How cultivating curious talent can future-proof cybersecurity.
By Clea Ostendorf, Field CISO, Code42
Apr 30, 2024

An introduction to this article appeared in the monthly Creating Connections newsletter put together by the women of N2K. This is a guest-written article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not necessarily the N2K.

How cultivating curious talent can future-proof cybersecurity.

Closing the gender and diversity gap within the cybersecurity industry may be more challenging than many in the industry expected. However, this task is critical to protect our data and future. The threats we faced a decade ago will not be solved in the same ways today. If we are to meet the mounting challenges of today’s virtual landscape, we need to cultivate an environment that encourages curiosity among professionals. 

How do we do this? It starts with our hiring practices and grows with mentorships and supportive workplaces. Employers should build apprenticeship programs, hire for soft skills not just technical ones, and take a chance on a hire who brings a new perspective to the team. Some of my best and brightest teammates have been hired on their potential to achieve in the role – think character and appetite to innovate rather than a laundry list of particular technical skills. Critical here is when you do hire that “non-traditional” professional: make sure the environment you create supports them and includes them, you are their ally – they should feel it.  

Improving the inequities must have an equal part remediation of the current state such as salary adjustments as well as intentional hiring practices. Tools like CompAnalyst from can help teams review pay inequalities and rectify them as needed. Utilizing these technologies closes the pay gap experienced by many women and people with disabilities.

Another key component is how people are hired. To begin, remove bias by doing a phone screen to start the interview process. If you require a test, make sure the candidate has access to a computer and that it does not take more than an hour to accommodate for caregiving or other jobs. Companies can use tools like Miratech + Circa, which allow them to post open positions to niche job boards to increase applicants from underrepresented groups. 

Finally, implement a standardized interview process. Ensuring that the interview questions and overall process are consistent for each candidate interviewing for a given role helps negate any bias.

Hiring managers should also evaluate where there’s an opportunity to hire a less qualified candidate to train and provide opportunities. This needs to be an honest conversation on the capacity and needs of the organization at that point in time. In my experience, when there’s a role that can be hired based on capability vs. solely skills, amazing things happen.

Hiring is the first part of the puzzle, the second focus should be on keeping the talent. This should be looked at in two ways: providing a working environment that is conducive to getting their work done, and a team environment that is welcoming of new perspectives. 

Managers play a key role in the team environment and should lead the charge to embrace new employees. For example, in meetings, managers can pull new talent into the conversation, asking them questions about a current project and giving them a platform to share their insights. Especially at the beginning of a new hire’s tenure, it’s critical to be supportive and encouraging. This will help build confidence and foster even greater contributions from new employees. 

It’s also crucial to invest time in understanding who your new hires are. Obviously, managers need to do the work of learning about employees’ lives outside of work, but it’s also important to understand what employees need from their management and workplace to thrive. Some people love public praise, others like it in private or in written form. Make it a mission to find the type of encouragement that makes that person feel appreciated and seen. 

I would be remiss not to mention and highlight the power of mentorship. It’s often easy to just assume that particular employees would like to be paired as mentor/mentee based on similar backgrounds, but that can place undue pressure on a mentor who might be unable to take on the additional burden. Rather than assume mentorships, put feelers out into the organization on who would like to take on a mentee and then provide a space and time for the two people to meet and determine if they’re a good match. A great way to create space for such relationships is through affinity groups, which can build understanding and advocacy. 

Nothing is a silver bullet that will completely close these critical gaps, but hiring practices that are designed to accommodate all types of employees will open opportunities for the curious and diverse hires that we need to modernize cybersecurity.