Women Making History in Cybersecurity: Iris Rojas Santoni

In September 2021, Girls Who Code partnered with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop pathways for young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity and technology. This partnership seeks to tackle diversity disparities by heightening the awareness of cybersecurity and technology careers and working with employers to build tangible pathways for young women, especially young women of color, to get hands-on experience in the private sector and the non-profit sector or government.

Our first collaborative initiative is a series of features of women who work in the cybersecurity field, including the exciting work CISA employees are doing. Today we’re spotlighting Iris Rojas Santoni, a Product Line Manager for Vulnerability Management in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

What challenges have you encountered in the cybersecurity field as a woman of color?

I was tagged as one of the “minority hires.” I’m a queer Puerto Rican born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to the US in 2013.

One of the first things I encountered was how frowned upon it is to show emotions in your work environment. I consider myself well connected to my emotions, and when I feel passionate about something, it shows. Oftentimes, rather than focusing on the analysis behind my work or what I shared, they would go straight to highlighting how emotional I came across. I felt lonely. I didn’t know who I could talk to to validate my feelings and thoughts when going through all of these instances.

Another challenge was feeling or thinking that I was not experienced enough or knowledgeable enough to participate, speak, or provide ideas in big meetings (“impostor syndrome”) because I didn’t study at a particular school or didn’t have a specific certification.

What advice would you give to girls of color who are interested in a cybersecurity career?

We need more of you, a lot more! Trust your intuition and “gut” feeling. You are absolutely capable of taking on a cybersecurity career. And if you take on that career, always be proud of your authentic self. Cybersecurity is way more than what’s usually assumed. Submit that application that you are still on the fence about. Many roles and positions are waiting to be filled by all of you to enable the cybersecurity field to be nothing but better and more resilient.

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