

Gender equality has come far in recent decades, but the cybersecurity industry continues to lag behind. In 2022, only 17% of Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles at Fortune 500 companies were held by women. Not only does this prove that women are still hugely underrepresented in the industry, but also that there’s a lack of female role models to inspire girls and young women to pursue cybersecurity as a career.

This International Women’s Day, I urge women, not only within cybersecurity but in the wider technology industry, to share stories of their success to create inspiration for others who are eager to progress their careers but can’t see where it may lead. 

Here’s my story – a female founder based in Singapore, expanding a cybersecurity company globally.

Obstacles for women in a male-dominated industry 

The hardest, but most rewarding, thing I have ever done is found my own company. As someone who is not the ‘typical entrepreneur’ – I didn’t graduate from an Ivy League school, I’m not a native English speaker and I’m a woman – I’ve been fortunate to have a very positive experience in the technology industry. 

I made sure I worked with trustworthy, reliable and capable business partners and helped cultivate a supportive business environment in Singapore which has allowed me to flourish and grow my business far beyond my wildest dreams. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for the majority of women, with only 15% of tech startup founders being female. But what’s stopping them?

A massive barrier for women in technology is the worry that they will be the only woman in the room. 32% of women in technical and engineering roles have experienced this and it paves the way for the risk of gender bias. Women who face gender stereotypes – such as being asked to fetch coffee – often aren’t taken seriously leading to being overlooked for promotions. This undoubtedly generates negative workplace experiences which may result in individuals leaving the industry completely. 

To counteract this, leaders must work hard to educate employees to remove conscious, and unconscious, bias. This can be done by investing in training programmes to ensure all employees understand the negative consequences of gender discrimination. If we don’t look to eradicate negative workplace culture, we’re failing women and other underrepresented individuals at all levels. 

The importance of community 

For women in tech, success also relies on having the opportunities to excel and flourish. Singapore possesses an exceptional, supportive community which really helped in the creation and growth of my company, Flexxon. 

As a small country with a population of just over 6 million, it is amazing to see the investment and opportunity Singapore has given tech businesses and their R&D efforts. In turn, this has created a ripple effect whereby major tech companies, such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, are setting up their offices here. It’s incredibly apt then that Singapore has been named the ‘Silicon Valley of Asia’. 

However, even with the support available, you might still ask yourself the same questions all founders do. Will my business succeed? Am I right the person to lead? That’s why having a community around you is so important. 

Not only is Singapore a booming tech hub, it also has some of the most supportive networks I have ever been part of it. Flexxon would have faced greater challenges if we didn’t have an encouraging and hard-working network that pushed us forwards and supported us.

But a caring community shouldn’t be confined to a particular country, sub-sector or company. These values of support and encouragement must be practised and visible throughout the whole technology industry. To help smash glass ceilings and inspire more women to pursue technology careers, individuals should be able to get that support from anywhere. 

Propelling your achievements far and wide 

With success and encouragement from peers and colleagues, women become empowered to progress in their careers. When barriers are removed and replaced by positive workplace cultures, women become unstoppable – whether that’s striving for leadership roles in existing companies or founding their own.

For Flexxon, and for my co-founder May and I, the community we built gave us the confidence to expand the company globally. The experience has been, as expected, challenging – from late nights and early mornings to accommodate meeting in different time zones, to making difficult decisions – but thanks to my positive experiences, I’ve been able to keep a clear view of our vision and ensure we’re successful in our expansion. 

Again, when making big career moves or changes, it’s critical to have people surrounding you that want you to succeed and will support you no matter how hard it gets. For women, this is even more crucial.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I hope women wanting to start a career in cybersecurity, technology or other male-dominated industries can take inspiration from my story as well as the many other women who have paved the way for success. There’s still much to do to make access into technology for women easier but seeing that women can and do achieve their goals is crucial in encouraging today’s girls and young women to seize their passions.