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Victoria van Roosmalen: Inspiring Women to Defy Expectations

Ahead of appearing at CISO Europe, Victoria van Roosmalen shares her experience of success in a traditionally male-dominated industry

When it comes to traditional expectations of gender roles, Victoria van Roosmalen is no stranger to breaking the mold.

Growing up, she loved toys that inspired her to build. In education, she was drawn to science and engineering, despite some teachers discouraging her from taking ‘complicated’ classes.

“There were a few teachers telling me that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) was entirely out of my league. But back then, I was kind of rebellious, so I said, ‘well, great that you think so, but I'm still going to do this’”, van Roosmalen recalls. “I never felt held back by them, ever.”

Ahead of speaking at CISO Europe in November, Victoria Van Roosmalen, CISO and DPO for Dutch marketing software firm Coosto, spoke with Business of InfoSec about how to inspire young women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated fields like cybersecurity.

Starting Young with STEM

All too often, society pushes girls and boys in different academic directions. As van Roosmalen knows from experience, even parents’ choice of toys can have a profound impact on a child's path in life.

“If you walk into the toy shop, it's obvious. There's one part that is often very pink that targets girls, and one part that is often very blue that targets boys,” van Roosmalen says.

She continues: “My dad once brought K'Nex (a construction toy) home for me as a surprise. It was amazing – it became my favorite toy. I loved it,” van Roosmalen recalls. “I also had a Barbie. But it was just sitting there and looking pretty. I felt like, what the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

For van Roosmalen, the key is to give children the freedom to choose, from toys to school subjects and specializations, and not to falsely restrict their options.

“I think that's such an important thing. Mix it up,” she says. “Why limit them in their choices? Let them decide and choose.”

While progress has been made, more needs to be done to inspire young women and girls to study STEM, especially in further education, van Roosmalen thinks.

“However, I'm happy to see positive developments in that area,” she says. “We are increasingly creating awareness around [the importance of] STEM and all the cool things you can do with STEM.”

Inspiring more Women to Work in Cybersecurity

Inspiring more women to work in technical fields like cybersecurity, engineering and IT is a passion for van Roosmalen.

One trick, van Roosmalen thinks, is to paint a more enticing picture of what the job entails, particularly at higher levels, to draw more women graduates from more popular fields like economics and business management. 

“People often have the wrong impression of what security is,” she observes. “They think it's about hacking because that's what you see in movies.”    

She continues: “But it’s so much more than that. Ultimately, security is about finding the sweet spot between taking and limiting [the right] risks to help a company move forward and stay ahead – dealing with hackers is solely one of many aspects.”

Van Roosmalen hopes that she and other women can act as role models to inspire the next generation of leaders in cybersecurity.

“Honestly, there's a place for everyone here [in technical fields] – even if you don't happen to see someone who resembles you. However, I know a few women who've been told otherwise and sadly never dared to challenge themselves after that.” van Roosmalen says.

She concludes: “Never let anyone convince you of being incapable of doing something, ever. You got this!”

Victoria van Roosmalen is speaking at CISO Europe on November 2-3, 2021. To see the full line up of world-leading speakers and sessions, click here