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Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “There are plenty of men who support women and provide a path for more women in tech” With Tonia Dudley of Cofense

I know some women haven’t had great experiences working in STEM or Tech. I’ve been fortunate to have great leaders that empowered me to grow in this field. Amidst criticism of the challenges facing women in tech, we most often hear about bad male leaders. But I do believe there are plenty of men in this field who do support women and provide a path for the development of more women in tech.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonia Dudley the Security Solutions Advisor, Cofense. With more than a decade of cybersecurity experience, Tonia has managed cybersecurity incident response, security awareness programs, and IT compliance programs for large scale global organizations like Charles Schwab and Honeywell.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career has been a journey. The first 12 years I spent in various finance / accounting roles. After over 10 years in various IT roles, I was looking for my next move to a cybersecurity role. Making career transitions are easiest in your current organization, where others can vouch for your work ethic and ability to learn something new.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

A little over a year ago, I was moved to work under Aaron Higbee, Cofense’s co-founder and CTO, who also oversees the Labs (research) team. Being under Aaron’s direct leadership has allowed me to have many opportunities to learn, as well as work on some really amazing projects. One of the projects I’ve been involved in is related to the 2020 Election. I assisted in coordinating the partnership we have with Defending Digital Campaigns.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the reasons I came to Cofense was because of what they believed in from the very beginning — stopping phishing attacks in their tracks. When I started doing Security Awareness and needed to focus on the phishing problem, it was clear that the leaders saw beyond the training issue. This has been demonstrated over the years as we continue to keep our products focused on the full phishing defense problem that organizations are trying to solve.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am and always have been the kind of person looking at ways to solve big picture problems. In between speaking at events and meeting with customers, I have a list of projects that keep me busy. With a background in finance, I’m concerned about the amount of phishing we’ve seen over the past year or so targeting finance teams and themes. So the project that is whispering at me lately is digging into this data and seeing where that leads.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

There have been a lot of opportunities to bring STEM to younger girls and I think this needs to continue. I think it is important to get younger girls exposed to these topics earlier, and allow them explore these opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I would say opportunity is likely the biggest challenge faced by women in tech. I have been fortunate enough to have great leaders that gave me opportunities, but I’ve heard from peers that they’ve had to fight for similar opportunities such as getting assigned special projects or a new role.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I know some women haven’t had great experiences working in STEM or Tech. I’ve been fortunate to have great leaders that empowered me to grow in this field. Amidst criticism of the challenges facing women in tech, we most often hear about bad male leaders. But I do believe there are plenty of men in this field who do support women and provide a path for the development of more women in tech.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I think about my career in cybersecurity, there are a couple of leaders when I was at Honeywell that helped me get where I’m at today. The first is Jason Lish. Not long after I started in my first cybersecurity role, there was a major incident that needed resources for the mitigation project. He pulled me into the project, which allowed me to learn a great deal about cyber. Shortly after that project came to a close, Neil Sehgal asked me to consider the Security Awareness role. I remember being a bit resistant since I had finally gotten back to a technical role. However, moving into this role allowed me to find my passion for security awareness, which I’ve done in some capacity since 2011.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When you have a passion for Security Awareness, you see the world as your “users” that always have something to learn. Whether it’s talking to my own family on the topic of good password hygiene, sitting in a restaurant having the waitress ask about the camera cover on my laptop, or my financial advisor asking me to speak at the annual Christmas party — I try to spread security awareness in any way I can.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Watching my friend start up her own business a few years ago, it was clear that small businesses don’t have the resources to spend on cybersecurity — but they are just as susceptible as any other business to cyber threats. There are nonprofits and organizations trying to give the segment of the businesses focus, but there’s still a lot to be done to help protect these businesses.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Throughout my career journey, I allowed myself to be open to opportunities, even if it was a lateral move.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

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