From the Gulf to the UK: The women supporting women to keep society cyber secure

Since our latest UK-Gulf Women in Cybersecurity Fellowship began in September, we’ve been energetically continuing to support outstanding female cyber security professionals from across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As part of our delivery of the Fellowship – on behalf of the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) alongside our partner digital risk management consultancy PGI – we were thrilled our Fellowship alumni joined us in the UK.

We designed the fellows’ visit to arm them with rich insight from government, industry and startups, offering a deep dive into the UK’s methods of cyber threat protection across policy, operations and innovation. 

First on the agenda was a visit to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – which Plexal is innovation partner of – where the delegation heard how the NCSC collaborates with the private sector to improve awareness and responsiveness to industry challenges. Fellows engaged with senior stakeholders on the day as sessions touched on growing the UK cyber ecosystem and developing the National Cyber Strategy.

Most notably, they even had the opportunity to meet NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron, who encouraged them to be comfortable as a leader and to own the position they’re in wholeheartedly for the good of the team and organisations they represent.  

Lindy also advised that they should embrace their individuality rather than trying to fit in with stereotypical societal norms – something that can set them apart as a trendsetter even when they don’t realise it.

The next day, the Fellowship visited our Plexal Stratford office on the Here East campus, where Juliette Wilcox CMG, Cyber Security Ambassador at the Department for Business and Trade kicked off proceedings to deliver a keynote, when she expressed how delighted she is to see fellows at international events around the world, representing their countries, as well as the Fellowship.

Our very own Monika Radclyffe, Director of Innovation Programmes at Plexal, took to the stage next and shared our role in working with startups to solve cyber challenges through programmes such as NCSC For Startups, Cyber Runway and CyberASAP. Her advice to the fellows was to take advantage of business programmes available, especially if they wish to pursue entrepreneurial careers.  

And joining Monika for a fireside chat, Sunaina Aytan, Cyber Security Consultant at Airbus and UK Cyber Security Council member, shared her career journey with fellows and reinforced the importance for women to support each other in cyber.

With the jam-packed morning continuing, Simeon Quarrie, CEO and Founder at Vivida, an NCSC For Startups alumnus, took to the stage and shared how he’s using storytelling to help train teams in cyber security and other specialist topics.

Commenting on his time with the fellows, Simeon opined: “What’s really stood out to me is how much all the attendees are very much focused on cyber security and the importance of awareness.

“That applies inside the organisations they represent but what’s been inspiring to see is how much they’re thinking about this from a citizen level to keep everyone safe – and that’s been children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. One of the key things we dug into was looking at how storytelling makes cyber security much more accessible to the individuals you need to reach. That means trying to put cyber security into situations and scenarios those in the audience are going to resonate with. The thing we really focused on is making it relatable and storytelling has a good part to play with that.  

“The other thing we unlocked was the power of innovation and technology, in attracting people to the conversation who wouldn’t normally be involved in it, and that’s where we looked at VR to get people involved and aware versus having them put up a level of resistance. But what I’ve really admired from the group is how they’re focused on making cyber security approachable, relatable and accessible to everyone in the in the regions that they represent.”

We then had speed networking with UK cyber startups. Fellows were fascinated both about their various technologies but also how the businesses are solving cyber threats and working with industry, proceeding to share details of the cyber challenges faced at their organisation and within their country with the various leaders.

As well as connecting with Simeon for networking, fellows met: 

  • Dillan Shikotra from Microtech, which provides award-winning IT support services 
  • Jonathan Wood and Jada Darkwah from C2 Risk, which specialises in supply chain risk 
  • Andrew Richardson and Harry Potter from Safetech Innovations, which offers an autonomous and extensible SOC services and affordable cyber threat intelligence  

The knowledge exchange was followed with a hearty lunch before the Fellowship boarded a coach and travelled to Sunbury-on-Thames to visit the BP Security Operations Centre, complementing the government and startup insights gathered at NCSC and Plexal respectively with an industry perspective. The fellows had the opportunity to engage SOC staff in a discussion on real life incidents and the risks to a global business should threats not be addressed.

Dalal Al Aqeedi, who attended as part of the Fellowship alumni, closed to say: “I feel fortunate to have been selected for the UK-Gulf Women in Cybersecurity Fellowship programme. The opportunity to participate in a business trip to London was an incredible experience that not only expanded my professional network but also provided valuable insights into the latest trends and best practices in the field.

“Our group during the networking event and the Fellowship programme offered a unique chance to connect with other female professionals in cyber security from GCC countries and being part of this community allowed me to share experiences and learn from peers facing similar challenges and opportunities in our respective countries.

“Topics covered included the ethical considerations of artificial intelligence (AI), critical infrastructure protection and diversity and inclusion strategies. Having the opportunity to tour [NCSC, Plexal and BP] facilities and engage with the team was truly eye-opening. Their innovative approaches to data privacy and security were inspiring and I was impressed by their commitment to fostering diversity and inclusivity within their organisations. 

“Overall, my involvement in the UK-Gulf Women in Cybersecurity Fellowship was an invaluable experience that helped broaden my horizons as a cyber security professional and connected me with a powerful global network committed to promoting gender diversity in tech.”

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