News & Analysis

Accenture bats for more Women CISOs

In a recent report, the company has discussed ways in which inclusive hiring practices could potentially strengthen cybersecurity and resilience

A recent report from the Accenture stable revealed something we always knew.  That a culture of equality – a workplace environment that helps everyone advance to higher positions – is a powerful force multiplier of innovation and growth. And two top leaders of the company highlighted how internal advancement of women continues to remain a distant dream. 

However, coming to the research paper (download it here), it notes that employees’ innovation mindset is five times higher in the most-equal cultures than in the least-equal ones. That finding is particularly important in the field of cybersecurity where innovation is occurring on both sides of the cyber battlefield. 


Why women are best suited for the role

Senior cybersecurity executives pointed to the fact that females demonstrate high emotional intelligence and an ability to build relationships and bring people together, creating a culture where much needed good risk-taking is encouraged. Security professionals and hiring managers should not discount those traits because a culture that encourages the team to be proactive and take good risks positions the enterprise to solve difficult cybersecurity challenges.

The two leaders from Accenture – cyber strategy lead Valerie Abend and global R&D lead for security Lisa OÇonnor – argued that it never was an asset being a woman, instead it was mostly a despite-the-fact argument that came forth. The duo were interacting with SDXCentral over how the Accenture report’s findings could be internalized. 

The duo came together to create the ACF Women’s Council after realizing that there were no women in the Accenture Cybersecurity Forum which they attended as presenters. All members of the former automatically become members of the latter. 

Today, the duo are convinced that if women power isn’t harnessed as part of a whole, the need for disruptive thinking in the world of cybersecurity would remain unfulfilled. They feel that real disruption would not happen without tapping into the entire population of the company to approach cybersecurity’s demands. 

“I’m very focused on getting women from the midpoint of their career to the top. It’s not enough to get them in, burn them out, and let them go. I want them to stay and see how fruitful and interesting and different and diverse the career of cyber is itself. And so you have to invest in that,” Abend says in the interaction with SDXCentral. 


Put your hat in the right, says the report

In fact, the report itself puts the onus on women to put their hat in the ring. Women may be reluctant to pursue a position if they do not “check all the boxes.” The public scrutiny CISOs can suffer through during an incident is not for everyone. However, when the women we spoke with decided to pursue the CISO role, they typically succeeded in a matter of months. Successful women aspirants were more likely to be recruited from another company and to apply for a CISO position directly than their male counterparts.

It also said that being a good CISO is not enough to be successful. Support from the executive suite and the board is foundational when the CISO needs to lead leaders during a cyber incident. Senior management support should be deliberately assessed as a part of the aspirant’s consideration process. But support works both ways. Hiring managers need to be transparent about the hiring process and deliberate about not relying on the network they know. 

According to the report, women tend to leave their companies rather than getting promoted within. Women tend to wait longer and are quieter about their candidacy, when they should be very loud about it, says O’Connor, adding that they found that women were getting to the senior positions but were much more likely to do that outside at another firm. However, in the case of men, they were more likely to be right in their firm and roll right through to that position. 


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