• Natalie Wild

Women of Tech Meets: Ismaelle - Information Security Officer

Updated: Apr 21, 2019

“My long-term goal is to be Consulting full time as a virtual Certified Information Security Officer (CISO), under my own company, and would like to work for micro to medium sized companies that don’t have the Information Security function in house.”

This week I caught up with Ismaelle.

Ismaelle, based in Atlanta – US, currently works in Information Security Governance with a specialism on Risk and Compliance – she holds a wealth of experience developing, implementing and manging Security Governance programs, having done so across the Financial Services, Government and Cyber Research industries with compliance specialities including ISO 2700X, NIST, GLBA and FFIEC, in addition to holding CISM and ISO 27001 Lead Implementer certifications.

Ismaelle has also proudly has two Bachelor’s degrees in Finance and Business Management, and graduated University with a Master’s of Science in Cyber Security degree.

Impressive right?! – I think so!

Was there anything in particular that had sparked your interest in embarking on a career in Tech?

“I stumbled into Information Security back in 2012. My first job out of college was at a Financial Services firm and the job I was doing was unsatisfying. I knew at the time that it wasn’t the right fit for me.

About 6 months into the job, I knew it was time to go. I was unhappy, and driving nearly an hour each way to get to work, I’d decided the job was not worth the effort or stress.

I polished up my resume and put it onto Monster. Within two weeks I was contacted by a recruiter for a phone screening interview for a contract position at a large international Bank. The recruiter was looking for someone that had my background, surprisingly enough. They wanted someone green, with internships in fields such as Internal Audit or Compliance.

I passed the phone screening and moved to the next round.

The next interview was with the Certified Information Security Office (CISO), unbeknownst to be. I was very energetic in my interview and expressed that I was willing to learn anything that was being taught. I was hired that same week. From there, I was quickly acclimated to the team. I was able to shadow the senior Information Security Officers (ISO’s), learn on the job and work on interesting projects. In 9 months, I was offered a full-time role assessing internal controls within the same department.”

And what would you say is your long-term career goal?

“My long-term goal is to be Consulting full time as a virtual Certified Information Security Officer (CISO), under my own company, and would like to work for micro to medium sized companies that don’t have the Information Security function in house.”

In terms of your career so far, are there any particular moments that you would say have been career defining?

“For me my career defining moment was confirmation from the CISO that took the chance and hired me in my first Information Security role. He pulled me to the side one day and said ‘you know, you’ve got a knack for this Security stuff’. I think that really set the stage for me to blossom and come into my own in the field – I haven’t looked back since!”

Are there any challenges that you’ve faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments? And how did you overcome them?

“Some of the challenges that I have faced have been around having to be firm, but not too firm as to be considered aggressive. There is a fine line for women of aggressive vs assertive and it seems that people misinterpret the two often. I have had to walk the fine line using non-threatening language, tones or posture while conveying my message. I have also had to fight to be heard. In a room full of men, they at times can only hear the male baritone, so make sure that I speak up when I find the opportunities to do so.”

[Ismaelle raised a really good point here and something that I can entirely relate to – I have been told (interestingly only by men…) on a few occasions over the years that I have been ‘too aggressive’ or that I need to ‘tone down how I communicate’, but on the flip side of that I have been congratulated numerous times by women for being rightly assertive and holding my own in tough situations. Where’s the balance?! (I feel a ‘how to be assertive, not aggressive’ workshop coming on…)]

Is there anything in your opinion that you think is a particularly large deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?

“I believe that there are both unconscious and conscious biases that exist in most work places. These play a large part in the success of women. Some people don’t intent to be biased against women but culture, belief systems and upbringing play a large part in those biases.”

What is the one piece of advice you wish that somebody had given you at the start of your career?

“This industry is an ever-evolving industry, be prepared to constantly be learning and growing.”

What do you love the most about working in tech?

“I like how much change happens. Since I’ve worked in tech, I have learned about machine learning, AI, self-driving cars, smart cities. Its as if we are living in a Sci-Fi movie.”

Is there anything that you don’t love?

“I don’t love open work spaces. They are quite distracting when you work with loud co-workers.

Is there anything that you think companies could be, or should be doing more of to encourage women to want to work for them?

“There are a few things; create an inviting company culture, provide manager training on diversity and inclusion. Hire managers that care about diversity and make strides to hire women and women of colour.”

When it comes to searching for your next opportunity, how do you go about your search? Do you have any tips or tricks for women seeking new opportunities?

“I do my research on what the company is about. I often look at their websites, reviews, philanthropic endeavours. What philosophies do they abide by. If there is a diversity and inclusion statement, I look at pictures of leadership. I’m counting the number of women and the number of people of colour that are part of their leadership because leadership should also be diverse.”

It was really great catching up with Ismaelle - she has raised some really important issues that I can personally relate to. Thank you Ismaelle for getting in touch and sharing your journey.


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