IWD 2024: Inspiring inclusion by sharing experiences, championing peers and providing opportunities

Continuing to push for a gender-equal world, this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is: inspire inclusion. “When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world,” says the IWD website. “And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment. Collectively, let’s forge a more inclusive world for women.”

We’re always proud to support and celebrate the trailblazers from across the Plexal community but with IWD upon us, we’re specifically spotlighting the latest wins of the female innovators and thought leaders among us.

Alumnus of our Cyber Runway and NCSC For Startups programmes, Nadia Kadhim, CEO and co-founder of Naq, which supports SMEs with cyber security and data compliance, has come into 2024 with intent. The business recently secured a £2.6m investment, while Nadia was profiled by Startups Magazine where she shared everything from her inspiration to launch the business as well as lessons learned.

One of the takeaways Nadia discussed with Startups Magazine’s associator editor Sheryl Miles was about challenges as a female leader, specifically around fundraising which she called “trial and error”. “But for me as a woman, I employed little tactics like slightly lowering my voice and adapting my body language, such as leaning back,” Nadia detailed. “The issue that we face as women is a prejudice against female entrepreneurs; we are being judged on traction, numbers, and proof, whereas men are often judged on promises, big vision, and the future.”

Fortunately, Nadia was able to find an appropriate investor that saw the value in her, the Naq team and product, meaning she could be her authentic self. “However, with the fund that ended up investing in us I didn’t have to employ any of those tactics, and I was just myself,” she added. “At the end of the day, it is about finding the right partner, that believes in your vision and believes in you, your experience, and the way you look at the world.”

Elsewhere, we’re pleased to have sponsored last week’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards 2024, with many members from our alumni community among the nominees.

With over 100 award entrants, the judges were tasked with whittling down the list to a top 20, five exceptional ‘Ones to Watch’, as well as Cyber Marketeer of the Year, which was won by Laura Reilly, Head of Digital Marketing at LT Harper.

The judges were:

  • Aurorah Cheney, Security Strategy and Growth Director at BT
  • Diane Gilbert, Innovation Ecosystem Lead at Plexal  
  • Eleanor Dallaway, co-founder of Assured Intelligence
  • Jenny Radcliffe, author and ‘people hacker’
  • Kate Wendelboe, Security Strategy and Growth Director at BT
  • Lorna Armitage, COO and co-founder of CAPSLOCK
  • Lucy Finlay, Client Delivery Director at ThinkCyber
  • Stephanie Itimi, CEO and founder of Seidea
  • Yvonne Eskenzi, co-founder of Eskenzi PR

And the Top 20 Most Inspiring Women in Cyber are:

  • Blessing Usoro, Information Security Manager at Cyber for School Girls
  • Chelsea Jarvie, CISO and Director of Neon Circle
  • Chiedza Kambasha, Senior Partner and Lead Crisis Consultant at AKG Global
  • Dr. Andrea Cullen, CEO and co-founder of CAPSLOCK
  • Dr. Iretioluwa Akerele, co-founder of CyBlack
  • Hazel McPherson, CISO of ALD Automotive and Director of 4FOX Security
  • Illyana Mullins, founder of WiTCH (Women in Tech and Cyber Hub)
  • Jan Carroll, Managing Director at Fortify Institute
  • Jennifer Fernick, Senior Staff Security Engineer and Encryption Lead at Google
  • Lauren Zink, Manager of Culture, Awareness and Training at Indeed
  • Lianne Potter, Head of SecOps at Asda
  • Lisa Ventura MBE, founder of Cyber Security Unity Limited
  • Melissa Chambers, CEO of Sitehop
  • Nikki Webb, Global Channel Manager at Custodian360
  • Rebecca Taylor, Threat Intelligence Knowledge Manager at Secureworks
  • Rosie Anderson, Head of Strategic Solutions at Th4ts3cur1ty Company
  • Samantha Humphries, Senior Director of International Marketing and Strategy at Exabeam
  • Stephanie Luangraj, CEO and founder of WomenWhoSecure
  • Zinet Kemal, Cloud Security Engineer at BestBuy
  • Zoe Mackenzie, Information Security Manager at TSG and Volunteer President at WiCyS UK&I Affiliate

The ones to watch are:

  • Ellie Calver, cyber security apprentice at BT
  • Jasmine Eskenzi, CEO and founder of The Zensory
  • Jenny McCullagh, graduate cyber security engineer at Leonardo and director and co-founder of CyberWomen Groups C.I.C
  • Nicole Borbely, BISO Senior Associate at PwC
  • Valeen Oseh-Ovarah, CEO and founder of Tisova

Jessica Moffatt-Owen, Innovation Lead at Plexal and panellist at this year’s event, said: “The event left me feeling truly inspired. I meet a lot of interesting people in my job, but it felt like some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met were all congregated in the BT Tower! Hearing about the journeys and ‘squiggly’ career paths of the winners was truly awe-inspiring. So many people were not only smashing their own career but a recurring theme was how they wanted to give back to others, particularly other women in the sector.

 “As I mentioned on the panel, I hope that one day in the future, hopefully a lot closer than the circa 100+ years currently predicted to close the gender pay gap, we’ll no longer need women-specific spaces and events. In my vision for the future, cyber is a 50:50 sector and equality has been achieved. However, right now we need changemakers, like those who won the awards, by daring to be brave, bold and ambitious. And we will need our allies in the cyber community and beyond to continue to help us strive towards equality.”

Another initiative we can announce we’re part of in search of inspiring inclusion is alongside the Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network (GlobalWIIN), which has begun the search for the brightest, most ingenious women for its Global Inventor and Innovator of the Year Awards.

The event is designed to help bridge the gender gap in science and technology as well as increase the success of innovations that truly matter. The award organisers are calling for individuals, academia, workplaces and businesses to nominate talented women who have a world-changing innovative idea, so make your nominations now! The winner will be announced at the GlobalWIIN Conference & Awards Ceremony on Wednesday 2nd – Thursday 3rd October, with the conference to be hosted at Plexal Stratford.

Bola Olabisi, who founded the GlobalWIIN awards, says: “Recognising inclusivity and the support for more women with ingenious ideas that can benefit our lives is so important especially at a time when the world faces many critical issues that need to be solved. We want to highlight the best and freshest ideas by women from a local and international perspective while assisting many to become investment ready.”

Kate Pearman, COO at Plexal, adds: “Collaboration is at the heart of Plexal’s ethos, so we’re proud to support GlobalWIIN in their mission to unite, celebrate and champion those women who make such powerful contributions to society and the economy.

“We’ve welcomed some truly phenomenal female leaders into our community and I hope this campaign encourages more innovators to come forward to make their presence known across the science and technology ecosystem at large.”

Ahead of IWD commencing, we collaborated with Plexal member Badu, the sports and mentoring community, to host an International Women’s Day Celebration panel on Thursday 7th March. During the session, we promoted the achievements and empowerment of women by shedding light on their experiences through diverse perspectives.

Our panellists included:

  • Charlene Edwards, a therapist dedicated to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and addressing inequalities within the system
  • Saima Mohsin, a Sky News presenter and international correspondent with experience reporting from 28 countries for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and CNN
  • Maisha Sumah, an international award-winning speaker working to empower individuals, groups, schools and organisations to amplify their authenticity
  • Reema Samuel-Lewis, Head of Diversity & Inclusion Partnerships at Sky, responsible for leading strategic change-driving initiatives

With the discussion covering everything from impostor syndrome to words of encouragement, Plexal community manager Manuela Sardano, says of the night: “The event was incredibly powerful. I particularly related to what Saima said around everything happening for a reason and wholeheartedly embracing one’s life journey. It was encouraging to see men in attendance at the event and agreed across the panel that allyship is important to change people’s perception because until men understand how much affects women, we can’t create change.”

Mercy Okutubo, Badu project specialist, concludes: “Yesterday’s talk was so necessary, providing a safe space for women to share their experiences and perspectives was so refreshing. Inspire Inclusivity was such a timely theme and I’m glad we were able to celebrate ALL women. Thank you once again to the BADU and Plexal team – we did it!”