WiCSME: Rewriting the narrative of women in cybersecurity

by Black Hat Middle East and Africa
WiCSME: Rewriting the narrative of women in cybersecurity

This week we spoke to Irene Corpuz (Founding Partner and Board Member, WiCSME), an IT leader and cyber strategist with more than three decades of experience. 

Putting her power behind Women in Cybersecurity Middle East (WiCSME), an organisation dedicated to empowering women in the field and transforming cybersecurity’s approach to inclusivity, Irene recognises that gender diversity isn’t just about ticking boxes – it’s a crucial aspect of building a robust and resilient cybersecurity industry for the future. 

Here’s what she told us. 

Could you tell us about the story behind WiCSME? 

“WiCSME or Women in Cyber Security Middle East emerged in 2018 as a visionary collaboration among nine founding partners.  We set out to forge a nurturing community tailored for women in the Middle East’s cybersecurity domain – a space to foster connections, enhance knowledge, and facilitate professional growth.  

“Our narrative is rooted in empowerment, fostering inclusivity, and dismantling the long-standing barriers within the tech world.

“Our mission has been to subvert the traditional norms and construct a dynamic stage where women can unfurl their expertise and innovation. Through strategic alliances with conferences as a community supporter and initiating partnerships to roll out mentorship programs and boot camps, we've cemented our commitment to nurturing our women members. A testament to our initiatives is our role in the ITU Mentorship program, where we have made significant efforts.”

And what's the impact been so far? 

“The influence of WiCSME has been profound and far-reaching. In the heart of an industry ripe for change, we've catalysed a remarkable increase in the number of women pursuing cybersecurity careers. Beyond just numbers, WiCSME has been a beacon of progress, lighting the path through our comprehensive mentorship initiatives, and vibrant networking events that have become catalysts for career advancement and professional development for women in IT.  

“The narrative of the cybersecurity sector is being rewritten, thanks to WiCSME and allied organisations worldwide. Once a field with scant female representation, we now celebrate a global female presence of 25%—doubling the figures from a decade ago. This statistic is more than a number; it's a testament to the potential unleashed when women are given equal opportunities to thrive and lead in cybersecurity.”

What advice would you give to a woman working in the industry who felt that her voice wasn't being heard, or her skills weren't being recognised? 

“To any woman feeling unheard or unrecognised: your voice and skills are your power. 

“Speak up about your achievements and don't shy away from advocating for yourself. Seek mentors and allies who will support and amplify your voice. Remember, your perspective is unique and valuable, and you deserve a seat at the table where decisions are made.”

And...what advice would you give to the organisation employing that woman? 

“Organisations must actively foster an inclusive culture that values diverse perspectives. It's crucial to implement policies that recognise and promote women's contributions and to ensure that they have equal opportunities for career advancement. Diversity is not just a metric — it's a strategy that drives innovation and success.” 

How did you start your own career in this space? 

“My journey began with persistence and a passion for technology. Despite the challenges of entering a male-dominated industry, I held firm to my expertise and experience. 

“The turning point came when a forward-thinking entity acknowledged my potential and entrusted me with implementing a pivotal information security standard. This opportunity was a stepping stone that led to further accomplishments and paved the way for other women in the field.”

Finally, why are events like Black Hat MEA valuable to you? 

“Events like Black Hat MEA are invaluable — they're not just about knowledge exchange but also about inspiration and community building. They offer a global perspective on cybersecurity challenges and innovations and provide a platform for professionals from diverse backgrounds to connect. 

“For me, these events are a source of continuous learning and an opportunity to engage with the broader cybersecurity community. 

“Personally, such events are not just beneficial; they are a cornerstone of my professional journey. They serve as a pulse to the global cybersecurity community's heartbeat, providing a vibrant forum for engagement, a mirror reflecting the industry's current state, and a window to its future endeavours.” 

Thanks to Irene Corpuz at WiCSME. Learn more about inclusivity and the future of cybersecurity at Black Hat MEA 2024. 

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