This week I attended the launch of the (ISC)2 Women in Security mentoring scheme, which was previewed here.
The event was held at the offices of EY, formerly Ernst & Young, and attended by a number of the company's security specialists including Mark Brown, a former SC Magazine Information Security Person of the Year. Its purpose was intended to reign in mentors and mentees, and promote a speed dating event (to be held later this year).
The one thing that the chapter was keen to push was that this is not an exclusively female event, but what it did show is that the male/female balance in the industry is not as one sided as we are led to believe, but everyone needs a helping hand.
Liz Bingham, managing partner for people at EY, said that this had been a particular passion of hers and from her experience, it was hard earlier in her career to find a mentor and the career ladder had been more of a 'climbing wall'.
“Mentoring is so important as back in the days I did think of it, but it was so hard to find the next handhold on the climbing wall. Access to mentors to pass the pitfalls is incredibly important and careers could have been accelerated with a mentor as so much is about confidence and self belief,” Bingham said.
My concern about this process is that mentees may be attracted, but will mentors be attracted to take part in such a process? From looking at the mentors already with the scheme and those who signed up on the night, it was actually rather reassuring to see that there was a passion to participate in this concept.
Speaking on the night was Vicki Gavin, compliance officer at the Economist Group, who said that she didn't think of herself as a mentor, and that she had never been involved in a mentoring scheme and had always been informed within the industry.
She said: “There is a lot of advice out there if you are prepared to listen for it. I joined 'working skills for women', which was about women for women and it was about achieving goals and it made me see how important it was that women help other women as they were turned off learning maths and science. However this helped people learn in a new way from women and it really gave me the bug.
“We are now setting up a mentoring scheme and internships, as we need to set up the leaders of tomorrow to help them get their first job. We get so much from these people and if you don't have a scheme, I strongly advise you try and start one as it is the best type of resource.”
The Women in Security mentoring scheme will have three objectives: to enhance technical skills; to help expand professional networks; and ensure newcomers are not put off by jargon and can feel part of a group.
Mentors will be asked to allocate a minimum three to four hours a month to prepare a structured meeting and commit to doing the program for 12 months, while mentees will be asked to invest a minimum of eight hours a month and act on areas covered,
Again I was concerned that busy professionals would not be able to commit to the time requirements and that there would not be the feeling of 'I can lead' in a generally humble industry. However I caught up with Soraya Iggy, Women in Security volunteer and B-Sides London organiser, who oversaw the conference's rookie track programme this year. She said that there were more mentors offering time and advice than there were proposed speakers, and that was because of the "fantastic generous community who want to help someone else".
“The mentors said give me one mentee and they focused on forming a partnership and we have learned a lot for next year,” she said.
“We had to turn people away who wanted to be mentors as we had 24 slots and we had people on a waiting list.”
With constant talk of a skills shortage and no real clarity on how things can be solved, perhaps the best solution is to offer advice to those either already in the industry or considering it. I've always been sceptical of the imbalance concept as it may be the case that there are not enough women in senior security positions, but if this scheme helps build networks and enhance communications, it can only be positive.