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'I went from an NHS call centre to Thales cyber director'

Kirsty Perrett never dreamed she’d end up in cybersecurity – or that she could make it in the industry. In her own words, she reveals her inspirational journey to the top...

Men still outnumber women by three to one in the cybersecurity industry. This is why it’s vital to take stock and showcase the accomplishments of women within the sector. While there has been great progress in establishing greater gender-balance across the industry, there is still much more to be done.

Kirsty Perrett, lead cyber engineer at defence and engineering firm Thales is a role model for women. Not only is she helping to diversify the cyber workforce, but she entered the industry unconventionally, having previously worked for the NHS.

In a nod to International Women in Cyber Day, SC Media asked Kirsty about her cyber journey and what she believes needs to change within the industry.

Kirsty, what did your pathway into cybersecurity look like?
I didn’t have a typical route into cybersecurity. I liked biology at school, so intended to study Biomedical Science – I dropped out after day one. I immediately knew it wasn’t for me.

You don’t necessarily need a degree to do well, and it doesn’t make you an expert – there’s a lot to be said for hands-on experience that you glean throughout the years. Most of my friends don’t work in the field that they hold a degree in.

When I was at school would I have wanted to study cyber? No. I thought it was too clever for me. I assumed you’d have to be good at maths – and that wasn’t me. But I’ve always been fascinated by computers, and I got to experience the impact of computing from the ground up during my career in the NHS.

Why is diversity so important?
Cyber impacts every single aspect of our lives. We need to raise awareness of that, and encourage people from all walks of life into the profession.

Throughout my career progression in the NHS, I got to see the real-world impact that technology and cybersecurity can have on our world. WannaCry was a prime example of that. That was my first experience of seeing just how cyber can impact critical infrastructure. I also got to witness just how much difference a good team can make in those scenarios.

Cyber is everywhere. It impacts us all, and as such there’s a variety of career paths you could get into – and that requires a diversity of talent.

How do we get more women into cyber?
The industry is very male-dominated… we still need to see a shift in attitudes. If you ever feel like you are a ‘tick’ box – just know that you are there because of your own skills and merit.

It’s easy to see how women can develop imposter syndrome in these scenarios. We need to stop gender classifying certain job roles or sectors.

I believe we need to bring a spark to STEM education. In school you’re not necessarily given the best foundation for the working world or taught real-life applications. You're taught a subject to pass an exam in that subject. It can all feel very much like a ‘tick box’ at times.

I love working with schools to bring cyber to life. It’s been a great experience to work with school children and actually translate that learning into something real and tangible. Raising future talent requires a collaborative approach from education, industry and government. It needs to be a joined-up approach.

What advice do you have for women looking to get into the industry?
To any women or girls who are passionate about a career in this sector – let that passion shine through and pursue it. Invest in yourself and seek out any training opportunities that you can. There’s also a large community of women in cyber groups where you can join, network and ask questions.

International Women in Cyber Day has inspired women from around the globe to create and host events to celebrate women in cybersecurity. Find out more here

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