Women in Digital: Christine Bejerasco

Christine Bejerasco, CISO at WithSecure, offers up some valuable advice to other women carving a career in cybersecurity.

Posted 27 November 2023 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

I enjoyed school, especially Biology, Earth Sciences and Chemistry. I was fascinated by computers during my high school years, which eventually led me to pursue a career in cybersecurity.  

What qualifications do you have? 

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of the Philippines. I am also a certified ethical hacker and an incident handler.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?

My career trajectory has been significantly influenced by the evolving landscape of the IT industry, and along the way, my expertise has grown considerably. After my Computer Science degree in 2003, I took a moment to weigh my career choices. There were numerous junior-level roles in coding and technical support that promised stability, but they didn’t ignite my passion.

It was a friend who alerted me to a vacancy for an antivirus engineer. The prospect of analysing malware, safeguarding networks and tackling complex problems resonated with me deeply, and I’ve been committed to the field of cybersecurity ever since.

What specific challenges do you see women facing in the industry?  

In the early stages of my career, I did encounter some gender bias working in the tech sector. One memorable incident involved being offered a lower salary than a male colleague, even though we were in identical roles and had comparable experience and qualifications. At that point, I attributed it to my own level of experience and didn’t challenge it. I didn’t know better then. Today, these are the issues that if I learned about them, whether for myself or for other female personnel, I would certainly bring it up.

Eventually, as I started to deliver results, my salary normalised and was aligned with my male colleagues of the same capability. Yet, this isn’t universally true for all women in the cybersecurity field, and most of the time salaries and salary ranges are not always visible. While there have been strides towards a more inclusive work environment, we still have a long way to go. There should be more representation in leadership positions and better support for women embarking on a career in tech.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

If there’s a single piece of wisdom I could offer, it would be to carve out your own journey. It’s human nature to seek validation from others, which is completely understandable. However, this can become a hindrance and restrict your capabilities if you listen to too many voices and let them dictate your direction.

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

I have had different mentors throughout my career. Some were not explicitly mentoring me, but I learned through the way we interacted and from their ways of working. I also have a mentor separate from my managers, especially now that I’m part of the executive team where the discourse and conceptual thinking are quite distinct from what I’ve been accustomed to, I’ve been lucky to work with leaders who were willing to take a chance on me, listening to what I could offer and giving me a chance to be in positions that would have been out of reach otherwise. These individuals rank among the most inspiring leaders I’ve encountered.

From where do you draw inspiration?

I’m a firm believer in the importance of pursuing a career that you’re passionate about, as it can significantly impact both your job satisfaction and the outcomes you produce. What initially attracted me to a career in cybersecurity was the notion of defeating malicious actors, and that continues to be a major driving force for me to this day.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

I’m a lifelong learner and eternally curious, so I listen when people say something in order to add value to the conversation. I’m also quite collaborative and am aware that I don’t have all the answers, but I can absorb concepts quite quickly and relate them with each other and with previous knowledge.  

From a work viewpoint, what has the last 12 months been like?

During the last 12 months, I transitioned from a role that involved thinking about cybersecurity issues 3-6 years into the future, to securing our organisation today. Moving from designing and implementing cybersecurity capabilities to the practice of securing an organisation is quite a grounding experience. You meet the reality of where the business is, what risks there are and what it can realistically address. Compliance is also one area where at times it’s a necessary business requirement, but also limits the business’ agility. Then managing these becomes quite a learning experience which can be significantly different between organisations.

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

I’d say a growing concern is third-party risk management. Our data assets are flowing out of our organisations towards other organisations either through SaaS or other external services we subscribe to. And evaluating these vendors is important to ensure we partner with the ones that have the same security appetite as we do. But signing up with a partner is one thing, there is the additional continuous management on whether their security posture is improving or declining. This can get very time consuming especially as more and more of our data is no longer on-prem.

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

If I could offer a single piece of advice to women seeking a career in tech, it would be to go ahead and apply for that job that’s caught your eye. Don’t hesitate, even if you can’t tick every box in the qualifications section.

From my own observations, when women do apply and pass our interview process, they’re exceptionally competent and excel in their roles. The real issue is that we receive far too few applications from women to begin with. So, don’t let self-doubt deter you from taking the necessary risks to advance your career. I’ve grappled with self-doubt myself, but the key is to give it your all. At worst, you won’t land the job, but you’ll gain valuable insights and perhaps even identify a skills gap you can work on.

Every risk we take and decision we make contributes to our personal and professional development. I’m also optimistic that, in the near future, both the private sector and academia will collaborate to make the cybersecurity field more appealing and accessible to women.

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

For the past few years, I have been eating predominantly plant-based food.