The world needs more women in tech, that is for sure. But the factors that are preventing this from happening are a little harder to define.

Singapore International Cyber Week held a session to discuss these challenges, and brought together five cyber pioneers.

GovInsider has created this comic strip to showcase their views. From personal anecdotes to public policies, there is much to learn from how these five women are reshaping the industry.

Sirine Hijal, Deputy Director, International Cyber Policy, Global Affairs Canada

Sirine Hijal, Deputy Director of International Cyber Policy for Global Affairs Canada, is a molecular biologist-turned-diplomat. Her current role involves working with governments around the world to establish rules for the cyber domain.

Hijal “would like to see a greater awareness among everyone at the higher levels about the cost of unconscious bias,” she said. Unconscious bias training has helped to increase awareness in her department. “The behavior doesn’t necessarily always change, but it raises awareness – and it gives you the tools to have a conversation around that”.

Johanna Weaver, Director of Cyber Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

Panellist Johanna Weaver, Director of Cyber Policy at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, works closely with the country’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs on strengthening national security, foreign policy, economic, and development interests in cyberspace. This includes working with the United Nations on international security and disarmament issues.

Weaver expressed her hope to see more women recognised for their expertise, and speaking at conferences and events. “Let’s get those role models out front,” she said on the panel.

Her department has just launched a Women in Cyber fellowship programme for women from Ministries of Foreign Affairs. The fellows would receive negotiation training, networking and skills around cyber policy and negotiations, said Weaver.

On a more personal level, she takes an aspirational view on her work, particularly when encouraging other women to join the field she is in. Her pitch to them is that, “If technology shapes our world, entering into this field, you get to shape technology – and that is an incredibly powerful thing to be doing.”

Mihoko Matsubara, Chief Cybersecurity Strategist, NTT Corporation, Japan

Mihoko Matsubara, Chief Cybersecurity Strategist at Japanese telco NTT Corporation, is responsible for public advocacy and cybersecurity thought leadership, helping to share her company’s cybersecurity efforts with the wider international audience.

Matsubara advised the young women in the audience to “trust yourself” and not to be afraid to take bold steps. She shared her own experiences a few years ago where she created a niche for herself, translating Japanese news articles on cyber attacks into English for a US firm.

When she went back to Tokyo, her cyber threat intelligence support experience helped her obtain a job. “Maybe you can be creative, to show what you can do to contribute to a new market,” said Matsubara.

Dr Ong Chen Hui, Senior Director, Emerging Security Technologies, Trustwave, Singapore

Dr Ong Chen Hui, Senior Director for Emerging Security Technologies at Singapore-based IT security firm Trustwave, is a cybersecurity specialist with a focus on malware analysis, artificial intelligence, analytics, risk and vulnerability assessments, security monitoring and incident response.

Ong, who started off her education in electrical engineering, shared that “one of the changes that I really want to see is to have cybersecurity awareness, just even at the boardroom”. She added on the panel that this is “just better for the whole cybersecurity industry”.

Ong went on to note that it is all well and good to hire more women, but leaders need to also make sure these women get the support they need. “It’s also about whether they get the training and the tools to be able to succeed, and whether they are pipelines below them such that we can sustain these inclusive practices,” Ong asserted.

The panellists agreed that mentorship is definitely key to helping women in tech advance their careers. At the same time, Ong pointed out that “there really is a shortage of senior women leadership in tech”, and that she has had to seek men out for advice because she did not have female role models at a senior stage in their careers.

Teo Yi Ling, Senior Fellow, Centre of Excellence for National Security, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore

Teo Yi Ling, Senior Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security for the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, was moderator of the panel. In her role, she explores the policy, legal, and regulatory issues around the cyber domain, which can include cyber crimes. She has also been a lawyer and academic at different periods of her career.

She had some parting thoughts for the educators and hirers in the audience. “Think about how your messaging is to your audience. Are you sending the image of a guy in a hoodie, behind a keyboard? We’re a bit tired of the ‘tech bros’ messaging,” Teo remarked. “It’s not about tech bros, it’s about tech people.”

The bottom line from the discussion was clear. Diversity helps to bring different viewpoints and talents together, creating stronger and more resilient teams. When it comes to cybersecurity, that can only be a good thing.

Illustrations by Joy Lim