Karen Gaines is one of those women who manage to combine different roles in their lives: for her family she is a loving and caring mother; for her fellow colleagues at Siemens she is the Global Head of Cybersecurity Defense; and for many women out there she is truly a role model who advocates for women in tech and puts a lot of effort into empowering them in their careers.
As the Global Head of Cybersecurity Defense at Siemens, Karen Gaines runs a 130+ person team, across all continents, which is responsible for preventing cyber attacks on Siemens by providing innovative and robust products and services. Throughout her career Karen has been supporting women with numerous activities and projects: she was the co-founder and President of Women4Cyber in Spain – a non-profit project that aims to give women more visibility in the secure digital transformation – and now uses her experience to mentor other women within and outside Siemens. Having been through a lot of challenges herself as a woman in tech with such a bright background, Karen shares her insights and recommendations for female professionals in cybersecurity and other tech areas.
We need more female role models in tech, to motivate girls in early school ages to consider STEM and IT studies and careers. Women are more deterred from tech from middle school onward, and we need to encourage them and provide them with inspiring role models to show them different opportunities. So, my advice for the young girls out there: find a role model that inspires you; to all the women in tech – become one!
Men tend to be more active networkers, be it on social media, at events, and so on. When I started my career in the cybersecurity sector, I was accustomed to being the only women in meetings, and I excused myself from many networking events. Fortunately, there are more women in the cybersecurity sector now, although women still tend to de-prioritize networking because we have families, kids, and many different obligations.
But the thing is: networking is one of the most important aspects of our career. Moreover, I believe that women have a special connection to each other and the ability to listen to and understand each other in a different way than men do. With this in mind, I decided to co-found the organization Women4Cyber in Spain. The project has two major goals: first, we need to support young women in cybersecurity because we still have difficulties in spotting female talents. Second, it’s a great opportunity to network with experienced ladies, share our knowledge and learn from each other.
If I look back at the time 20 years ago, when I had just started my career, I see that we’ve changed a lot. For me it was much more difficult to understand and grasp the opportunities in tech. As a society we are getting much better at empowering women, although we still have much to improve.
But it should be up to us to be more vocal, claim our rights and be open about what our aspirations are. I also recommend to the women I mentor to attend as many job interviews as they can, even if they are not very interested in the position. Interviews are just another opportunity for us to become vocal, learn, broaden our network, and meet new people.
Women who hold leading positions face a lot of prejudices. Sometimes you may hear: “Oh, she got her position thanks to the gender quotas”. I know it’s difficult because I’ve been there. The best response to such accusations is to keep your cool and prove in action that it’s not the case. Don’t let other people’s insecurities affect you – just close your ears and do what you think is best. When you get upset, eliminate the noise, take a breath, have confidence in yourself and give it your all.
One of the easiest ways to prove your professionalism is to show your expertise and stay up-to-date in your area. As the Global Head of Cybersecurity Defense at Siemens, I’m responsible for three building blocks of the defense system at Siemens: the Cyber Defense Center (our monitoring network for spotting unusual activities and raising alerts), Siemens CERT (our measures to secure Siemens’ infrastructures) and ProductCERT (a system for managing the security of Siemens’ products and services).
I run a big team with a huge responsibility, and in order to develop the right cybersecurity defense strategy we always need to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest trends in cybercrime. For instance, in our latest report we identified three major trends in cybercrime that may pose a risk to Siemens (and any big company): the evolution of ransomware, attacks on the suppliers who are much vulnerable than the company itself, and the exploitation of the cloud services’ vulnerabilities. Understanding the latest trends in your area will help you to provide an effective working strategy.
If I could recommend only one thing to a young girl seeking to pursue a tech career, I would say: look for strong professional mentors that you respect, reach out and ask for support.
I’ve been lucky to have such mentors in my life, many of whom I met almost accidentally. Nowadays, given the speed at which we are accelerating and how technologies are evolving, it’s even more crucial to do it early on. Let’s take advantage of what is going on in the world right now: many of these excellent mentors are isolated working from home and they will be happy to support an ambitious female talent.
I myself mentor women now. I believe it’s critical: the more we learn from each other, the more opportunities open up.