Mission Possible: Sitting down with globally renowned cybersecurity expert, Diana Burley

Cybersecurity is critical to how our society functions. It is also evolving as quickly as it’s growing, and in this industry dominated by white men, Diana Burley is making sure her unique voice is helping to shape the future.


By Stephania Varalli


Diana Burley is a globally recognized cybersecurity expert. She has consulted with corporations and government agencies, conducted international cybersecurity awareness training on behalf of the U.S. State Department, testified before the US congress, co-authored a textbook and written nearly 80 publications on cybersecurity, information sharing, and IT-enabled change, to name a few of her accomplishments. She is the current executive director and chair of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (know as I3P, it’s a research consortium of 26 different institutions), and a full professor of human & organizational learning at The George Washington University (GW).

While her impressive resume is enough to set her apart in her field, there’s something else that makes Diana stand out from the majority of her colleagues. She is a woman. “And I’m not just a woman, I’m a woman of colour,” she adds.

The resulting discrimination has been both overt and subtle, and present through all stages of her career. “I can still remember the first class that I taught as a young professor in I.T.,” says Diana, “and having to walk into the room and run down my credentials just to make sure that the students would be respectful of me as the professor.”

It’s not fair, she acknowledges, but it’s also not something she dwells on. She credits her mentors for helping her deal with the discrimination and loneliness she’s encountered. “Mentors that were both male and female, and who helped to toughen me up, helped to instil in me a confidence in my own value — because one of the best defences against being isolated or discriminated against, or even having the perception of being discriminated against, is to have a great deal of confidence in your ability.”

That confidence has also helped Diana to recognize that the attributes that set her apart from her colleagues also provide her with a unique perspective — one that needs to be heard. “At a certain point I started to look at my role and responsibility in the room as one of critical importance,” she explains, “because I was the lone voice.”


“One of the best defenses against being isolated or discriminated against, or even having the perception of being discriminated against, is to have a great deal of confidence in your ability.”


Diana understands better than most how the people in charge of creating the technology have an impact on the technology that’s created. After taking programming classes during her undergraduate degree in Economics, she started to realize that her interest in technology was associated with its interaction with people not only how technology influences their behaviour, but also how their behaviour, in turn, influences the way that technology develops. When she got into graduate school she discovered it was something she could actually study. Continuing on this path, Diana earned a PhD in Organization Science and Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University.

It was this focus that eventually led her towards cybersecurity. “I was in graduate school at a time when there was a considerable movement towards paperless government,” she explains. “I became very interested in the notion of government providing resources through technology, and how that influenced citizen’s behaviour.” This inevitably led her to questions related to cybersecurity. “How do people access services? How do we ensure that their data is safe? How do we get thinking about privacy issues? Overtime those questions became the bigger part of what I did. It was a natural evolution. It wasn’t purposeful. It was just a steady march towards understanding this interface between people and technology, and the path led me into the cybersecurity space.”

The evolution hasn’t stopped. Cybersecurity is a constantly changing landscape, and it takes hard work and dedication to just keep pace — let alone stay ahead of the curve. You have to be a continuous learner in order to be successful, Diana says, aware of new threats that emerge in the environment, and new ways of addressing those threats.

“It’s extremely challenging just trying to maintain the level of currency and knowledge needed,” she says, but for Diana, this is a positive aspect of her chosen career. “I think that it is the notion of a very dynamic field that has kept my interest. There is always something new to learn, something new to explore.”

This constant change also creates a problem, however: the academic institutions trying to develop programs for this new discipline must balance fundamentals with flexibility. Add to that a limited pipeline of high school graduates ready for a STEM career, and an industry that’s growing exponentially — and it leads to a global shortage of two million cybersecurity professionals by 2019 (according to ISACA, an international professional association focused on IT governance).

“We are actually seeing the gap between supply and demand growing,” says Diane, “despite the fact that there are people around the world who are working very hard to fill those needs,”

Not surprisingly, Diana is one of those people. She currently co-chairs the Joint Task Force on Cybersecurity Education, which has undertaken the project of producing the first set of global cybersecurity curricular guidelines. The aim is to enable institutions to develop programs that meet a set global standard, producing graduates that have a common knowledge base and set of skills. It not only helps government and industry to have a sense of what they’ll be getting in a new hire, but also helps to guarantee students that they’ll be receiving a practical education.  


“At a certain point I started to look at my role and responsibility in the room as one of critical importance, because I was the lone voice.”


And what is Dian’s advice to all those students — especially the girls — that hope to follow her into this “very tiresome and rewarding a nerve-wracking and exciting” field?

“While all of the other things are important, the most important thing is to do your work. When you get a break, and when you get a mentor, and when you get to the table, you want to have something of value to contribute,” says Diana. “The second thing is to begin to develop a tough skin that allows you to put setbacks in perspective. As a scientist, failure is not a negative. Failure is simply a notation that says ‘this experiment does not work, and so I will try this next one.’”

She’s also quick to point out how rewarding a career in cybersecurity can be, as a field that has an impact on how society operates. “We really have to develop the human resources, the technical resources, to ensure our collective ability to function as we get more hyper-connected,” Diana points out. It’s a sentiment she believes she shares with her colleagues.

“One thing that I have found in this field is that most of the people that you interact with are all doing this because they really believe in the mission,” says Diana, “That mission might be securing a system, that mission might be developing a workforce, or that mission might be simply being someone that someone else behind me might look to know that if I can do it, they can do it too.”


Want to have it all? Put a hand up for yourself, and a hand out for others

“Procuring and teaching the right people to work together to get things done enables great things to happen”


By Liz Bruckner


When Donna Venable speaks about helping others, it’s clear it’s an important part of who she is. “I believe that giving back is a responsibility we all have. My parents instilled this perspective in me as a child, and my husband and I worked to do the same with our children.”

It’s no surprise then that Donna has achieved huge success in the field of human resource management. Serving as Executive Vice President, Human Resources for Ricoh in the Americas since 2008, she oversees approximately 31,000+ employees across Canada, the U.S. and South America, has amassed almost 25 years of management experience in her industry, and has set many impressive standards as a champion of women’s business initiatives and inclusion throughout her career.

A graduate of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, Donna’s foray into management came through a nationwide retail and property management brand. After joining the company during a time of marked growth, she says it quickly became apparent that a shortage of talent was undoing the brand’s success. “There were numerous opportunities for growth, but we were at a loss because the talent needed to achieve our business goals was lacking.”

It was realizing the necessity to recruit and train the right people that caused Donna to branch into human resources, and ultimately set her burgeoning career in motion. “Having studied political science with a focus on business, what was compelling to me about this sector of business was seeing first-hand the importance of selecting a great team. Procuring and teaching the right people to work together to get things done enables great things to happen,” she says.

Of course, her job-related triumphs haven’t come without struggles. “Having organically merged into a facet of business without a solid knowledge base, I’ve made it vital over the years to earn after-hours certifications and take courses to build on my understanding of the human resources function, and to positively impact the level of talent being procured.”

“Ultimately, there are so many opportunities that come our way that taking the time to help others is vital, professionally and personally.”

Dealing with gender-related stigmas was another obstacle she encountered. “Earlier on in my career, it became apparent that, because of my gender, bringing my skills to the table had the potential to be difficult. That said, I never let it stop me, and my experiences—good and bad—have been integral to my drive to propel talented women forward.”

Donna is now passionate about championing women’s initiatives within Ricoh worldwide. “This is going back a number of years, but I vividly recall attending a luncheon held by a successful female executive. She hosted it to discuss how women can bring value to their jobs, and how management can support and propel them forward.” During the chat, Donna recalls the executive talking about how men will strongly pursue a job that they may not have all the qualifications for, while women tend to wait “until they feel they’re ready, until they have all the qualifications. It’s this self-imposed difference that prevents many women from stepping forward and letting their talent shine.”

The result of this discussion, Donna says, was her becoming keenly aware of the need for women to think differently, to be confident, and to recognize and grow their talent. And she’s dedicated to helping them on that path. Working for a company that enables and supports these efforts is something she’s very grateful for—it’s her personal definition of having it all.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly strong leaders that happen to be women, and I’m thrilled and proud that the Ricoh brand is so willing to encourage women into these roles,” she says. “Ultimately, there are so many opportunities that come our way that taking the time to help others is vital, professionally and personally, and being a part of a brand dedicated to creating a corporate social responsibility has been incredibly rewarding.”


We’ve partnered with Ricoh in engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of women, focusing on “having it all.” How you define it, what factors enable you to achieve it, and how you have worked differently to meet your goals. Ricoh is a global technology company specializing in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services.

Meet Dr. Christine Sow: President and Executive Director of Global Health Council

Dr. Christine Sow is the first woman to take the helm of the Global Health Council (GHC), a leading membership organization supporting and connecting advocates, implementers, and stakeholders around global health priorities worldwide. Over the span of her career, she has led numerous initiatives to strengthen health systems and increase access to lifesaving drugs and services, working for non-profit, academic, bilateral and multilateral agenciesincluding more than 15 years in West Africa. Her current role as President and Executive Director of GHS is based out of Washington, D.C., but has a worldwide impact. We asked her about being one of the few female leaders in her field, and the GHS Women Leaders in Global Health initiative.


By Stephania Varalli, Co-CEO, Women of Influence


Stephania: What inspired you to go into your field?

Christine: The way that I got into women’s health and global health was around the idea that women are caretakers, whether they like it or not. And if a woman has to worry about her own health, and she has to worry about the health of her children and her family, typically she’ll be the first person responsible for that. And while she is struggling to get the money to pay for the care they need, or while she is sitting up at night with a sick kid, all that is taking her away from being able to mobilize around her rights and the rights of her community and around exercising her potential. And so I see health as a fundamental building block in letting women meet their potential, in terms of their professional engagements and community engagements, and in terms of speaking for their rights and the rights of their community.

You have more than 20 years of global health leadership experience on your resume. When you started your career, did you see yourself going into leadership roles?

I don’t know that I’ve had that ambition as such, but I’ve definitely not held back from taking leadership, whether it’s on initiatives or projects that I’ve been involved with. And no one would say that I don’t like to express myself. I like the challenge of being in the front of an organization or the front of an initiative and setting the vision.

What drew you to your current role as President and Executive Director of Global Health Council (GHC)?

Although we’ve been around since the 1970s, the previous board actually closed the organization in 2012 and the membership took over and relaunched the organization in 2013. That looked like just the kind of challenge that I enjoy, and really a chance for me to put my mark on the organization which represents actors in global health across the spectrum—nonprofit, for-profit, research, academia, philanthropy—and to help craft an organization that would be pertinent and influential for years to come. It was a bit of a leap into the dark because it was taking over an organization that was without resources. We weren’t bankrupt, but we were without resources, except a very determined Board of Directors. That was really exciting, and it let me do something that was an immediate, hands-on experience.

Christine_400x400_v2You are one of the few women leaders in healthcare. Have you ever felt hindered or discriminated against because of your gender, and if yes, how have you handled it?

When I was a young professional I was actively targeted by a male colleague who wanted to have what I was trying to do discounted, and made it very clear it was because I was a young woman, and he felt threatened by that. Over the course of my career, because I’m just really stubborn and stuck through it, and because I’ve had people really supporting me in the background, I’ve tried to take on—how’s the diplomatic way to say this?—a “screw you” attitude. I know how good I am and I am going to go forward and show how good I am and influence things for the better.


The Global Health Council launched a Women Leaders in Global Health initiative in November of 2015. What brought this about?

It’s coming from the Global Health Council but we worked with four amazing young professional women that are passionate about this to put it together. What we all came together around is that if you look at the global health workforce, it’s about 75% female. But, as with so many other industries, as you look at the presence of women and the voice of women going up the leadership chain, when you get to the highest levels in terms of global governance and national governance, and when you look at who is speaking on high-level panels and events and conferences, it flips completely and it’s more like 75% men. We started digging down a bit. If you look at who is on the steering committees putting together these conferences, again, frequently it’s male-dominated. There’s an inherent problem there because that means that already the global health field is limiting our talent pool, when we think about voices that we’re bringing to the leadership table.

What do you hope to achieve with the initiative?

It’s focusing on advocacy, pushing these messages, and providing tools around how conferences and events and steering committees can speak more proactively around making sure they have an appropriate gender balance. It’s going to be around networking, helping women connect with other women working in these areas, as well as mentors and leaders. Building up not an old boy’s but a dynamic women’s network, knowing how much influence those networks can have on somebody’s career path. Through target activities around those areas, we’re going to be working both in the US and to the extent that we can, globally, to be pushing this idea and making it more visible.

And I assume you’ll continue partnering with passionate people on this?

Yes, we’re not going to be doing the work necessarily ourselves. GHC is an organization that is really committed to the idea of connecting advocate and actors, facilitating conversations, and providing opportunities for engagement. We’re really going to be looking out broadly at the different initiatives that are taking place. We know there are things out there going on, but they are not necessarily well mapped or well connected, and what we’re going to be trying to do is really build off of the individual initiatives that are already started and making them more powerful by bringing them together to create momentum.

What advice would you give to women starting out in their career?

Don’t assume the path is going to be linear. And don’t hesitate. You have to take risks. You can’t hold back till you’re ready. There is no perfect time.

What was your first job?

Scooping ice cream. I think that everybody in the world should work at least once in the service industry, because it teaches you so much about people, and about working quickly, and being responsible, and dealing with jerks.

If I googled you, I still wouldn’t know…

I’m a long-distance runner and that keeps me sane.