We discuss the challenges and opportunities of promoting and enabling diversity and inclusion in cyber security.
Here are the 3 Topics We Cover in This Episode:
1) Showing Impact for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) within Security:
Beyond filling cyber security skills gaps, some metrics that show success in D&I include:
- Feeling more confident in interviews
- Recommending minorities for employment opportunities
- Educate about opportunities outside of the technical positions such as project management, customer success, product management, marketing, and sales
- Transition to cyber security from other career fields
2) Giving back to the Cybersecurity Community:
- Volunteering to help educate the next generation of ethical hackers or cybersecurity specialists
- Donating funds to nonprofit organizations that assist people interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity
- Volunteering time instructing courses or sessions on issues to assist individuals in gaining exposure to the cybersecurity sector
3) Being part of a supportive virtual community:
- Having a community of people that you can talk to, even though they’re not necessarily near you, about issues you are encountering in the industry
- Having people that you can relate to and reach out to because they are navigating through the same path as you are
- Having a psychological safe space for people to problem solve, and brainstorm and feel like they’re not being judged
- Help people that are new in cybersecurity feel comfortable and stay in the industry
TENNISHA: The earlier we can get people involved, I think the better, because that helps us to be able to get people to have long careers in which they can actually make impacts and a lasting change in the industry.
VALERIE: All right, Tennisha, welcome to the podcast. Would you mind sharing your background for our listeners?
TENNISHA: Absolutely. My name is Tennisha Martin. I’m the executive director for BlackGirlsHack. I am a penetration tester and the founder of both BlackGirlsHack and Girls Hack Village which we just had at DEFCON 30. So that was very exciting. And I’m happy to be here.
VALERIE: Well, we’re happy to have you here. To get started, I wanted to ask if you could provide an overview of BlackGirlsHack and just describe a little bit more about its primary mission.
TENNISHA: So BlackGirlsHack started maybe about two years ago as an Instagram page. And originally it was just to share resources and training with people who were also trying to get into cybersecurity. And since then we became a nonprofit and our mission is still to try to advocate on the interest of black women within cybersecurity but our organization has grown so much in that time. We’ve probably got about maybe 60% women, 40% non-binary and other, and maybe probably around the same as far as like African American. So we’ve probably got 60% African American and then maybe 40% other.
And our mission is just to provide all of the things that people need in order to get jobs in cybersecurity. So we provide training resources, study groups, accelerated programs to help people get certifications. And we partner with industry organizations that provide training or other resources that will help better position our members to be in cybersecurity and be successful.
VALERIE: That’s amazing and very much needed. So thank you for describing that. So in talking about your goals and what you’re doing for general education, how would you say that you measure success for both your students and for BlackGirlsHack as a whole?
TENNISHA: This has probably been one of those things that I’ve kind of had to come to grips with being in a nonprofit is that people who donate to us, they wanna see what the impact is. So when we’re talking about how we measure success, we’re really talking about what’s the impact that we’re having. So we tend to do this by looking at the number of people who have gotten jobs, the number of people who have gotten certifications, the number of people that we’ve helped to transition into cybersecurity.
Concrete things like that to show that we made an impact, but I think we also have some non concrete things that we’ve done as far as helping to make people feel more confident when they go to interviews or helping people to do better in their jobs, to teach them new skills or expose them. I actually had a young lady reach out to me today over LinkedIn who told me that she attended a session a few months ago that she found very insightful. And she took that as her motivation to get a new job. So she just started a new job as a cybersecurity technical recruiter, which she absolutely loves. And she was like I really appreciate you for having this session.
We do a lot of different exposure type activities when we’re talking about non concrete impact, right, just to provide people with some exposure to what the opportunities are out there. Because I’m a strong believer that if you don’t know what it is, you can’t strive to be it, right? You can’t say, hey, I wanna be this thing that I can’t even imagine. So we tried to as much as possible provide exposure to the things that are in cybersecurity that may not necessarily just be hacking things, right?
We’re called BlackGirlsHack. But the reality is, some people hack within the organization and other people don’t, per se, but under the cybersecurity umbrella everybody is pretty much a hacker. I think for me, that’s what it is that keeps me going, the impact that keeps me going.
VALERIE: Well, thank you for sharing that. Yeah, it sounds like you’ve got some good mixture of both qualitative and quantitative metrics to give all the stakeholders kind of continued satisfaction with that, but then also have people’s first impact that I’m hearing keeps coming through in your themes and just impacting people’s lives positively. And like you said, exposing people, I know myself, I didn’t even know about a lot of intelligence jobs until I was much older and that’s something that a lot of people may have a passion about something but they can’t articulate what that might become in the future for them.
So it’s great to hear what you’re doing for your organization and for your community that you’re impacting so that it is heard about and known about much earlier and people can account for those passions for something that they wanna do.
TENNISHA: Yeah, I tell people all the time, a lot of the things that people have as far as options for careers, and even like, as I guess lower level is like degrees or certifications didn’t exist when I was in school. I tell people all the time, like I did my college applications on a typewriter, right? So there wasn’t very much of an idea of computer security at the time.
So it’s like just providing exposure to people so that they don’t have to wait as long as I did to figure out like, this is what you wanna do. The earlier we can get people involved, I think the better, because that helps us to be able to get people to have long careers in which they can actually make impacts and a lasting change in the industry because everybody can complain and say like, hey these are the things that I wanna see improved in cybersecurity in the industry, but how many people are actually taking the time to do something about them, right? So when we start to see more diversity, we start to see more women, more people who are others in the industry. I think that’ll be a positive change downstream when we start looking at things like artificial intelligence and machine learning and just decision making systems which impact people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.
VALERIE: Yeah, and it really sounds like you’re approaching it from an intergenerational standpoint as well, so that it’s not just directly impacting this small group of people, it’s impacting people who will tell other people who will tell other people, which like you said affects the overall decision making processes and who’s at the table, who’s a part of these conversations in the first place? So that’s a fantastic approach to that.
And I guess off of that, I wanted to get your feedback on how we improve the diversity and inclusion initiatives within the security space?
TENNISHA: I think that we do that by taking a look, I think first at ourselves, right? Taking a look at what we as individuals can do within the space. So for example, even if something as simple as when you have openings at your job, who are you recommending for those jobs? Do those people all look exactly like you? We have an industry that is largely homogenous, just based on the fact that when people generally hire people, they hire people who remind them of themselves, right? They hire people that they can relate to that are very much like them, but even as an individual, if you wanna see lasting change, you can start recommending people for jobs that you don’t see around you. Like how many other pen testers in your area if your pen testers are women or are people of color? For example, or how many other people in your intelligence space are other, right? Recommend those people for jobs. Say, hey have you thought about this type of job, maybe you can apply to this company. It can start from an individual perspective there.
But I also think about things such as giving back, volunteering to help the next generation of ethical hackers or just cybersecurity professionals in general. We are actually, I just met this week with a local school here in the area so that we can pilot our teen program forth, ninth through 12th graders to help them get their security plus certification and to be exposed to careers and ethical hacking and capture the flags, things of that nature. Because again, the younger we get, those are the people who are still talking about what do I wanna be when you grow up? I think once you get to like my age, you start talking about how am I gonna pull my life together? Like, how do I get it together? When you’re younger, you’re still like hey, I need to go to school, what do I wanna do, right? And you have the opportunity to be literally anything that you wanna be as long as you know that they exist, right?
So giving back to the school systems, helping to volunteer to just again provide exposure to the next generation so that we can start to see lasting change maybe not today, but down the line at some point.
VALERIE: And the beautiful thing there is that in any cyber-oriented field, you have a lot of opportunities to connect with virtual communities. So these students are potential students, and are not limited by this geographical location that they have to be in. That may limit some other career fields. It’s a wonderful thing about cybersecurity and other fields within technical fields because you have these virtual communities that are available and that organizations like yourself are intentionally making a space for to make availability for those students who may otherwise be geographically isolated in opportunities but not isolated in terms of opportunities that they have online.
But once again that goes back to do they know those opportunities exist? Do they know that there are those people out there who are willing to help? So the fact that you’re putting it out there and that you’re broadcasting that, just makes such a great impact on the future of the field of cybersecurity itself.
TENNISHA: I was gonna just say that I think that having a tribe, having a community of people that you can talk to even though they’re not necessarily near you, a lot of times people, my friend group for example are not for the most part technical people, right? So just having a space where I can go and talk to people about the things that I’m dealing with for example, at work, or that I’m thinking about doing with it is very important to have, I think that virtual community that you can talk to about what it is that you’re doing. So I think that’s a big deal in what it is we’re trying to do also.
VALERIE: Yeah, that too. And in navigating these industries that have a tendency to be homogenous in their hiring practices, that also gives a community for them so that when they enter into it and maybe it feels really foreign and difficult for them to navigate through, they have that community they can go back to and say, hey, I’m dealing with this, how would you guys recommend that I move forward with it or handle this situation? And having a community like that is just imperative to really the impact that you can make in the long term.
TENNISHA: Yeah, I definitely agree. I think a lot of times people who’ve been in the industry for a long time forget what it’s like when you first join and you have questions that you may not be sure of yourself. And I think just interfacing with a lot of women in the space, I’m sure men sometimes have the issue as well. We deal with imposter syndrome. Feeling like hey, I’ve got here, I’ve got the job. Yes, I’m here, right? But now that you’re here, you feel like everybody knows more than you do, everybody has all of the experience and you feel like maybe I shouldn’t be here.
And I think that for that, it’s important that you be able to talk to people and feel comfortable to ask questions, because if you feel like everybody is a rocket scientist and you’re like, I’m just a regular scientist, then it’s gonna prevent you from asking questions and from getting the most potential out of that opportunity. So I think it’s important that when I see things in our membership space like people saying like, hey I see this, what do I do? Or how do I address this? How do I approach this? What’s your problem solving approach, for example, that you be able to ask those types of questions, because a lot of times when you’re the other in the room, it’s just kind of like, if you don’t want anybody to like kind of realize that you’re there, like that you slip through the cracks or something. So I think it’s good to have people that you can talk to and just that can relate to what you’re going to.
VALERIE: Absolutely having that psychological safe space for people to problem solve and brainstorm and feel like they’re not being judged or that they’re not good enough to work through it, that’s definitely a big factor that can drive people towards their goals or very much away from their goals. So that’s just such a necessary approach.
TENNISHA: Yeah, and it’s crazy because like people assume like, hey, we’ve got women here, we’ve got others here, we’re doing what we need to be doing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re comfortable in that space, right? Or that they feel welcome, right. A lot of times people joke online about mansplaining.
A lot of times people will be like hey, do you know what a pen test is? Do you know what a scanner is? Or they’ll intentionally like kind of, I wanna say dumb something down, or try to act like you didn’t pass through the same hoops that they did to get to this job. It’s important that we not just be able to get people into the cybersecurity industry, but that we make them feel comfortable to stay there as well, right, because we wanna see long term impact and that’s more than just getting people in the door and then they drop out the next week or something.
VALERIE: Along those same lines. I know that you’ve asked this to other cybersecurity professionals in your own interviews. So I wanted to ask what is the organization’s world domination plan and what is your own world domination plan?
TENNISHA: That’s awesome. I don’t get that switched up on me a lot. So my world domination plan is to be the chief information security officer of somebody’s fortunate company, right? That’s my goal. That’s my specific goal because I wanna be able to be in a position to hire people and get them into the industry, right? As of right now, I’m working on helping people to get trained, helping them to get certifications, but I don’t have jobs to hire them into, right? And by the time I’m the CISO of somebody’s company, I have jobs to hire them into. So we can kind of help to develop our own pipeline to get people into the jobs. So that’s me.
But I think for the organization, I wanna make an impact in the industry. I want people to not just be able to get the jobs and be able to stick around in those jobs, but then feel the impact of the organization and then wanna give back, to reach back after they’ve gotten to where they’ve gotten to and to be able to help so that we have an entire pipeline of people who are reaching back to get people who are coming behind them. And then their path is a lot more direct than some of us that have been around for a long way, kind of floundering and hitting all of the roadblocks, right? Like this is the path that you need to go to get there. This is the most efficient.
And I think for me, that’ll be when I feel like the organization has achieved success, right? I think that if we can make a difference in the industry and we start looking at 10 years, 20 years down the line, much more presence of women in and other people in the space, I think that’ll show an impact.
VALERIE: Well, those are great goals and long term impacts that are very much worth striving for. And so to wrap it up, I wanted to ask how people who are listening to this advocate for both your organization and its overall initiatives?
TENNISHA: Absolutely. So I think that the two things that every nonprofit out there needs is money and time, right? So those are the two things that are very valuable in our space. And that’s like, if you can donate to the organization, we have a donate page on our website.
And then if you don’t have money to donate, you can donate time. And that could just be as simple as if you’re a subject matter expert in something, teaching in a one hour workshop on something to help people to get exposure to that thing or mentoring somebody for maybe an hour a month for some months or whatever. Those are a lot of different ways that people can give back through volunteering or mentoring or donating their time.
If money and time are both limited commodities for you, the other thing you can do is just like and share when you see us post something on social media. Somebody in your network might be able to have time or money that they can help us with. So just sharing that so that other people can see the mission and other people can see the reach, I think those are some of the top ways that people can help us to achieve our world domination plans.
VALERIE: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for laying those out for us because we definitely want to help how we can and broadcast your organization’s goals because it is a fantastic thing that you’re doing. And Tennisha, thank you so much for being on with us today. We really appreciate you coming and talking with us.