Cybersecurity needs transformational leadership from women

Cybersecurity needs transformational leadership from women

Current cybersecurity concerns require more than controversial changes to encryption, corporate-government collaboration in Silicon Valley, and add-ons to omnibus legislation. Security and technology advancement require changes across our organizations, our leadership, and in the culture of tech work itself.

The biggest threat in cybersecurity is the human element. Behind every piece of data is a human actor, either friend or foe, which means that human nature and relationship-building should be the essential components of your security strategy.

Full human participation is necessary to mitigate the risks related to the human element in our security strategies, and women have the opportunity to step into security roles to lead. While women account for nearly 47 percent of the U.S. labor force according to a 2014 Pew Research Institute study, they make up just 19 percent of employed technologists according to the 2015 International Business Report from Grant Thornton.

Sharon Florentine of CIO writes that there is a talent gap in cybersecurity and organizations are reaching out to women in tech to close the resource shortages. Women are being trained for employment in tech security while organizations can also increase the number of women in tech ranks.

However, full participation isn’t just about increasing the number of women in tech or security. Security threats facing us today require holistic, mature, transformational leadership from women.

Women are proven transformational leaders – combining relationship-building with follower development, motivation, and optimism to go above and beyond. These are the skills best fit for a human-centered security strategy where transparency and trust, high reliability, and individual integrity are paramount. Women in tech can engage our organizations by implementing a cybersecurity strategy with tactical leadership that leads to more collaborative organizations that operate under a shared vision.
Transparent leadership begets more secure organizations

Inspired leadership and high-trust security start with transparency, especially in the face of addressing turmoil and change. Leaders who share relevant information, give and receive feedback, and are forthcoming regarding the intent and motivations behind decisions develop greater trust in their organizations and the global culture as a whole.

David Upton and Sadie Creese, in their Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Danger from Within”, highlight research concluding that bad actors that come from within our organizations have a range of motivations from revenge to blackmail to financial gain. Transformational authenticity and trust within our organizations are essential ingredients for successful leadership because some of our greatest security risks come from the danger within our own institutions.

It may seem counter-intuitive to some that leaders who share more create highly security organizations; however, it makes a difference in followers who may oscillate between trust and suspicion. Secrecy breeds suspicion. Sharing information and building confidence create an environment where everyone is working toward a shared vision and common goal. This assumes that a leader is transparent with expectations and follows through by holding people accountable to set standards, continuing to build trust and faith in her followers.

Secure leadership avoids the dreaded “trust no one” mentality and subsequent paranoia that comes with it. Members of an organization are more likely to get behind security protocols with a high-trust, high-transparency leader. Transparent leaders respect risk and address both security and communication on practical, sustainable terms.

High reliability created through collaboration & integrity

As global relations, both political and corporate, become dynamic and unstable due to the persistent threat of cyberattacks on enterprise and personal data, organizational security improves with high reliability and collaboration throughout the organization. The Pentagon is a hot target for all attacks – nearly 30 million over the course of the past year – and its security practices were examined in a recent Harvard Business Review article “Cybersecurity’s Human Factor: Lessons from the Pentagon”. The bottom line: build a high-reliability organization (HRO) through accountable collaboration where every voice matters when working together and active listening skills are considered mission critical. This is where transformational, democratic leadership styles from women shine brightly.

As the economy and technology become more intertwined through the Internet of Things (IoT), digital resilience becomes another key to security success. Cybersecurity is a business issue as well as a technological one; however,spending more money will not buy mature risk management. Take another page from the HRO model and improve the resources currently in the pipeline by putting a priority on integrity when hiring and ensuring that business and project processes include information sharing and collaboration to succeed. Individuals who exhibit consistent honesty, including and especially in instances of personal failure or mistakes, are perceived as high integrity individuals and serve as the foundation of the HRO and other top-performing organizations when collaborating with other individuals who share these character traits.

Women leading as transformational leaders have the opportunity to evolve cybersecurity and evolve our organizations by moving beyond insecure reward-based work into a mature one that engages optimistic commitment through individual followers. Developing a sustainable security strategy with an understanding of the human element as its centerpiece can make us all more secure.

Originally published in CIO magazine on 12 January 2016:

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