Almost exactly a year ago, our team was in Louisville, KY for our Blue Team Summit. It was a great event, capped off by some zany team bonding when we got the idea to walk across the bridge into Indiana, a journey that ended up being equal parts hilarious and freezing, and celebratory fried chicken sandwiches at one of Chef Edward Lee’s restaurants. Some events are just like that – everything falls into place and there are good vibes all around. Sure, we knew about what we were then calling “coronavirus” and we had extra sanitizer on hand, but none of us could have predicted that it would be the last time we’d be together at a live event for well over a year.
While 2020 brought loss, grief, and unwanted change to all of us in various ways, it also created opportunities for us to learn new things about ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues, and our work. The United Nations’ (UN) theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” In celebration, we asked women from across the SANS family and the cybersecurity community to share with us how the past year has changed them. We didn’t provide any other parameters, and they didn’t see what anyone else was contributing. Yet a common thread runs through every submission, and while I’m not surprised, I am struck anew by the unfailing ability of women around the world to transform the raw materials of adversity into works of art that are as useful as they are beautiful.
Prioritize what you find beautiful! With limited places to go this year, I've been boosting my exposure to the arts and culture organizations wherever possible. This has meant going to museum lectures, ballet performances, and film releases in virtual sessions that I schedule into my calendar. Lately this expanded to sculpture gardens, my dance class "pod,” and other appropriately distanced events. My most unexpected bright spot was seeing dance company performances online that I would have had to invest a lot of time and money to travel and see in person during the best of times. – Lodrina Cherne @hexplates, Principal Security Advocate, Cybereason; Certified Instructor, SANS Institute
I learned that everyone misses someone or something before, during and currently in the COVID world. I realized that while on the road I really did miss kissing my kids every night, watching TV with my husband, doing puzzles and cooking! I started doing the Master Class with my team to clear our minds and do some competitive cooking. I learned to take time during the day to be with my family and take calls in the evening while working a puzzle. Life is all about balance. COVID forced us all to stay in one place and re-balance. – Heather Mahalik @heathermahalik, Senior Director of Digital Intelligence at Cellebrite; Senior Instructor, SANS Institute
I have been trying to learn the meaning of the word “no.” 2020 was the tipping point of doing far too much and being overly stressed to the point that research and presentations were no longer enjoyable. 2021 is going to be my Year of No. I hope the guilt of not doing "that thing” will subside, and I can reinvigorate my love of forensic research - on my own terms. – Sarah Edwards @iamevltwin, Author & Principal Instructor, SANS Institute
Watch some of our instructors and team members talking about women in cyber:
Make a run for it
Despite working from home for the last six years, COVID-19 dramatically changed remote work for me. When things are so restricted, it is easy to spend time normally used for happy hours with friends on work instead. To help ensure a healthy work-life balance, I began spending more time running outside, setting fitness goals, and working on staying healthy. For me, having an outlet outside of the internet for channeling energy and anxiety was incredibly helpful. Outdoors (specifically Rock Creek Park, for those who may know it) became a haven of fresh air and a place where I could feel for a short time like things were somewhat normal. I ran 1,000 miles in 2020, something I never expected to do. I am hoping to keep up this habit when the vaccine makes it possible for us to meet friends and colleagues once again in real life. – Selena Larson @selenalarson, Senior Threat Intelligence Analyst
OK not to be OK
One thing I've learned this past year is that it's okay to not be okay - even at work. I reject the idea that it's "unprofessional" to show emotion. By caring about each other as people, and not just workers, we can all achieve more. – Katie Nickels @likethecoins, Principal Intelligence Analyst, Red Canary; Certified Instructor, SANS Institute
In many ways, COVID-19 was an equalizer. Commutes and childcare schedules became a non-issue, and suddenly it was OK if your toddler popped into your call. I recall hosting a virtual cybersecurity escape room where one employee completed the adventure with a child in her lap. No one really noticed, besides the fact that we acknowledged our new junior team member with smiles and coos. In 2019, that would have been a shocking, or perhaps embarrassing moment. This could very well be our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to normalize the priority of motherhood in the workplace. – Dana Barka, Senior Cybersecurity Awareness Program Lead, Kimberley-Clark
Ready to dive in? The SANS Women’s Immersion Academy is accepting applications until June 30, 2021. Selected applicants will get up to three SANS courses and the associated certifications. Training begins August 2021. Learn more here.
I assumed lockdown would mean we’d all be doing less, but I’ve found it to be the complete opposite! How is it that life and work have both become so much more busy?! Now, I’m partial sometimes to getting a little overwhelmed; so what’s really helped keep me in check is regularly reminding myself why I’m doing the things on my list. If the reason is not ‘materially improving something at work’, or ‘supporting my loved ones and I through COVID’, off the bottom of the to-do list it goes! – Lana M., UK
Pave the way for others
Our cybersecurity relies on having the very best minds designing security protocol and architecture. It's important for women to see other women in industries like cybersecurity because it may spark an interest in a field that they may not have thought of pivoting into. Post-pandemic, all industries will forever be transformed into technology companies to some extent. I'm doing my part to create an equal future by exposing as many women as possible to opportunities in cybersecurity. – Zeanique L. Barber @ZLBusinessTech, VP of Health & Public Sector, Gerent LLC
For me, the last year has really highlighted the importance of mental health. I’ve been trying to focus on taking better care of my own mental health and supporting those around me. I’ve moved away from being “always on” with technology and have been enjoying activities which bring me peace of mind, like getting out for walks, gardening, meditation and yoga. I don’t have any social media notifications on my phone and try to just use social media when I consciously want to – no more doomscrolling! – Jess Barker @drjessicabarker, Co-CEO, Cygenta
Here's a playlist of some great recent presentations by women in the SANS community.
While the pandemic limited us from venturing outside, it also gave us an opportunity to dig deep inside and lift up our own limitations with courage. COVID-19 stripped away the barrier of "business-as-usual" and forced so many to be real with the challenges they're facing. But many found ways to adapt their talent quickly to not just survive but thrive. The pandemic level-set the human element of academia, industry, and government and gave everyone a common ground of approachability, knowing we're all working through it together. We all have lived, breathed, and felt empathy to our core and most importantly, moved forward together leaving behind these tiring times. – Lynn Dohm @lynn_dohm, Executive Director, WiCyS @WiCySorg
No plans, no problem
I am a “speedy” person, always looking to what I’m going to do next, planning my next adventure. However, the last year has stopped me being able to plan what I’m doing next, as COVID has had other ideas! Whilst being frustrating, it has taught me a valuable lesson: that allowing yourself to not plan is actually ok. We live in a world where we’re asked in job interviews, “What’s your five-year plan?,” and somehow it’s a bad thing when you say “I don’t know.” This year has made me look back at my life, my career, and made me realise that I am where I am now not due to planning, but due to a mixture of luck and following my passions. So I’ve used the year to take stock of what matters to me, learn to enjoy sitting still and not feeling guilty for “wasting my time.” – Lucy F., Security Education Manager, UK
Tunes and triumphs
The COVID-19 world helped me: slow down and take inventory of what's important to me; prioritize my health and wellbeing; realize who negatively takes advantage of a pandemic and who supports/uplifts others; more deeply appreciate empathetic leadership qualities when they are demonstrated. My favorite coping strategy is taking a moment to just listen to music and do nothing else. A bright spot of 2020 - passing the GXPN, despite many obstacles and challenges. – Xena Olsen @ch33r10, Cybersecurity analysts & cybersecurity doctoral student
Remember to be grateful
Though the past year has been stressful, having to do everything online has forced me to level up my technology skills. Also, watching a global health crisis unfold has made me more grateful than ever for good health. We can never take that for granted! – Mariana Tarunadjaja, Marketing Director – Asia Pacific, SANS Institute
Lead by example
As a leader, I’ve been focused on mentoring and lifting up deserving women in their careers for a while. That includes my team of four amazing women and others whom I mentor! When Covid-19 came, I found my own struggles with being locked in were getting in the way of being there for my team. Even though I already worked remotely, I missed my gym, getting on a plane often to travel for work or pleasure, restaurants, and more. My tip would be to line up a number of ways to step away from the desk, the work, the stress and clear your head! It will benefit you and the people depending on you. I’ve hiked almost daily in 600-acre Frick Park in good weather, used vacation time for long weekends that provide more consistent breaks from work, signed up for writing workshops online and Goodreads reading challenges, and made excellent use of my porch swing in the summer for relaxing! I check in daily on Teams chat or calls with my staff to make sure they are finding outlets from Covid-19 stressors for themselves and are doing alright. I personally think my team helped me more than I helped them in 2020 as we found our way around this pandemic. We solidly supported each other and are a better team for making it through this tough time! – Janet Roberts, Global Head of Security Education & Awareness, Zurich Services US LLC
Break for lunch
Working alone at home my work-life balance totally shifted last year and I often found myself tempted back to the laptop at strange hours or over the weekend. One thing I’ve tried to stop doing is only counting a day as successful when I don’t take breaks and work solidly for huge blocks of time, I’m trying to count successful days as the ones where I achieve a good balance (and lunch)! – Georgina Davies, Marketing Manager, SANS Institute, EMEA and APAC
I’m a positive person, but the pandemic has tested my resolve. My top tip has been to get out and walk every day, no matter what the weather. You can record audio notes of ideas you have whilst you walk, or even hold informal meetings. You can work on your cpd by listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Human beings were designed to be moving and looking into the distance. You used to get this on your commute. Now we stare at screens far too much. Get moving, get some fresh air. I always come back to my desk fired up to achieve more! - Lisa Forte @LisaForteUK, Partner, Red Goat Cyber Security LLP
Easy as 1, 2, 3
Though I received this advice long before COVID, it has served me well. Every day, set a goal to accomplish three things: 1) one for your career, 2) one for your health, and 3) one for your home. For many of us, the last year has left us feeling stuck and like we haven't made much progress in our lives and our careers. If you can do those three things in a day, no matter what else happens, you'll feel accomplished. – Sarah Freeman, ICS Cybersecurity Analyst, Idaho National Laboratory
Prioritize people (and TP)
As this pandemic year nears its end and I reflect on the experience, I am reminded of the importance of big and little things in life. The ability to watch the sunrise, enjoying daily walks instead of checking them off the to do list, playing endless amounts of masked and gloved Rummikub with my parents, learning creative ways to spend time with friends, and cycling 1,000 miles of stress away. I learned how much I value human connection and that things don’t matter; people do. Unless it’s toilet paper and four weeks’ worth of wine. – Sara Schleisman @SaraSchleisman, Director – Private Training, SANS Institute