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Women in the STEM workforce with N2K President Simone Petrella.

N2K Networks stands for news to knowledge. Find out how N2K is supporting Women in the Cybersecurity and STEM workforce with Simone Petrella.



Deep Space


Simone Petrella is the President of N2K Networks, a news to knowledge media company. N2K offers training and testing in cybersecurity in addition to podcasts covering cyber, intelligence and space. Simone has spearheaded a study with the Women in Cybersecurity organization to help identify gaps in the workforce where training and opportunity lags for women and underrepresented people in the workplace.

You can connect with Simone on LinkedIn and learn more about N2K on our website.

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[MUSIC] Hi, and welcome to T-Minus Deep Space from N2K Networks.

I'm Maria Varmasus, host of the T-Minus Space Daily podcast.

Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

[MUSIC] And one of those topics is workforce development.

And since March is Women's History Month, we wanted to take a closer look at the ongoing challenges that women face in the STEM workforce.

To talk me through it a little bit is Simone Petrella, who is the president of N2K Networks, a news to knowledge media company that also happens to publish this show.

In addition to being my employer in publishing podcasts that cover cybersecurity intelligence and space, N2K also happens to offer training and testing in cybersecurity.

Now Simone has spearheaded a study with an organization called Women in Cyber Security.

And the study is meant to help identify gaps in the workforce for training and opportunity lags for women and underrepresented people.

[MUSIC] >> Well, Simone, thank you for joining me today.

Can you introduce yourself to the T-Minus audience, please?

>> Yes, hi, I'm Simone Petrella, and I'm president at N2K Networks.

>> Thank you so much for joining me today, Simone.

I'm so glad we finally got you on T-Minus.

>> I know, I've been looking for an excuse, so thank you for helping me find one.

>> Well, we have a very good excuse today.

Something that we talk about a lot on T-Minus, and of course on the cyber wire too, is all about workforce development and how much both in the cybersecurity world and in the space world, workforce development is a big need.

And especially when it comes to helping women along in their careers and helping them develop their own skill sets.

I understand that there's something that you are working on at the moment with another organization as well relating to women in cybersecurity.

Can you tell me a bit more about that?

>> Yeah, well, cybersecurity, like a lot of STEM fields, probably not as acute as in space, but we do have a pretty significant dearth of women and representation of women and all minorities in cybersecurity when it comes to the population.

And most recently, I think we're now up to 24% of people who report working in cybersecurity are women.

Only a few years ago, that was 11%.

So we've made some significant strides.

But we're really excited about when it comes to sort of developing the workforce in cybersecurity specifically.

But I think this is kind of a true maxim for all industries is there is an organization, it's called Women in Cybersecurity, WESIS for short.

And they are a nonprofit organization that its mission includes trying to advance and provide opportunities for women to not only get into the field of cybersecurity, but continue to advance in their own development and cybersecurity.

Just an incredible organization across the board.

We have partnered with them to conduct a study of their professional population and identify through a survey what are the primary roles that most members report serving in.

But more importantly, we're doing a technical skills assessment of that membership population.

And the goal is to use that data and information to understand the kind of capacity across the organization of where women actually have strengths and where they're aligned to the roles they're in and provide some reports and insights on kind of where that population sits and what roles that there are kind of centers of influence and where there are some maybe areas for improvement and representation.

And second of all, we're using that information to help inform WESIS as the organization as well as its members where there are gaps in their knowledge or learning relative to the roles they want to fill.

So it can inform programming decisions.

What are the initiatives that need to be put in place to help get these women into the types of roles that they want to aspire to get into or as they continue to grow their careers?

So it's full lifecycle because, you know, the part of the challenges you have to get women and minority into the field.

You have to get them interested and feel confident that they can perform the work to start.

But the work doesn't end there.

You have to help advance our careers because what we find in cybersecurity, I imagine this is very true in space too, is that the numbers then start to drop off as you actually get higher in your career.

So you'll see progress in kind of entry level starting positions in cybersecurity or in STEM fields.

And then as kind of more advancement opportunities come up, the numbers start to dwindle again and they start to leave the workforce for a litany of reasons.

Yeah, no, it is absolutely a common thread.

And that is something that I've often remarked on coming from cybersecurity moving into space.

I'm going, you know, the two fields can be very different, but in that regard, there's a lot of similarity.

And, you know, some things are just beyond the scope of a sector of the STEM world.

Some things are life and greater societal pressures and all sorts of other things.

But it is very interesting to me that there is that commonality of there often is a emphasis on pipeline getting people in the door.

But then what happens when people are in the door and what happens when, you know, people are looking for advancement or enrichment or whatever, and they can't find that path.

What happens next?


And there's a cultural component to it as well.

And I think this is true in most STEM fields, cybersecurity and space included, which is, you know, if you have the ambition and the passion to enter the field, it doesn't mean that that alone is going to sustain you or retain that person in the field.

Because ultimately, people want to be accepted.

They want their work to be valued.

They want to see other people like themselves in that field, because that's what ultimately creates mentorship.

It's what creates, you know, you can see yourself in other people and that kind of helps propel it forward.

And it's hard to sort of sustain yourself in a career field where you see very few people who are that role model or kind of look like you or your career aspirations.

So I think there's a cultural aspect on top of just the kind of getting the raw skills that people need to be successful in these jobs.


What's interesting to me is I feel like cybersecurity has done a really heroic job.

I mean, maybe that maybe I'm overpraising it.

But I know there's been a sustained effort for quite a while on the cybersecurity side to do some cultural change from within, which is extraordinarily hard.

I'm not going to say that it's there where it needs to be yet, but I've seen a lot of change in the last 15 years from Booth Babes being a standard thing to no longer being a thing.

Oh my God, totally, yeah.

And now that I'm in the space world, I'm going, I feel a little bit like it is where I remember cybersecurity also being in terms of some cultural things that make me go, but that change is hard and it has to come from within.

So I don't know.

I'm like, I guess maybe advice for the space world coming from the cybersecurity.

Someone that's a really big ask, but I feel like.

My advice, and I think this is something that actually cybersecurity has had to go through is we're on this journey and cybersecurity is not, it's not an old field.

It's a relatively new field, but we've now had maybe 50 years under or about depending on how you want to mark the beginning of information assurance.

And we're seeing, especially in the last five to 10 years, this kind of concept of professionalizing what it means to have STEM and cybersecurity because it's just so ingrained in every part of the business.

So it's becoming more of a business and risk minded decision.

And so as a result, you kind of have this culture where I think we've, whether it's because people wanted to recognize it or they just have to, that we have to make decisions that require more diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and education and experience that spans even beyond what has traditionally been like you were in IT or you were doing networking.

And then you kind of progressed up and you went through this highly technical field where you were doing reverse engineering forensics.

We need all those things, but it's definitely sort of expanded the aperture of kind of what we need to actually successfully execute the mission.

And I think space is maybe just at the very beginning of that journey because for the longest time it was something that was like right in the sliver of government led initiatives and the money that was required was kind of cost prohibitive, but now it's starting to become a commercialized space and we're starting to explore that.

I have a little optimism because I think it will get there because the market has no choice but to get there.

Because at some point you wake up and say, we have to make decisions and we have to have people who have a broader set of skills and perspective that are still in step, that still have technical skills and perspective, but we have to make decisions under a different context than how we did space exploration in the 1950s.

That's a great point.

I think that's a fantastic point.

And I think the, I also share that optimism.

I think we'll see that.

I'm impatient though.

I wanted to happen yesterday.

I know.

So do I.

But when you think about like, we only got the right to vote, I don't know, 100 years ago.

It's not that far.

I know.

I tell my daughter that sometimes she's like, what?

My cat kid, believe it or not.

It's crazy.

It's just absolutely nuts to think about.

I'm trying not to make this too much of like a, let's make a broad statement about STEM, but I'm going to do that anyway.

Let's just do it.

I mean, for me, this is a, it's very personal as someone who tried to go into STEM and then left and I have my many personal reasons for that.

I've seen many other women, the exact same trajectory that we were talking about, women who are extremely, extremely smart, highly motivated, hard workers, they go into their field of their dreams and then even if they don't have kids, kids are a totally different situation.

Even if they just stay dedicated to that job, 1,100% of themselves and they never take off time to have kids, something often crushes them out.

It's like, it's, it's, I don't know if this part's going to make it in the podcast.

Now I'm just ranting.

That's funny.

These are my favorite things, rants.

I mean, it's, a lot of times I think there's a, a lot of people go, well, if a woman has kids and this is going to take them out of their career, that, again, that is a much broader thing than just STEM, but I'm just taking like a, a straw woman, so to speak, of someone who's just like, I'm just going to, I'm not going to do that.

I'm going to just do work.

I've known many of these women and they're extraordinarily smart and a lot of them, they end up leaving anyway.


Well, I think it's caretaking across the board because there is this, it's, it's, maybe it's distinctly American.

I don't know.

But, you know, I think that whether it's kids or whether it's just caretaking in life and like all the mental load of having to deal with the logistics of life, women do take that burden on disproportionately.

And then I, I believe this was sort of be buy and rent on it.

Like I think that they're penalized for it because you get to a point you say, well, I have an older parent that needs caretaking or there is someone else in the family that's having hard times.

Like we sort of like look to a lot of the female figures to be the ones to take on that nurturing role.

And we still sort of say like, well, then the bread winning is going to come from, you know, someone who's just doing like work a hundred percent of the time.

And so we don't create an environment where someone can kind of do both.

We say, you know what, if you're not going home and like actually doing advanced calculations until three in the morning, you must not be cut out for this field.

And I think that's such a disservice because yes, there are always going to be passionate hardworking people that dedicate the entirety of themselves to doing something.

But if we think about it only like that, you are disenfranchising the majority of the population who is hardworking, is passionate, who wants to do a good job.

But they also have, you know, like another job they have to do to pay the bills or they do have a family or they have someone that they need to take care of, you know, in their lives.

And so it's, or frankly, like they just have other diverse interests that aren't purely only about that one field.

And God forbid you want to do something else other than like code at night when you want to relax, you know, like, so I, there's this sort of like stigma that it's like, you're not doing this all the time for fun, then you're never going to be successful in the industry.

I just think that that's short-sighted because those people exist, but that's not the majority of the population.

We'll be right back after this quick break.

The survey that's been going out, I know it's still ongoing, but I assume we've seen some data coming in.

What have we seen so far?


So what we're finding in the initial data, and we haven't completed all of our analysis yet, but what we have seen is that there across the board is pretty good representation and skills of the Wiesis membership population, which is great to see.

But one thing that stick out to us immediately was kind of an underrepresentation of women in the functional area of operational technology and engineering.

And based on the results that we have so far, only three out of 400 respondents indicated that they even aligned with the area.

So that's a pretty stark, given the sample size, like a pretty stark indicator of an underrepresentation in that particular area.


So I have to ask, why do we think that's happening?

What's up with that?


You know, I think it's all conjecture at this point.

My hypothesis here would be, you know, I think that women are still, we still have a long way to go to get women into the more technical, pure play cybersecurity roles and in STEM across the board.

And we see that here because operational technology and engineering is a much more specialized and niche functional area, you know, deals with a lot of those control systems.

And why?

That's anyone's guess, you know?

What I do see is this sort of like is consistent with the assumption that women are kind of shying away from some of the more technically hard science portions of the field, which is unfortunate.

That perception definitely persists, I think, across many different areas, unfortunately.

And it's, it is a larger cultural sociological, I don't even know where to begin with that one assumption, but I mean, it sounds like more women want to have training in that area.

There is a desire for that knowledge, but the path is not always clear or it has a lot of obstacles.

Well, and that's what we're trying to demystify with data is, you know, we have to understand where like the talent, and I mean like broad base, like where talent is and their skills and capabilities, but then they have to know where they can actually fit in.

So what are the roles that are available to them?

And if you can't show someone where their destination might be, then you can't give them an effective path to get there because it starts to feel even more daunting, especially as you get into some of more of those technical fields.

So we're trying to uncover a lot of that and hopefully demystify some of the potential pathways it takes for those who are interested in pursuing, you know, any of the subfields or functional areas you could pursue in cybersecurity, but certainly technical ones as well.

This is sort of a random question.

Any anecdotes coming out of the survey so far?

Just people's experiences from taking this or any self-reflection you've seen or heard, anything like that?

I'd say anecdotally, the feedback we've gotten from individuals is that they have really appreciated being able to kind of look at themselves in a more in an unbiased way and use that information to kind of direct where they want to go.

And that it's been sort of like a helpful individual tool for the people who are actually taking it as opposed to, you know, we're looking at this as an aggregate survey, but there's real benefits to those that are kind of trying to use it as a guidepost for their own careers as well.

So that's been really, you know, exciting to hear the positive feedback we've gotten on that.

Yeah, it's amazing to have a mirror to your own career sometimes because a lot of us just kind of land where we land or, you know, maybe we chased a certain title or a job at a certain place, but we don't have that bigger picture sense of where, where are my gaps and what are my strengths unless we have a very kind mentor or really good boss or something.

Yeah, exactly.

You know, the other thing I will mention, it's not an anecdote specific to the study.

And I have a obsession with a old episode of an NPR podcast that was titled "When Women Stopped Coding."

And I wouldn't say that they were able to draw any definitive conclusions, but what they found is that from the advent of coding as a field to about 1982, women actually were the majority of people in the profession and getting, you know, degrees in things that were the precursors to like computer science at the time.

And in 1982, it was the year that it switched and it kind of continued on since.

The question, which is a valid one, is like, what happened in 1982 that would have precipitated this like really drastic kind of shift in the demographic?

And the, the kind of where everyone landed was it was the year that the personal computer was introduced into people's homes and that it was, was part of the cultural zeitgeist of, I hate to say it, it was marketed to men.

It was a gaming console.

And so by the time people decided to pursue it, they had like men had had a advantage because it was in their rooms and they were the ones that were actually operating on it.

So it was literally like just not really marketed to women.

And so then by the time they actually decided they wanted to study it, they got overwhelmed because they were behind, not that they couldn't keep up.

But when someone's like, I already know all this stuff already because I did it on my own because I had a computer in my room for the last, you know, however many years, I think we're still dealing with like the after effects of that, that it just can feel really daunting to get into the technical stuff because we're not necessarily, you know, exposed to it the way that, that maybe our male counterparts had been.

Again, I could, this is, this is where it gets really personal.

I'm like that, that tracks so much with my own experience.

I was thinking, I remember when I was really little, there was an, we had an Apple to see and that my father got for myself and my brother, I was the one that used it the most.

But I was like the only girl who used a computer at home and like when we would be in computer lab, which sounds so dated now, but yes, I'm old.

It's like that was, you know, I was one of the few girls who knew how to use it.

And I think the same thing for a lot of STEM events where I go towards like unless you had a dad usually, as often as it was who introduced you to this stuff at a young age, you, you do come into this with a huge disadvantage if you're like in high school or college, if you go to college going, I want to learn more about this and people are like, I'm 10 years ahead of you.

I mean, yeah, you don't even know where to start.


And I think it just can be very discouraging, right?

Like cause you're, you're kind of like jumping into the deep end of the pool and no one's taught you like even the basics how to float.


And you're thinking, should I know this already?

What's wrong with me?

Maybe I'm stupid.

Maybe I'm not meant for this.

Those are just things that I thought when I was going through this.

I mean, cause we all have imposter syndrome, right?

Like men and women, that's true.

And so I think this is just an exacerbated version of that.

And I relate by the way, I remember when we got our first personal computer and it was definitely driven by my dad.

And then he put it in the least desirable like corner of the attic.

Like there was one little desk.

So, you know, it just wasn't pleasant.

Like who was happy to go up there and hold away.

You want to go in the dusty hot attic?

That was awful.

Like, I know.

And also like very bad decision on where to keep a computer, but yeah.

We didn't know back then.


I feel like in a lot of ways I just got really lucky that my dad was an engineer already.

So for him, it was a work thing and that we had the floppy disks of a couple of different games and that I just took to it more than my older brother did.

It just happened to be that way.

And my dad encouraged it.

But if I didn't have my dad to do that, I don't know where I would have learned that.

And it's just like how many origin stories I've heard from people who are high up in cybersecurity or space or you name it.

And a lot of it starts at home.

It's like, well, not everyone's going to have that advantage.

How do we replicate that?

So exactly.


You know, now you can buy floppy disks as like vintage coasters.

So that pains me physically to think of that.

But at the same time, I probably would do that because I'm a nerd.

It's Simone.

I'm going to get you some.

I'm going to get you some vintage floppy disk coasters.

It's vintage.

I remember when they were new.

Anyway, Simone, now that I feel really old, it's been really.

I think I was just joining you in it.

Like I would just like, let's just dive in.

Oh my God.

Well, this is a problem that we can't solve on one episode of a podcast.

Certainly it is.

It is a huge, very complex issue that I know touches both of us personally in a lot of different ways.

And I'm just glad that we're trying to do a little something that to help.

And I guess if other women who are listening are feeling similarly lost that I have been, just know that you're not alone and that people are, we're all trying to help each other.

Yeah, me too.

And I really encourage any women that are listening and are interested in any component of the STEM field to seek out organizations in their field that are doing things like WESIS is doing for women in cybersecurity.

And if it doesn't exist, start one.

Because these organizations started with an idea and only a few people who said that we have to actually take action.

So I think if there's not an organization already in existence to sort of join and see if you can attach yourselves to what they're doing, then consider bringing in a few colleagues and friends and seeing if there's some collective action that we can take together.

I love it.

More heads are better than one.

Get those ideas together.

Simone, it's been a joy.

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

And picking up on that thread for supporting women in aerospace, we are a space podcast after all.

Indeed, there are a number of organizations out there for networking and professional mentorship.

They include WIA or Women in Aerospace for professional development and networking and the Girls in Aerospace Foundation for mentorship for young women ages 14 to 24.

That is it for T-Minus Deep Space for March 9th, 2024.

We'd always love to know what you think of this podcast.

You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes.

Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in this rapidly changing space industry.

This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman.

Our executive producer is Jen Iben.

Our VP is Brandon Karp, and I'm Maria Varmazes.

Thanks so much for listening.

We'll see you tomorrow.

[MUSIC] [MUSIC] [MUSIC] (gentle music)

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