Women in Digital: Lisa Ventura

Lisa Ventura, founder of Cyber Security Unity (formerly the UK Cyber Security Association) on her career path and how being bullied lead her to create cybersecurity professional support community #AllTogetherNow

Posted 26 September 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

I confess I didn’t enjoy school at all, and I couldn’t wait to leave! I struggled with the environment, the teachers and with relating to my peers. I also wanted to focus on English and subjects that I found interesting and couldn’t understand why I was made to do subjects that I wasn’t interested in such as CDT and PE. I was diagnosed as autistic in 2018 and when I was diagnosed it made perfect sense as to why I struggled with school so much – I wish there had been more awareness of autism when I was at school, but I also masked it so much so it probably wouldn’t have been picked up in me anyway.

What qualifications do you have?
I gained my GCSEs and A-levels but instead of going away to university I did a HND in Business and Finance which is equivalent to a 2:1 degree and worked two jobs while studying as a checkout operator at Sainsburys and as a waitress in the evenings in a local restaurant. As a result, I was completely debt free when I completed my studies.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?
My career path has been quite a rocky road, but every time I thought I was being rejected from something, I was actually being redirected. I’ve encountered a great deal of bullying and abuse, especially in the tech and data industry, which has led me to founding #AllTogetherNow, a community of cybersecurity professionals who want to help others in the industry who have also been impacted by bullying and abuse. It is a huge problem.

What specific challenges do you see women facing in the industry?
The gender pay gap is real and definitely exists. I have been a victim of this where I was offered a salary for a role, and it turned out an equivalent role offered to a male counterpart was £15k over what I had been offered. This is unacceptable and an issue that needs to be called out whenever it is encountered. Bullying and abuse is also a huge problem and having experienced this it led me to founding #AllTogetherNow to help those impacted by it, it is rife and is the cause of many looking to leave the industry.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?
Follow your dreams and don’t let the idiots grind you down. There will be many who will want to bring you down or squash your ideas and creativity, please don’t let them get away with it. Also, network, network, network – and network some more. I’ve put a lot of time into developing a strong in-person and online network and presence, and it has paid off massively for me.

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?
One of my biggest mentor is Lisa Forte – I’ve learnt so much from her and her energy and resilience is incredible. I would also like to include James Bore of Bores Group Ltd, he is always so helpful and supportive of everything I do and is a huge inspiration to me.

From where do you draw inspiration?
I have some of my best and most creative ideas when I am exercising in my home gym or when I have a change of scenery at a café with a coffee. I love people watching and draw a lot of inspiration from that.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?
I was almost forced out of the industry from a horrific experience of bullying and abuse from within it that was so horrific I had to involve the police. As a result, I was done with the industry, I shut down the UK Cyber Security Association that I founded and was I going to leave the industry completely, but something told me I should stay and I am glad I did. Founding Cyber Security Unity from the ashes of the UK Cyber Security Association has given me the chance to reset and focus on areas that I enjoy – I love building communities for example and Cyber Security Unity is very much community driven. It has given me a huge sense of achievement and purpose and I realised I still have much I want to do and achieve in cyber security.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?
A great leader for me is one who doesn’t micro-manage, who gives their employees autonomy to achieve their KPIs and objectives, who looks for better ways of doing things, who listens to their employees and gives them a platform to succeed. They should also not create silos or deploy divide and conquer techniques to keep employees from talking to each other. They should also be transparent and honest, and act with integrity at all times. It is amazing how many leaders out there haven’t got these basics right sadly.

From a work viewpoint what has the last 12-24 months been like?
For me personally I’ve thrived during the pandemic. I had been working from home since 2015 so I didn’t need to adapt too much, and I was booked out with online speaking engagements and webinars which I thoroughly enjoyed. I know it was hard for many though and things aren’t getting easier with the cost-of-living crisis impacting all our lives and businesses.

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?
Some of the biggest tech-based challenges that we face today include security concerns as technology is a critical part of what makes companies more secure, widening skills gaps, business continuity, the rise of robotics and regaining trust, especially because of misinformation and the rise of data breaches.

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?

Organisations have a part to play when it comes to ensuring that they meet the requirements of all their employees. From remote or hybrid working, reduced hours or adequate maternity and paternity support, working hours should be more flexible to suit the needs of the employee. ‘Return to work’ schemes would greatly benefit women if companies were to implement them. This can help those who have had a break from the industry get back into work – and this doesn’t necessarily mean limiting them to roles such as customer support, sales and marketing. HR teams must also do better when it comes to job descriptions, ensuring they appeal to a wider audience, offer flexibility and that the recruitment pool is as diverse as can be.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I started out in the entertainment industry back in 1995 when I worked with Chris Tarrant of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” fame for many years, then I transitioned into tech and cybersecurity in 2009 where I remain to this day.