Every month, WISDOM highlights the achievements and perspective of inspirational colleagues in the field as part of a Q and A series. Our January 2021 role model and trail blazer is Anne Benischek, an EMEA Business Information Security Officer in the banking sector.
“I am deeply passionate about ethical and conscious leadership and about meaningfulness in work – where there is balance between focus and purpose for both the individual and the organisation. I am a qualified executive coach, and I am involved in various mentoring programmes inside and out of work to support developing talent and women entrepreneurs. I believe in authenticity and a balance between mind and heart in all aspects of life – and I strive to be part of the mindset/culture change that is needed to create this shift, especially in business.
I also have nearly 20 years of experience in the cyber security space; working as a senior practitioner and consultant in a broad range of information security areas spanning many industries, including as CISO in technology and FS organisations, strategy and business transformation consultant, and head of cyber alliances.”
- What do you think is the most challenging aspect of information security?
There has always been a challenge between breadth and depth of knowledge. Security professionals need to navigate the different needs of the various business areas, rapidly developing business models and evolving eco-systems of customer, partner and vendor interactions. At the same time, we need deep specialisation into growing and hugely complex technologies.
But there is a more fundamental challenge our industry faces – how to balance business needs with security. I get so frustrated with our profession, when users are cast as uneducated or incompetent, when policy decisions are based purely on sexy threat intelligence devoid of a true understanding of what the business needs, and the impact these policies will have. Or even worse, when security tries to beat boards and stakeholders into submission with horror stories and giant compliance hammers. Saying ‘no’ is easy. Using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to scare people into action is easy. But have security practitioners stopped to ask if we are doing a good enough job to enable people to do the right thing? To make security transparent and intuitive to end users and within business processes? To partner with the business on big and hairy problems?
- What has been the proudest moment of your career to date?
There are work and career achievements, like becoming a CISO, completing an MBA whilst working, and being a Mum, and they are great. They also don’t define me.
My proudest moments are when I can show up for someone to help them come home to who they are; to realise their potential. Seeing someone step into their own and start acting from a place of authenticity, where they know their worth and what they are capable of – there’s literally nothing else like it. It is very true that people will forget what you did, what your achievements were, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
- What are the most enjoyable parts of your work?
Working with people. Hands down. We get more emotional and social nourishment from our interactions at work than we realise, or perhaps would like to admit. It is also what I miss the most in this new lockdown world.
- What lessons have your learnt as your progress through your career?
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. For a large part of my career, I relied on my hard work speaking for itself. That only works up to a point, and only if you have exceptional managers around you.
The challenge for me was getting comfortable with showcasing my work without feeling I was showing off. Being transparent with my managers about my next step, my next role, the things I want to get involved in, without feeling assuming or ungrateful to them. And starting to deal with the fear of being “found out”, stemming from the fear that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Finding more healthy ways to deal with my imposter syndrome was a game changer. Facing those limiting beliefs and self-doubts can be confronting, but it’s also hugely rewarding. And it’s an ongoing journey, but one where I am now aware of what’s happening when that little voice starts nagging with “oh, you’re just a fraud”, and I can start to be playful with it, and even lean into having fun with it.
- What are your reflections on diversity and inclusion within your field?
It’s getting so much better! There were barely any women in cyber when I first started – and personally, that wasn’t a problem for me until I hit senior management level where, for the first time, I experienced a degree of glass ceiling and a significant gender pay gap. So, I started to get better at asking for what I want, and to not back down until I get it. And that works for me now because I have the leverage of 20 years of skills and experience.
But that’s not going to work in the same way when starting out in your career. So as an industry I think it is incredibly important that we become more nuanced about the types of skills and strengths we need in security. There are great initiatives to bring women into tech, e.g. through coding, but we need more paths that also value and reward other innate skills we have as women: empathy, teamship, heart-centred vision, intuition and people skills. These skills are critical for stakeholder managers, change agents, security culture champions, winning hearts and minds. They are the cornerstones of modern leadership and business is in desperate need of more of them.
- What advice would you give to someone just starting their career?
Know your worth. Your skills and your experience have a market value – know that value. Don’t accept anything less. Don’t believe a recruiter when they say it’s not possible. And stick to your guns.
Ask for what you want. If no one knows what you want to do or where you want to head, no one can help you get there. I know how much I appreciate it, when someone helps me see what they’re capable of, when they showcase what they’re passionate about and when they tell how I can support them.
And last but not least, stick to your guns when it comes to your principles and values. Be unapologetically you 😊
Thank you Anne! If you have someone you’d like to nominate for the WISDOM blog’s ‘Trailblazers and Role Models’ series, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org