Diversity Pays Big Dividends for Cyber and Intelligence at MITRE

March 2020
Topics: Cybersecurity, Intelligence Analysis, Human Resources Management
MITRE women have been making significant impacts in the cyber and intelligence fields for decades. Their contributions don’t need special recognition—they’ve become the norm.
Woman looking at her desktop monitor

MITRE has a strong legacy of hiring, developing, and advancing women in technical fields, such as cybersecurity and intelligence. 

 

“Technology changes so rapidly, and new technologies bring new flaws that can be exploited," MITRE's Margie Zuk says. "That’s why it’s critical to have diverse teams of experts—both men and women—who bring a variety of perspectives."

She knows this better than most. As a senior principal cybersecurity engineer, she leads MITRE’s cyber support to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Zuk is part of a large cadre of women who’ve excelled in the cyber and intelligence fields here for decades. Their number currently includes several vice presidents and dozens of senior leaders, including technical and portfolio directors and chief engineers.

They’ve followed in the footsteps of some of the earliest women pioneers in the field. MITRE’s Grace Nibaldi, for example, established technical evaluation criteria in 1979 that led to the national standard for trusted computer security.

Many women at MITRE have since built on Nibaldi’s legacy. Zuk, for example, leads efforts to support the FDA in evolving medical device cybersecurity.

She says the initial team for this effort was predominantly women—known as “the cyber gals.” The team (which now includes several men) has made great headway in forging the way ahead for medical device safety.

Some of our newer cyber/intelligence experts came to us with considerable experience. They say MITRE promotes a positive standard for inclusion and fair treatment.

Diversity Driving Outcomes

Diversity is key to meeting today’s cyber challenges. Yet the number of women in the cybersecurity industry hovers at just 20 percent. And some female information security professionals continue to report discrimination and bias.

At MITRE, women fill nearly 30 percent of our technical roles, which include the cyber and intel fields. While there’s room for growth, MITRE women are enjoying rewarding careers in these roles at a considerably higher rate than at other technology companies.

And beyond the numbers, our diversity reaps big rewards. When diversity and inclusion intersect, the most creative and promising innovation happens. Studies have shown this result for decades across industries, including cyber and intel. 

“I think that women bring a different perspective that positively impacts outcomes," MITRE Vice President Lori Scherer says. "We tend to be empathetic and collaborative and think holistically. That approach really helps to shape the conversation in a different way.”

Cynthia Wright came to MITRE five years ago after a career in Air Force cyber. Her team of cybersecurity experts, mostly women, is working with the State Department to improve the cyber capacity of partner nations around the world.

“One of the things we brought to that effort was to change the approach to the problem," she says. "We’re including not just cybersecurity—though that’s always important—but all factors that affect the country’s cyber capacity—economic, technical, social, political.”

"And I think that view was substantially shaped by the fact that the team has so many women.”

 

Bringing Authenticity to the Workplace

Emily Frye, who entered the field in 1996, recalls often being one of the only women in the room early in her career—and sometimes feeling like “an anomaly.” She joined MITRE in 2011 and currently leads a diverse team supporting our election integrity effort. She's no anomaly, and neither are her female colleagues.

She says, “The other women on my team are considerably younger than me, and they are unafraid. They just say what they want to say. I’m so appreciative they don’t have that kind of fear I had at their age.”

Even better, the MITRE culture gives everyone permission to balance their commitments as mothers, fathers, friends, caregivers, students, and more. In other words, as people with diverse passions and interests.   

“Before coming to MITRE, in meetings that predominantly included men, I would never bring up wanting to leave to go have dinner with my family," Frye says. "I never spoke about things like that.

"Here, I don’t see anyone hanging back from that. Women and men alike say, ‘Hey, tonight’s the night I coach,’ or ‘I want to go see my child’s presentation at school.’ Instead of being a ding against people, it’s celebrated.”

 

Growing Edges for the Broader Cyber and Intelligence Communities

Progress—however promising—does not equate to perfection. The women we spoke with agree that, beyond MITRE, the larger cyber and intelligence fields could benefit from greater diversity. And we continue to work on it here.

Ingrid Parker is department head for MITRE’s defensive cyber operations, an area where women have traditionally been underrepresented. She says, “We know bias often happens unconsciously, and awareness is a key factor in overcoming it. The training and discussions we have here at MITRE help us build a culture of inclusion.”

“I’ve also had outstanding mentors—both men and women. They helped me understand how to present myself. How to take ownership of my ideas. We have to advocate for women and help them advocate for themselves.”

Ultimately, these professionals just want to be known as the highly qualified cyber/intelligence experts that they are.

Long-time MITRE cyber expert Mindy Rudell says, “I’ve never felt like I got opportunities just because I was a woman. Here at MITRE, I’ve always felt like I got opportunities because I’m good at my job and I bring something to bear.”

by Denise Schiavone

 

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