WiCyS 2020. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) 2020 Conference Turns Into A Virtual Success

Lynn Dohm, Executive Director, shares the experience

Di Freeze, Managing Editor

Northport, N.Y. – May 6, 2020

Lynn Dohm’s involvement in cybersecurity started in 2009 when she began working for the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA), a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in cybersecurity.

“At that point, I discovered the innovative, fast-paced and forever-changing world of cybersecurity and was hooked ever since,” she said.

From there, she worked with other NSF grants and nonprofits such as National CyberWatch Center, CyberWatch West and the National Cyber League. In 2014, a colleague dropped a flyer on her desk about the Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) Conference, started by Dr. Ambareen Siraj, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, with a National Science Foundation grant.

Dohm was very interested in attending the event and was disappointed when she found out it was at full capacity. However, in 2015, she worked with Dr. Siraj on various projects for the conference.

In 2018, WiCyS became a nonprofit with the strong mission to recruit, retain and advance women in cybersecurity year-round as a member-based organization. Dohm attended her first WiCyS conference that year.

“I knew from that point forward my heart and soul were guided by the WiCyS mission to recruit, retain and advance women in cybersecurity,” said Dohm.

Once WiCyS became a nonprofit, Dohm started working more closely with the previous executive director in her role to strengthen membership, strategic partnerships and conference preparation. When the executive director position was posted in August 2019, the WiCyS founder reached out to Dohm because of her engagement experience with WiCyS and encouraged her to apply. Dohm did and became the executive director in October 2019.

“Being executive director has been an outstanding experience as all my passions in my personal life intersect with my professional life,” she said. “WiCyS is a community where everyone has a story to share on their career advancement, including me.”

As executive director, she looked forward to planning WiCyS 2020, which was to take place in Colorado in March. But there is much more to WiCyS.

“The conference is an important initiative of ours in addition to our scholarship and awards program, speaking opportunities, Job Board++, market research, career fairs, online member forum, webinar series, newsletters and more,” she said. “We also support our members through various communities. We have 19 professional affiliates, 97 student chapters, an allies and advocates for action community, mentor/mentee community, speaker community and veterans group.”

As the 2020 conference approached, The COVID-19 pandemic became a concern. Dohm said that the necessity to cancel the event was a difficult one due to the dedication of more than 400 volunteers who invested their time and energy for over a year to make it successful.

“On the afternoon of March 5, when we received more news from conference sponsors that they could not attend due to travel restrictions, we knew the event was no longer viable,” she said.

That’s when Dr. Janell Straach, WiCyS chair of the board, had to make the hard decision to cancel the conference, in consultation with the leadership team. Together, they set up a path forward.

Developing strategies to ensure successful outcomes is an area where Dohm thrives. Being a strategist and problem solver enables her to be able to pivot quickly in times of need.

“In the middle of all the chaos of COVID-19, it was a useful skillset to be able to embrace the problem the WiCyS community was facing, accept that this was a challenge and get hyper-focused on next steps,” she said.

They knew nothing could replace an in-person event, but due to the incredible outpouring of love and support from the WiCyS community, they identified the need for a virtual summit. Part of the leadership team went to Colorado to wrap up what would have been WiCyS 2020 while the other half began researching and interviewing virtual platforms.

WiCyS Virtual 20 was established once we were confident we had a strategy in place that would provide a professional development and networking experience for our members,” she said.

When they made the decision to host WiCyS Virtual 20, the organization knew “employers were ready to recruit and WiCyS members were ready to become employed.”

“We also identified the significant need for professional development and networking among our community,” she said. “After doing a quick check with potential presenters and sponsors/partners, WiCyS Virtual 20 turned into a reality.”

Less than 3.5 weeks later, thanks to the support of many, WiCySv20 was a success with 22 presentations, eight socials, seven keynotes, over 1,100 attendees, 70 sponsored booths, and 1,747 active profiles and resumes in the database for the career fair.

“The reviews of the event were fantastic,” Dohm said. “We are pleased to report the #WiCySv20 hashtag reached eight million.”

WiCyS Virtual 20 was a three-day event, starting April 15, with opening remarks, keynotes and concurrent sessions.

“We held socials in the evening,” Dohm said. “The virtual summit ended April 17 with a career fair in which we had over 9,100 unique booth visits. The exhibitors were pleased with the quality of candidates, and we received positive feedback from them about hires. WiCyS was able to create opportunities, virtually, and for that we are very thankful!”

Dohm says the entire leadership team was key to the event’s success.

“Twenty-eight volunteers contributed their expertise, feedback, lessons learned from other virtual events and more,” she said. “From our committee meetings, we realized we needed to thread the networking piece throughout the event. As a result, we had a networking lounge, full-chat functionality at exhibitor booths and chat/Q&A during each session. We were pleased with the abundance of networking as everyone shared Twitter handles and LinkedIn profiles.”

She said the event couldn’t have been successful if 100 percent of the WiCyS community hadn’t rallied behind WiCyS Virtual 20.

“We gave presenters three days to submit their presentations/workshop, affiliates had two days to submit their social ideas while the lightning talks, poster presenters and keynotes all had two days to commit,” she said. “Potential sponsors were identified and had two weeks to organize their booths. It was a strong commitment by ALL that made it so successful. This speaks volumes to the integrity of the community and how everyone involved in WiCyS is so committed to being stronger together!”

Sponsors immediately got behind the virtual events.

“Actually, they were thrilled because it seemed like WiCyS was one of the first diversity/inclusive nonprofits to announce virtual plans,” she said. “Our sponsors were extremely enthusiastic to move forward because we pivoted and quickly provided this opportunity for them. We didn’t wait for things to settle. We knew COVID-19, and these unfortunate circumstances, were here to stay for a while and swiftly embraced our community with next steps.”

Now that WiCyS Virtual 2020 has ended, Dohm’s attention is on other initiatives, such as the newly launched veterans assistance program, which will help bridge the gap from military career experience to cybersecurity careers.

“Phase one of this program offers female veterans a discounted member and conference rate as well as an opportunity to apply for our Veteran Fellowship Award,” she said. “Phase two will offer veteran women a training, apprenticeship and employment program.”

This summer, WiCyS is also launching a new membership platform.

“It will provide better engagement between members as well as trainings, internships and research opportunities,” Dohm said. “We’ll be sharing the WiCyS Virtual 20 recorded sessions among our WiCyS members and much more!”

For women wanting to get involved in cybersecurity, Dohm says, “Do it! Diversity of thought is so critically needed in the cybersecurity workforce. When looking at a problem that has never existed before, the more diverse the team the better able different perspectives can tackle the challenge.”

Her advice is just “dive right in and know you have a community cheering you on every step of the way.”

“WiCyS has resources, mentors and opportunities!” she says. “Whether you are a high school student, changing careers or advancing in your occupation, WiCyS provides the support you need. We often say, ‘Together, we thrive,’ and that’s the truth – together, we continue to rise! Each WiCyS member has a different story to tell. Collectively, we are the voice of women in cybersecurity.”

In addition to her position at WiCyS, Dohm is also president at The Nelly Group, LLC,  a provider of marketing services to a myriad of organizations in tech and other industries such as leather repair and finishing, and signage. “Lynn and her firm are extremely versatile and experienced,” says Steve Morgan, founder of Cybersecurity Ventures and editor-in-chief at Cybercrime Magazine. “I was impressed by Lynn’s recent public relations efforts for MATE II,  a nonprofit organization that challenges students to apply STEM skills in an underwater robotics competition.”

Dohm is proof that women can do absolutely anything!

Di Freeze is Managing Editor at Cybersecurity Ventures.