I grew up labelled.
As a baby I cried. Let's correct that. I screamed. So, the first label I acquired was “SCREAM-ER!”
As a three-year old I was a bright kid. But, the one a parent despairs of, and is secretly desperate to farm off to a nursery, pre-school, or kindergarten. Truth be told, anywhere that will take them. And, as soon as possible.
When my mother collected me from nursery, by the end of the week, they were using a certain word to describe me.
I wasn't allowed to return. My mother wasn't happy. She now became the screamer and blamed my father. Apparently he'd been playing a game with me. He'd knock me over and then encourage me to do the same to him. Unfortunately, when I did this to other children they didn't understand it was a game, or find it funny, like I did.
Nor did the teachers.
My family moved areas, and then countries due to my father's career. Starting schools was hard. Kids were cruel. They'd pick on you if you didn't fit in. When you weren't like them. When you challenged the status quo, like I did.
Living in Scotland as a six-year old, I started a new school and was beaten black and blue. I was labelled “ENGLISH.”
A few years later my hair started to curl slightly. My parents thought it amusing to recite a popular nursery rhyme, “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And, when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid.” I was sensitive. It didn't make me feel good.
By the time I was nine-years old, thanks to an advert on TV, I was labelled “PRECOCIOUS” and a “PROPER LITTLE MADAM.”
As the older of two siblings, and moving areas all the time, I reasoned with myself that I had to be strong so I could protect my brother, for he was picked on too. Eventually, I knew I'd be accepted so long as I didn't reveal any weakness. So, I went eye-ball to eye-ball with the bullies, even when they were bigger and stronger than me.
By the time I was 10-years old, I was sent to a fee-paying, all girls school. I was now labelled “POSH” and a “SNOB.” I learnt to dodge the stones as they were thrown. My skin grew thicker.
When I was 15-years old I back-combed my hair and was labelled a “PUNK.” At 18-years, I was labelled an “ART STUDENT” and at 23-years, when I had my first child, a “SINGLE PARENT” and with a Conservative government, “THE ROOT OF THE COUNTRY'S PROBLEM.”
Looking back it's no wonder I toughened up, rebelled, and pursued a career in art and design. It was the one place I felt accepted. They celebrated being different. Finally, I'd found somewhere, where I felt good enough, just for being me. And, where I didn't have to change to fit in.
When I gave up my art and design to pursue “a proper job,” it was inevitable I'd be attracted to security, and just as the moth is attracted to the light, to build a penetration testing firm. There were too many similarities with the environments. Pen testers, or hackers as they're now called, are rebels too, and they know what it feels like to be labelled different.
And guess what. Over the years, I've learnt it's actually OK to be different. Despite education and a directive to conform, fit in, and follow the rules; nothing bad happens if you take another path or deviate from the rules – obviously if you stay within the realms of the law – and find a tribe, clan, group, community or network to support you.
Granted you'll most likely suffer some wounds and grow tougher, but the world will still turn tomorrow, and probably more efficiently.
Nowadays I'm still labelled, but this time, I'm prepared and embrace it. I also craft it purposefully and strategically, as part of my personal brand. Some people call me an “ENTREPRENEUR,” a “CISO ADVISOR” or a “CHAMPION FOR WOMAN IN CYBER SECURITY.” Whatever their preference, I can be certain of one thing. The majority of people seek me out for help, rather than to name call.
Thanks to my upbringing, attentiveness, a committment to help others, to be true to myself and to follow my heart, I'm building the IN Security Movement. It's why I'm campaigning for solidarity, inclusion and kindness in our industry and enabling ways to achieve this. It's why I'm using my voice and writing – to stand up for things I believe in (and I know you beleive in too) – without succumbing to intimidation or fear. It's why others are feeling inspired and joining me.
To reiterate, my reasons for writing IN Security, for founding the IN Security Movement, and working hard to attract, identify and retain more women in cyber security boils down to this: freedom, happiness and progress for ALL people in security.
Whilst I believe in morality, doing the right thing and understand that it's human nature to categorise… discrimination sucks. No one wants to be judged and labelled negatively for being:
GAY/ BI-SEXUAL/ TRANS GENDER/ STRAIGHT;
ABLE BODIED/ DISABLED;
BLACK/ WHITE/ ASIAN/HISPANIC;
CHRISTIAN/ ISLAMIST/ BUDDHIST/ JEW/ HINDU;
NURDY/ GEEKY/PINK & FLUFFY;
DYSLEXIC/ SPECIAL NEEDS/ AUTISTIC/ ASPERGERS;
….from this region or that region…
…this country or that country…
…with this accent or that accent…
…from this school or that school…
…from this socio econonic group or that socio economic group….
…beleiving in this religion or that religion…
SECURITY VETERAN/ NEWBIE…
EDUCATED WITH CERTIFICATIONS/ QUALIFIED BY EXPERIENCE
and so on…
No one group is better than another. Diversity, in all its forms (some of which are mentioned here) is a strength. Those who embrace it, are open minded and humbled to learn, do better. Together, as a diverse set of people, who beleive passionately in a common cause – we are more informed, more resilient and the world is more protected.
Now I want to hear from you…
Tell me in the comments below, what label are you using when you're describing yourself.
If you want to learn how to develop your personal brand sign up for my Women in Cybersecruity training program.
Then, if you’d like to get more expert insights and actionable tips to help you or your team improve, come and join the IN Security Movement.
PS. I've been blessed to have three children. My second, like me, was a screamer. I labelled him a “COMMUNICATOR.” 😉