For our Women in IT Awards New York 2020, we spoke with inspirational women shortlisted in the Diversity Initiative of the Year category. Kicking off the series is Valerie Abend, founder and chair of the Accenture Cybersecurity Forum (ACF) Women’s Council, who has established herself as a champion for women in growth from middle management of technology and cyber security careers.
Her vision, leadership and active involvement have established the Women’s Council as a vital, influential community of women chief information security officers (CISOs) who are contributing their perspectives and initiating meaningful conversations about diversity and gender balance in cyber security.
With 56% of women with a technical education leaving the workplace at mid-level in their careers, according to the National Centre for Women and Information Technology, the Women’s Council under Valerie’s leadership is committed to supporting the rise of women in cyber security.
Using insights and approaches, the Women’s Council aims to boost the rise of women to executive levels and beyond to boards in the progressive phases of their careers.
Force for change
During the past two years, Valerie has established the Women’s Council as a force for change through leadership, research, information sharing and networking.
The Women’s Council has played a crucial role in encouraging dialogue on overcoming roadblocks at the midpoint of a woman’s cyber security career, preparing women in security for board service, building mature cyber operations, using technology for digital inclusion, addressing cyber regulation and privacy, exploring cyber security priorities for boards, and identifying cyber threats and policy solutions.
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Women’s Council members are empowered to speak first-hand about what it took to get where they are today and can provide powerful insights about how to better support women at the mid-point of their careers.
The Women’s Council is composed of women who have risen to top leadership roles in a supremely gender-imbalanced cyber security workforce.
They are CISOs and senior security executives building cyber resilience while serving as role models for other women to advance in their cyber careers.
Walking the talk
Moreover, Valerie has demonstrated that she “walks the talk” by recruiting rising-star women managers annually to support the Women’s Council’s work. This special role provides these future leaders with growth opportunities through exposure to senior women members.
As the mother of two daughters, she delights in seeing young women perceive their bright futures that lie ahead.
Her favorite professional moments over the past year have resulted from senior male colleagues at her clients reaching out to ask her to mentor the future women leaders on their teams.
Valerie hires and retains a diverse team within Accenture. She also mentors and sponsors women within Accenture, at her clients and beyond.
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Valerie joined Accenture after serving as senior critical infrastructure officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, where she advised United States banking regulatory principals on cyber security.
She previously led Bank of New York Mellon’s global business partnerships for information risk management along with the bank’s external relationships with the government, trade associations and industry groups.
In an interview with Business Wire, Kelly Bissell, Accenture Security senior managing director, commented: “Valerie has been at the heart of cyber security issues affecting the U.S. financial system. Her vision in sector-wide cyber risk management issues will add tremendous value in helping our clients manage security at the intersection of regulation, technology, operations and innovation, such as Blockchain and Fintech.”
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He added, “As we continue to serve our clients across the globe, Valerie brings tremendous leadership and regulatory experience that will be instrumental in furthering our strategic goals.”
Holding the front lines
Valerie stated: “Financial institutions are at the front lines defending against sophisticated threat actors targeting the institutions’ customers, employees and third parties. I have spent my career helping financial institutions manage these security challenges and mitigate risks so they can focus on innovating to achieve their strategic business objectives.”
She noted that she was excited to join Accenture due to the company’s global presence and the industry know-how required to solve complex security challenges for clients, according to Business Wire.
During 2019, the Women’s Council conducted ground-breaking research to gather members’ perspectives, distil them into a set of challenges, and provide organisations with potential solutions to support women in reaching the highest levels in their cyber security careers.
Insights from the research will be leveraged at the ACF North America Summit for CISOs April 22-23 in New York.
For more information about the Women in IT Summit and Awards, click here.