Women’s ambitions should never
be influenced by
a perceived lack
of opportunity

Sarah Kitsos’ experiences throughout education have led seamlessly into a career in tech PR, culminating in her current role as Head of Corporate Communications for North America at Kaspersky.

She is keen to affirm and encourage the fact that there is no one way into cybersecurity. Nor is cybersecurity built around just one set of skills. The industry needs to find ways to raise awareness of its diverse opportunities and empower young women to bring their talents and passions to the sector.

We see a positive sign of progression. In North America, where there is staunch support for gender balance,

75% of women

say that their skills and experience were considered ahead of gender when applying for their first role in IT or tech.

Proactively pitching commentary about breaking data breach and security news sparked Sarah's interest in cybersecurity.

From target to Target: early writing ambitions lead to a career breaking news

I ’ve been passionate about writing for as long as I can remember, and growing up I pictured myself having a career in the field. It was when I majored in Communications at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, that I became interested in Public Relations.
 

During my studies, I completed internships in different industries and types of companies, and those experiences helped to shape the career path I ended up on. Being exposed to PR agencies in the tech hub of Boston was an eye-opener to the variety of industries you can work with through a career in PR.

 

In my first agency role, I worked on a lot of security client accounts. That was when cybersecurity as part of mainstream media was in its early stages. Cyber-attacks were just beginning to impact companies and consumers. Proactively pitching commentary about breaking news like the Target data breach — which now feels like a lifetime ago – was exciting and sparked my interest in cybersecurity.

 

So, when the opportunity came up to work for Kaspersky, it was not only a chance to explore that interest more deeply, but it was an opportunity to see the sector from within, rather than on behalf of it.

Cybersecurity: the middle ground between crisis and heroism

O ver the past decade IT security has evolved so much as an industry, which has provided an interesting landscape to explore through storytelling. The issues being faced are very real, and that makes the stories and awareness-raising all the more appealing from a PR perspective.
 

Kaspersky is an innovative company, continuing to find new ways to protect people and businesses. And my job is to channel those positive works to as broad-an audience as possible. It’s creating a narrative about complex situations in an ever-changing industry that can sound scary at times.

 

There are always cyber-attacks on major businesses — new hacks into devices not previously thought to be at risk until connected to the internet. And the media love crises. But they also love heroes. Kaspersky fits right in that middle ground where we’re bringing awareness and providing positive solutions to troubling – albeit interesting – challenges.

Opportunity STEMS from encouragement

When I think about each industry I work in, I can identify challenges to still overcome in order to build a better community that empowers women.
 

In the PR industry, there are typically more women than men; however, men tend to hold more senior level roles. In tech there is generally more men, and a perception that men progress faster in careers than women.

When we first did a study on women in tech in 2017, a finding that stuck with me was that young women by age 16 had already made up their minds about their career path, but many were not aware of the careers that could be had in cybersecurity. And it resonated because I knew it to be true from my academic career and the limited awareness of a future in STEM for women.

 

It shows how encouragement around joining STEM education programmes at younger ages is so important. They can show how critical skills, not just technical ones, are equally as beneficial in the industry. And it’s providing that support through programs and communities as women enter into, and go through, college. It’s about finding ways to ensure that young women, throughout their educational path, are aware of these kinds of career opportunities and excited about pursuing the field.

Collectively we need women, not just in roles, but in leadership positions as c-suite executives and through board representation.
‘Awareness’ is the keyword.

 

 

Longer-term, the knock-on effect of this early exposure is critical, as it creates a constant balance between young women exploring their options, and established women having already embarked on that journey from education into a career in tech. Representation will only improve when young women, in particular, both see more women in leadership positions as role models, and are then encouraged to follow that similar path. It’s important for those currently in the industry to be mentors, advocates and to work to further encourage younger generations to follow their passions.

 

I have a son and a daughter, and I often think about how essential it is for them to feel they have equal opportunities in life, and how much I want to foster my daughter’s young confidence and ambition.

Finding your path

There is potential for positive amplification as a result of improved awareness and encouragement of younger women to get into tech or STEM-based programmes. It can convert the conversation to ‘if you’re interested in it, then go for it’. Which sounds obvious, but is not always an affirmation that has been encouraged or communicated to women.
 

This responsibility begins with us as adults, leaders and especially as parents. It’s providing the right guidance that sets them up for success. I have a son and a daughter, and I often think about how essential it is for them to feel they have equal opportunities in life, and how much I want to foster my daughter’s young confidence and ambition.

 

And to make sure that doesn’t happen, there is an onus on us as parents to set that example of equality in our everyday lives when it comes to family responsibilities, the balance of work, fairness. As it will be those elements – not just quotas and stats – that help create societal change.

 

It can be easier said than done, but my advice is to follow your ambitions into an industry that aligns with your passions. Find education programs, school groups, associations, communities that will support you and showcase your talents. Building a network is truly one of the best things you can do in both PR and cybersecurity; and the relationships you create along the way will have far reaching benefits throughout your career.

 

My advice to those in the industry is to find actionable ways to empower and invest in women – because we will not thrive without them.

Empower women

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