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Senior-Level Women Leaders in Cybersecurity Form New Nonprofit

The Forte Group, which gained momentum as an informal organization during the pandemic, will offer career development and advocacy for women execs in cybersecurity as well as newcomers.

At the start of the pandemic two years ago, a group of high-level female cybersecurity executives informally began meeting remotely to share ideas, expertise, and professional support. That group of women execs — now with 90 members — today launched as a nonprofit called The Forte Group to officially offer career assistance, advocacy, mentoring, and educational programs for women in the infosec and technology fields.

The Forte Group includes CISOs from large enterprises such as Johnson & Johnson and Wayfair, and leaders from technology giants like Microsoft, as well as cybersecurity business leaders. 

What started as an "offset" in the pandemic grew into a community, says Didi Dayton, chair and president of the newly formed Forte board.

"The opportunity for cybersecurity practitioners to connect regularly with peers has bolstered that community, and we have seen an evolving network effect by members amplifying: sharing speaking opportunities, surfacing hot topics [such as] emerging tech, ransomware, hiring strategies, celebrating personal and professional wins, and finding peer mentors and a social network to have meaningful connections with," Dayton explains.

"When Things Get Tough"

The virtual forum that the Forte Group initially created provided a way for them to efficiently meet and collaborate on specific topics as well, she says. "Forte members share ideas and resources, and ground one another when things get tough — which for our CISOs is often, unfortunately," she says. For example, the group earlier this year held a town hall to share ideas and expertise on managing software bills of management (SBOMs).

"We have hosted world-renowned speakers to talk about everything from high-stakes negotiation tactics, global policy, personal branding, insurance, board prep ... to other curated topics for this audience," Dayton says.

The group's nonprofit status gives it room to raise funding for more formalized programs in career development and education for women in the industry, as well as scholarships for newcomers. "We're already in talks with corporate sponsors who align with our mission of developing and further careers for a diverse workforce in cybersecurity," says Zenobia Godschalk, vice president of The Forte Group. "In addition, some of our members are eager to contribute or redirect their speaker fees and other professional fees they receive towards Forte’s efforts."

Other Groups

Of course, The Forte Group is not the only organization for women in cybersecurity. Groups such as the Executive Women's Forum, Women in CyberSecurity (WiCys), the Diana Initiative, Women's Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), and others have been active for several years. But Godschalk says the new nonprofit will provide yet another resource for women in cybersecurity

"We know there is a lot of overlap in our membership with other groups in this space, and that's a wonderful thing," she says. "While some focus on just career development, and others focus on just privacy, for example, we believe there's room and need for a welcoming umbrella where women in this industry can find a resource for just about anything they're up against in their careers — whether that's how to negotiate an equity offer for comp or investment, how to navigate ransomware best practices, or how to join your first board."

In addition to Dayton and Godschalk, The Forte Group's board of directors includes Flora Garcia (secretary), global privacy and data protection office leader at Wayfair; Caroline Wong (treasurer), chief strategy officer at Cobalt; Swathi Joshi (member), vice president of SaaS cloud security at Oracle; Yael Nagler, Office of the CISO at Yass Partners; and Chenxi Wang (member), managing general partner at Rain Capital.

The Forte Group's roots date back to the so-called "Equal Respect" movement at the RSA Conference in 2014. Other members of The Forte Group include Aanchal Gupta, corporate vice president of Azure and M365 Security at Microsoft; Marene Allison, CISO of J&J; and Marnie Wilking, CISO at Wayfair.

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