Breaking Barriers: Empowering Women in Cybersecurity (Part 1 of 2)

Potent Insights from Women in Cybersecurity
Over the past century, women have shattered the glass ceiling in many industries, from breaking through stereotypes in STEM to challenging the status quo by taking on leadership positions in traditionally male-dominated spaces. Now, one of the fastest-growing industries is finally catching up. Since computers came into consumer consciousness more than 50 years ago, the exponential increase of cybercrimes has necessitated the dominance of cybersecurity as an all-important, front-and-center field. The 2022-2023 projected annual growth rate for cybersecurity careers is 32%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics However, research by Cybersecurity Ventures shows that the percentage of women in the field has only grown 10% to 25% from 2013 to 2019.

It is no secret that increased diversity brings in different ways of thinking through cultural perspectives and worldviews. It also helps strengthen teams to form more holistic solutions. So why have women traditionally not entered the cybersecurity space, and what is the industry doing to help? One of the main reasons women do not commonly consider cybersecurity as a career choice is due to perpetuating misconceptions of the field and a lack of awareness of the opportunities within it. To overcome these challenges, organizations such as Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) provide networking events and educational resources.

One of the most cited ways to correct misconceptions is to hear from people already in the domain. Unfortunately, many women may not get the opportunity to grab coffee with industry heroes and hear about their experiences.

So, we are cutting the barrier tape and granting access to the minds of four successful women from AT&T Cybersecurity, one of the largest managed security service providers in the world. Each of these women who have developed careers in cybersecurity share their diverse path to director and C-suite positions at AT&T.

Now we present the first of two exclusive interview series. During this first series you will hear from two extraordinary women, Jill Sanders, the Chief Marketing Officer at AT&T Cybersecurity, and Tawnya Lancaster, the Director of Product Marketing at AT&T Cybersecurity.

Jill Sanders leads the Marketing and Sales teams for AT&T Cybersecurity. Her team is responsible for all business aspects of Go to Market, from defining the strategy, lead generation, content creation, evangelism, market insights and sales execution to deliver revenue performance and profitability for the
Cybersecurity portfolio.

How did you get into Cybersecurity and end up where you are today?
I’ve spent 23 years at AT&T, starting my career in a sales management development program when it was known as Bell South. It was a mentor’s recommendation that prompted me to take a leap from sales to operations, a pivotal move that introduced me to the company’s technical side. Leveraging my sales experience, I bridged the gap between customer needs and operational structures. Over time, I transitioned into product management, eventually finding my way into the cybersecurity realm. Along the way, I held various positions within the cybersecurity department, ultimately landing in my current role. What I’ve come to realize is that there are multiple ways to contribute to the cybersecurity space. Whether it’s through product marketing, sales, operations, or other areas of interest, there are numerous opportunities to make a meaningful impact in this ever-relevant market.

What is your top tip for career success?
The key is not only to excel in your current role but also to grasp how things function across the entire business landscape you’re a part of. During my journey at AT&T, I’ve had the privilege of working in both business and technical capacities. This unique experience has enabled me to approach challenges from a holistic perspective and uncover more extensive opportunities.

My advice to anyone is to keep expanding your horizons. Don’t limit yourself to your current function, even if it aligns with your interests. Instead, seek opportunities to explore different facets of the business. Understanding various dimensions of your passion can propel you toward greater success.

What is one potential trapping to avoid?
One crucial trap to steer clear of is burning bridges. Instead, foster a collaborative environment. Sometimes, in the rush to expand their network, people treat networking as a one-sided affair and inadvertently damage relationships.

Throughout my journey across various roles within the company, I’ve learned that it’s vital to empathize with your network and understand their priorities. A strategic approach involves genuinely considering the interests of your partners and customers and working together to find solutions. This collaborative spirit is the ultimate path to nurturing connections and expanding your network.

Why are there fewer women in cybersecurity and how can we encourage women to join the field?
Within AT&T Cybersecurity, I have the privilege of collaborating with many strong and brilliant women. However, the broader cybersecurity landscape remains predominantly male-dominated, which can be quite daunting for women in the field. While this doesn’t exclusively apply to women, I’ve observed a common trend among them to hold back out of a pursuit of perfection, often limiting their own potential.

I still remember my early days in operations when I hesitated to ask questions during meetings, convinced that everyone else had all the answers. Fearing that I’d appear incompetent, I’d save my questions for later and direct them to a “friendly face” post-meeting. To my surprise, I soon discovered that many others had similar queries. This realization boosted my confidence and encouraged me to be my authentic self. After all, I was invited to those meetings for a reason, and my input held value. So, here’s my advice: if you find yourself at the table, don’t just occupy a seat—actively participate. Understand that you have every right to be there, and your presence serves a purpose.

As we look into a rapidly changing environment where cybersecurity is more critical than it ever has been, what should your customers be thinking about?
Cybersecurity is taking center stage in our customers’ minds, and leadership teams within our clients’ organizations are engaging with it more actively. It’s no longer a distant theory; the daily news is rife with stories of cyber breaches, making the reality unmistakably clear.

Our customers face a pressing challenge: identifying their risk tolerance and pinpointing where their business vulnerabilities lie, especially in safeguarding critical assets like customer information. Once these risks are recognized, the next steps are crucial— knowing how to protect their valuable data and crafting a response plan should an attack occur. Just as every organization operates uniquely, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Many companies are waking up to the necessity of tailored consulting services in 2023 to fortify their businesses effectively against cyber threats.

The following is an exclusive interview with Tawnya Lancaster, the Director of Product Marketing at AT&T Cybersecurity. She shares her unique insights into her successful cybersecurity career journey.

Lancaster’s role encompasses product marketing, research, and customer insights within AT&T Cybersecurity. She collaborates across various departments to craft market strategies for AT&T’s suite of security services, including consulting, managed security services, and the USM Anywhere platform. Furthermore, Lancaster’s team forms strategic alliances with leading cybersecurity software providers to address critical security challenges across public and private sectors. With an extensive career dedicated to the realm of cybersecurity, Tawnya Lancaster specializes in deciphering industry trends, understanding the global challenges faced by organizations, evaluating their impact on business resilience, and tracking the ever-evolving security market landscape. Now, let’s delve into our conversation with her.

How did you get into Cybersecurity and end up where you are today?
I’ve always been a writer, starting as an English major in university. However, my technical inclination led me to my first job in advertising sales for engineering publications, where I honed the skill of translating technical concepts into business-friendly language. This skill has been the foundation of my career.

Following this role, I spent 11 years in various PR and marketing positions at Silicon Valley tech start-ups. Eventually, I launched my own technical marketing agency, but my career took an exciting turn when I joined a cybersecurity company as director of global communications. I became deeply passionate about cybersecurity and realized there are those who merely perform the job as opposed to those who embrace it with genuine passion – I fell into the latter category.

Today, I lead a team representing AT&T’s cybersecurity portfolio. We collaborate closely with product management to communicate their vision effectively to the market and to develop go-to-market plans for new product features and updates, as well as full product launches. Additionally, we provide valuable feedback to the product management and sales teams by helping them understand our buyers, emerging trends, and general market direction. This continuous involvement not only helps us position our products but also informs their ongoing development.

What is your top tip for career success?
Success comes down to curiosity and an appetite for learning. Individuals need to drive their own destiny versus sitting back and hoping someone will do it for them. In my career, I’ve encountered situations where I had to create messaging and positioning for solutions that I was still learning. This wasespecially true during my early days in the cybersecurity field. Instead of leaning solely on my formal training, I realized the importance of taking charge of the process and actively hunting for answers through research. Embracing the discomfort of the unknown became a valuable tactic, motivating me to venture outside my comfort zone in pursuit of knowledge.

What is one potential trapping to avoid?
One of the most formidable pitfalls in the cybersecurity realm is the challenge posed by one’s own ego. As I embarked on my cybersecurity journey, I found myself thrust into a role where I was tasked with shaping the messaging and positioning of products I had to quickly learn and understand. Initially, I hesitated to seek clarification or ask questions, fearing that it would cast doubt on my qualifications in this new role. Consequently, my early projects suffered from unnecessary delays and avoidable writing errors.

Over time, I came to a profound realization shared by even the most seasoned professionals in this ever-evolving industry: cybersecurity is in a constant state of flux. This revelation underscored the importance of humility and the willingness to embrace a perpetual learning curve. In essence, we must consistently set aside our egos and approach each new challenge with a commitment to ongoing growth and adaptation.

Why are there fewer women in cybersecurity and how can we encourage women to join the field?
One glaring gap in the realm of cybersecurity is the limited access young women have to in-depth conversations that shed light on the realities of working in this dynamic field. Many share my initial misconception—a belief that cybersecurity professionals are enigmatic tech wizards. In truth, the field encompasses a broad spectrum of roles, from operations and consulting to marketing, sales, and product management. To nurture young talent, more women must step forward, engaging with female students at universities, offering guidance, and demystifying the world of cybersecurity.

It’s essential to note that a technical degree isn’t always a prerequisite for a successful career in cybersecurity. A genuine interest in technology, coupled with a sharp, inquisitive mind and the willingness to learn can open doors to internships and training opportunities. While the cybersecurity landscape poses challenges and a steep learning curve, a path to excellence emerges through dedicated research and networking with seasoned professionals.

For aspiring women in the field of cybersecurity, the Women in Cybersecurity Association stands as a beacon of support and opportunity. This organization caters to both students and professionals seeking to pivot their careers, offering valuable networking prospects and mentorship opportunities—a
testament to the industry’s commitment to fostering gender diversity and paying it forward.

As we look into a rapidly changing environment where cybersecurity is more critical than it ever has been, what should your customers be thinking about?
A growing concern among our customers is the complexity of IT systems and networks. In the past, a company might have operated a single IT server tucked away in the back of their office headquarters, managing all their databases and applications through that server. Today, companies grapple with
hybrid workplaces, multiple cloud servers, and increasingly digitized systems that can become very intricate to navigate independently. As both the public and private sectors become increasingly reliant on the digital world, the significance of safeguarding these systems and the data they contain will only
intensify. Currently, many businesses struggle to navigate this complexity by themselves due to the sheer number of products and the intricacy of setting up these systems.

The second part of this exclusive series can be found by clicking HERE.