In the corner of my dining room I sit alone, aside from my Weimaraner dog, Luna, who's curled up on a rug a few meters from me. I have an Irish jig on. The music is sweet and I'm reflecting on the year that's about to end. I've chosen not to go out. I want time to myself. It's been a busy year and I've been very social. But, with the new year ringing in, I want to write – to share the progress I've made and the lessons I've learnt in business and life during 2018. I do so in the hope that I may inspire you to stay strong, raise your game, and spread your message in cybersecurity.
Launching my book.
On Women’s International Day, March 8th, I formally launched my book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making is all less safe, at the Dead Dolls House, in London. The name was fitting and being my first live event, it turned out to be an exhilerating experience. Despite one of my sons being unwell on the day, as a single parent, I somehow managed to care for him and pull the whole thing off. Luck was on my side.
By hosting a sell-out event for journalists and supporters – 8o of them – I raised awareness, garnered support for the IN Security Pledge and the book became an Amazon number one best-seller, that day. It was an incredible success, and shortly after, I became even more inundated with requests for keynotes, book signings, interviews and consultancy. I was also signed by the London Speaker Bureau. I'm incredibly proud of the impact the book is making. Tech giants tell me that my book is the only one out there that tells you how to solve the problem. Importantly, I know how it's empowering and inspiring women all over the world – how it's helping them to feel less isolated – as women contact me daily to let me know.
Launching the Code of Conduct.
Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I care for our industry. That's why I spoke out about the women in red dresses at Infosec. Unfortunatley, it resulted in me being trolled online. Twitter accounts were shut down and some people were disciplined by their bosses for what they wrote. When I heard about instances of sexual harassment and assault at cybersecurity events worldwide, I knew it was time to bring the industry together to create the Code of Conduct. Aligning with the Time’s Up Movement and Now Australia, it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only one who aspired for better behaviour in security. Many accepted the view that,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Whilst wrongly attributed to Edmund Burke, it's earliest form, by John Stuart Mill, is far more poignant:
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
Anyway, the code of conduct’s purpose is to ensure that good men and women no longer turn a blind eye to what's going on. From now on, all people are to be kept safe from inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying, harassment and assault at cybersecurity events. Guaranteeing care and support, the code of conduct sets a standard of behaviour that can be expected of event attendees, speakers, sponsors, partners, facilities staff and organisers.
Through relentless campaigning, I've managed to get the IN Security Code of Conduct in four continents and supported by senior representatives from Black Hat, the Cyber Security Challenge, (ISC)2, SANS, FiTT, AISA, AustCyber, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the Now Movement, AWSN, the Security & Influence Trust Group, Women Speak Cyber, Cyber Risk Meet Ups, Brainbabe, CyberSN, Rela8te Group, Habitu8 and Telstra. Next year, I’ll be pressing for more action and launching a training programme around this.
Over the years I've done hundreds of speaking engagments, including keynotes, panels and MCs, for major events and organisations. This year, I spoke to thousands of people on four continents, including North America, Africa, Australia and Europe. At times, I had to make up talks on the spot and speak to audiences ranging from politicians, Non Executive Directors (NEDs) and business owners, to school children and cybersecurity practitioners and CISOs. Some were sprung on me at the last minute and I had to deal with distractions, interuptions, obastacles, faulty speaking equipment, and wind tunnels of noise that went straight into my ear. Often I was being videoed and streamed live. Being an introvert, it felt especially hard and deeply nerve-racking. I felt incredibly vulnerable. But, I'm grateful for every single experience. Additionally, for the actor who told me to go easy on myself when I didn't live up to my own high expectations. He said, ”
“Look. You're only human. You've got to accept that 80% of the time you'll do a brilliant job and 20% of the time you won't meet your riddiculously high expectations. But, the more you speak, the more experience you'll gain, especially with unique settings.”
This year I not only judged the SC Awards Europe in London, but the SC Awards USA in San Francisco. I keynoted in the UK and gave out awards in the USA. And, I headed out to Poland to judge the European Business Awards. They were all incredible experiences and I felt honoured to represent the cybersecurity field. Next year, I'm looking forward to judging the SC Awards again and The Business Book Awards.
Once again, I was shortlisted for the Women in IT Awards but I didn't win. However, I did win a category at the Global Excellence Awards and I also became a top 20 global influencer at the IFSEC Global Awards. Whilst I feel incredibly humbled for all of these awards, for me, they're simply the icing on the cake. What I care about most, is the impact – the transformation – my work is making.
This year, I turned down more offers than I accepted, but I did say yes to becoming a Board Member of SC Magazine (Editorial) and the Black Hat Executive Summit EU.
I've written a lot this year and I feel very proud to have been selected as a LinkedIn Top Voices 2018. To compile the list, the editors partnered with the LinkedIn Flagship Relevance team to uncover today’s most engaged — and engaging — members around the world in key segments. It’s no easy task, considering the competition: there are over 500 million people on LinkedIn and over 2 million posts, videos and articles a day to view along with tens of thousands of comments every hour — all generating tens of millions more shares and likes. Only 342 people are picked, and out of 25 that are from the UK, I was the only writer to be selected from cybersecurity.
To find standout voices, LinkedIn use a combination of data and editorial signals. They screen for engagement among professionals sharing in their area of expertise, looking at what kind of conversations — measured by engagement, including comments and re-shares — their original content is creating. They track relative follower growth, too: Are these professionals attracting dedicated fans in their particular sector? Finally, they emphasize quality and diversity; the list should reflect the world we work in. All activity measured took place over a 12-month period, from mid-September 2017 to mid-September 2018, and as with all LinkedIn Lists, they exclude LinkedIn and Microsoft employees from consideration.
Regardless of industry or location, the Top Voices follows a similar formula to cultivate powerful communities: consistency, depth of insight and a desire to deeply engage with others. On average, Top Voices are 2X times more likely to respond to comments or reply to another member’s post. Compared to all members sharing in 2018, the Top Voices received an average 7X more comments, 10X more likes and 5X more shares on their posts, articles and videos.
Lesson One: Be brave, face your fears and show what's real including your vulnerabilities.
When you're active on social media, it's easy for someone to think they know you. But, the truth of the matter is they don't. My life is not what I post on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. There's far more to it than I share. And, this was why I wanted to give a clearer representation of my life as a cybersecurity entrepreneur, speaker, author and mother. Whilst it's still filtered, like everything on social media, in 2018 I wanted to show a ‘behind-the-scenes' version. I felt for it to be real, it had to be raw. My weekly ghetto vlogs emerged, so you could see the good times when I was feeling energised and high on life, and the bad times when I was feeling the struggle – low of energy, overwhelmed, insecure and sometimes angry.
I felt nervous doing the vlogs, but somehow I found the courage to release them. I wanted to pave the way for more freedom and honesty, because nowadays you can't do anything online without being judged and criticised. For all the good that social media brings, there's intolerance, division and deep insecurity, which is dangerous and weakening.
There’s so much shame around not having it all together, too – in your life, work and relationships. But, not wanting to keep an innocent prisoner locked up, I knew the only way to address this was by being brave and sharing the reality. I knew that when I did this things would shift, for great strength comes through adversity. You see, the strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It's pounded and struck repeatedly before it’s plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it strength. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it’s called upon to fight. So, by facing my fears head-on, leaning into them, feeling all the emotions that you're supposed to feel, and accepting that you're not perfect and never will be, you can power up.
Lesson Two: Change the gender diversity dialogue, and be more like water.
Whilst I'm clearly a huge supporter of gender diversity, this year I came to realise how vital it is that we change the dialogue. I’m concerned that the industry is addicted to the drama of the ‘women in security’ narrative, and by focusing on ‘women in’ we’re further dividing a depleted workforce and alienating men.
Words are powerful, and sadly, the truth of the matter is that our ‘women-in’ words are not inclusive, no matter how many times women say, men are invited to come along or join in.
This year, I’ve felt a growing animosity whenever gender diversity has been brought up. Both men and women are afraid and a widening gap in trust is emerging amongst genders. As more women are speaking up in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and women’s marches – which is good – men are feeling uneasy. It’s leaving them feeling uncertain and even confused about where they fit in and how to behave with their female colleagues. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in regard to Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court following assault claims haven’t helped either. No one needed to be in the USA to acknowledge the fact that this event charged the space even further.
And, this is why, whenever I've spoken at events, or written blogs, or been interviewed about this topic, I’ve been calling for a different approach to how we tackle gender diversity. As I presented in South Africa on Women’s Day, it hit me. There, they have a saying, “Strike a woman; strike a rock.” And, as much as I’d like to champion this, I know it’s not what we need to do. Tit for tat and raising fear is not the answer. Instead, we must unite and pull in allies from dominant groups. As Henry Ford, the American industrialist said,
“Coming together is beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
All too often we rely on minority groups to fix what’s wrong. But, what research tells us is that when minority groups point out unfairness about their treatment, they’re actually less likely to be listened to or believed. Known as the Complainer Effect, the only way to rectify this is if someone from a dominant group speaks up and points it out.
This is one of the reasons why I believe women and minorities need to be more like water. Water flows. It finds a way to wherever it wants to go. It can transform into steam and rise. And, whilst nothing is weaker than water, when it attacks something hard or resistant, then nothing withstands it. Nothing will alter its way. Being so fine that it’s impossible to grasp, when you strike it, you’re not wounded and nor is it. Retaliation therefore cannot occur. And, when it’s severed, it is not divided.
Lesson Three: Non attachment and letting go of people and things.
Sometimes it seems like the scariest thing to do is to let go, but what I know is that when it comes to people you have to, for
“If you love something set it free. If it comes back it's yours. If it doesn't it never was.”
I've actually known this lesson for years. I'm a free spirit and used to quote it regularly to possessive boyfriends, thinking it was from Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull – one of my favourite books. Whilst it's most likely another wrongly attributed quote, it kept me going when two of my children chose to live with their father last year. This year, they came back, and our relationship has never been as strong as it is now. Thanks to some great support, I applied the same principle to our family home. With huge pressure to sell it, I realised it was time to do just that. Whilst tears were shed and anger was released, as soon as that decision was made, a weight lifted from our shoulders and we were all set free.
Lesson Four: Grow into forgiveness.
Over the last decade I've had a lot of forgiving to do and what I realised this year, is that no one really teaches you how to forgive. No one ever explains how hard forgiveness is and that there's no quick fix for it. Furthermore, that you have to grow into it and accept that it’s an attitude, a process, and a way of healthy living.
For years, I've heard people say, “forgive and forget,” but on reflection I don’t agree. I now know that part of the process of forgiving is letting go of the hurt someone caused you, which isn't the same as forgetting. Forgiveness is remembering and deciding to let go anyway. I know when I forgive, it not only makes me a more compassionate person but a healthier one, for what you don’t transform you transmit – both inward and outward.
Thanks to a Catholic priest, I've learnt that when I’m strong enough to forgive someone, I’m actually setting myself free and giving myself a fresh start. All that's required is for me to find the courage to say,
“I forgive, I'm finished with it. The hurt you caused is your problem not mine.”
I also understand that I’m too weak to forgive and have work to do on myself as soon as I find myself harbouring festuring hurts and developing a ‘poor me' complex or victim mentality. And, that the hardest step to forgiveness is learning how to move on and leaving the past behind, for sometimes the past can become so ingrained that it becomes identity, which ironically can be comforting. Further, when you can’t forgive hurts, you're actually demolishing a bridge which you need to travel over for yourself, because everyone needs to be forgiven sometime.
When it comes to saying sorry, this is an easy action to take because essentially you're still in control. However, when you ask for forgiveness, you hand control over to anther person, which is risky because it makes you vulnerable. But, when you step back and consider everything, what you discover is that to forgive someone is an essential path to your freedom. It's a gift to yourself, and whilst it can't change the past it can and will change your future.
Lesson Five: Tranform emotional hurts.
This lesson is linked to the one before, as it's all to do with unresolved emotional experiences sitting in your subconscious mind, consuming vast amounts of energy. What I learnt from a Hindu priest was a practical way to transform this.
Quoting Tesla, he said,
“If you want to find the secrets to the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
Immediatley, I understood why he was referencing this. Everything is made up of energy and is vibrating at a certain frequency. If you have a certain experience, it has emotion attached to it and it's vibrating in your subconscious mind. When you want to change it, you first need to understand that you can’t do anything about the experience, as it’s already happened. To help yourself, what you can do is remove the emotion that’s attached to the experience.
The way to do this is by taking a piece of paper and writing down the problem. As you write down the problem, you'll notice that something really interesting happens – the experiences and emotional hurts that are troubling you move from your subconscious mind to your conscious mind as you're reliving them. The emotion comes out of the experience and flows through your hand and pen and into the piece of paper. To rid yourself of the energy, all that's required is for you to crumple the piece of paper and burn it in a fire. And, depending on the intensity of the emotion, you may need to write about it a number of times. Now, the fire won't destroy the emotion because you can’t destroy or create energy. But, what you can do is transfer and transform the emotion that's inside of you into another matter.
So that's it. All I want to say is thank you for your support and making 2018 an incredible year. I feel so fortunate to know you, that you're in my network, and know that my life is enriched for it. I wish you a happy and successful 2019.