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How to be a good cyber 'ally'

Veteran finance CISO Neil Robinson offers tips on how you can make the cyber community a happier, more inclusive to place to work...

"I will always remember my first time living in a foreign country, a different language, and being confronted with how hard it was to understand the simplest things – including asking for help.

My attempts at communication usually involved lots of hand gestures, pointing and, yes, embarrassingly, speaking more loudly in English.

In my previous home, London, the commute home was not something that I had given much thought to. It had its frustrations (which were mostly overcrowding and delay)s but most days it didn’t even register in my consciousness.

Now in my new home of Hong Kong, my commute was transformed into a confusing blur of Chinese symbols, new smells and unfamiliar sounds. It was the first time I felt genuinely alone, isolated – I was visible minority (referred to the locals as a ‘Gweilo’).

For anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Hong Kong, you will know that the local culture is very vibrant, loud and raucous. I recall one particular occasion when I was returning home late in the evening after a few post-work social drinks, being tossed around in the back of one of the iconic red taxi’s like a rag-doll, round the twisting mountain roads.

I was unable to communicate to my taxi driver to slow down – the simplest of requests – but I was powerless. With the help of my new colleagues, I was able to learn how to navigate, develop a very basic set of Cantonese, and when the occasion required to ask the taxi to pull over (“li do en gui”).

But what’s this got to do with allyship, you might ask? I didn’t know at the time, but the help I received from my colleagues was in its simplest form a demonstration of allyship. In simple terms, allyship can be described as the act of someone from a majority group which helps someone from a marginalised group.

But enough about me. Let’s focus on you, the security community, and readers of this newsletter. The chance is that if you are reading this, you are male (80 percent of readers) and, therefore, have a great opportunity to offer your “allyship” to your female colleagues. Of course, this doesn’t mean if you are female, you are off the hook! This is about raising awareness of when you need to “lean in” and help a fellow “security nerd” to be successful– making the world a more secure and happier place to live and work.

So, hopefully you are now wondering how you can help your fellow colleagues.

Here are a few simple things you can do:

  • Educate yourself: Take the initiative to educate yourself about the challenges and experiences faced by your colleague's marginalised group. Read books, articles, and research, or attend workshops and training sessions to develop a better understanding of their perspective.

  • Listen and validate: Actively listen to your colleague when they share their experiences or concerns. Provide a safe and non-judgmental space for them to express themselves and validate their feelings and experiences without dismissing or trivialising them.

  • Speak up against discrimination: If you witness any discriminatory or biased behaviour towards your colleague, speak up against it. Use your voice and privilege to challenge inappropriate comments, stereotypes, or exclusionary practices. Be an active bystander and let your colleague know that you have their back.

  • Offer support and check-ins: Regularly check in with your colleague to see how they are doing. Offer your support and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Small gestures like grabbing a coffee together or offering to collaborate on projects can go a long way in building a supportive relationship.

  • Amplify their voices: Give credit where it's due and actively promote your colleague's ideas and contributions. In meetings or group discussions, ensure that their perspectives are heard and acknowledged. Use your platform to amplify their voices and provide opportunities for them to showcase their skills and expertise.

  • Advocate for inclusivity: Encourage your organisation to prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Advocate for inclusive policies, practices, and resources that support all employees. Work towards creating a workplace culture that values and celebrates differences.

  • Be open to feedback: Acknowledge that you may make mistakes along the way and be open to receiving feedback. If your colleague offers suggestions or points out something that you could improve, listen attentively, and take it as an opportunity for growth. Reflect on your actions and strive to do better.

I hope this leaves you all feeling inspired, generous, and empowered to help build a more inclusive cyber community – a network of people actively helping each other to make the world a more secure, resilient and happier place."

About the author: Neil Robinson is an experienced CISO and risk transformation leader. Following a long career with Standard Chartered bank, he now consults for Virgin Money. His expertise covers engineering, security operations, risk management, culture, training, threat-led operations, testing and assurance.

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