I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Women in Security, Today, Then, Tomorrow‘ event at Bletchley Park last Friday to talk about one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Margaret Rock. I was the ‘Then‘ part of the ‘Today, Then and Tomorrow‘. It was a brilliant and interesting event and an honour to have been asked.
Proof Communications have prepared a follow-up story to the event, which you will find below. I will do another post about my experience of giving the keynote speech in a few days.
Friday 11 October 2013 saw veterans, women in top security positions and the next generation of cyber defenders meet at the home of British codebreaking. Today, Then, Tomorrow, held at Bletchley Park, was organised by the Cyber Security Challenge UK and The Women’s Security Society and supported by Raytheon.
The event celebrated the history of women in cyber security and explored the need to encourage more women into the profession, which is facing an acute skills shortage.
Ian Standen, CEO of Bletchley Park, welcomed the attendees to the historic setting. “This was an industrial codebreaking facility” he explained. “During the Second World War there were over 9,000 people on site”.
Baroness Neville-Jones, a patron of the Cyber Security Challenge, then addressed the WWII veterans. “We owe these people a great debt,” she said, before highlighting the opportunities for women in cyber security today. “There’s a great career here with status and recognition across broad swathes of society” she explained, highlighting that cyber security jobs exist in a huge range of sectors, from the music industry to finance. “Let’s promote these opportunities to our sisters!” she added.
The stories of the Bletchley Ladies were kept secret for years but are now beginning to emerge.
Kerry Howard, historian and author, has brought to light the story of one of the top female codebreakers of WWII. Speaking about her research into the life of graduate mathematician Margaret Rock, who worked on Enigma machine ciphers under the respected codebreaker Dilly Knox, Kerry said, “Her department was 90% female – women were absolutely everywhere!”.
Margaret was described as “the 4th or 5th best of the whole Enigma staff and quite as useful as some of the professors,” yet was only ever referred to as a ‘linguist’, never a codebreaker. Her love of numbers and talent for codebreaking during the war years led to a long and successful career at GCHQ.
The UK’s strong history of women in codebreaking, however, is not reflected by the number of women working in the sector today. At present less than 10% of the workforce is female.
Raytheon’s Dr Brooke Hoskins explained the need to support women in a line of work that continues to be predominantly dominated by men. “The Raytheon Women’s Network is trying to change the underrepresentation of women – Bletchley Park was a prime example of how women can take leading roles in the security profession, and our sector can’t afford to miss out on this talent,” she said. Dr Hoskins also discussed the importance of mentoring for women in cyber security roles, drawing on her own career experience.
Natalie Black, Deputy Director of Cyber Defence at the Cabinet Office, then spoke about the Women’s Security Society. The active group has been giving women – and men! – from all streams of security the opportunity to meet and network through events and talks. Membership has already expanded faster than expected since launching at the beginning of the year with nearly four hundred members, and Natalie echoed the call to spread the word and encourage others to consider joining the Women’s Security Society and learn more about the industry.
Stephanie Daman, CEO of the Cyber Security Challenge, followed with an appeal for women working in cyber security to promote the opportunities in the sector to others. “Take the time to encourage women to see the profession as one they should consider,” she explained while highlighting the demand for Cyber Security Challenge competition candidates. “Their skills are hugely valued,” she said, explaining how they can become the next generation of cyber security professionals.
Lucy Robson, a second-year undergraduate studying Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, concluded the speeches. “The cyber security challenge is relentless and we must step up,” she warned. Lucy, one of the first Cyber Security Challenge candidates, won one of the first competitions – the Small Business Network Defence challenge run by QinetiQ and has gone on to work with the company.