As a lecturer, author and “data detective”, Mia Landsem is already an inspiration to many women. She hopes to inspire more women to choose the IT security industry – and to take up a lot of space when they get there.
When intimate photos of handball player Norwegian Nora Mørk were spread online in 2017, Mia Landsem became known as the “data detective” who revealed the source of the spread. In the wake of this, she has received a lot of attention for her fight against revenge porn and illegal sharing of nude photos. In addition to profiling these topics in the media, she has also made a name for herself as a lecturer and author, where she focuses on online knowledge and the importance of consent.
Today, Mia works as an ethical hacker in the pentest team in Orange Cyberdefense Norway. That may seem like a completely logical career step for her, but it was actually a knee injury that led her to what she today describes as her dream job.
“The original plan was Olympic participation with the junior national team in Taekwondo, and then apply to the Police Academy. However, a serious knee injury put an end to both. That was when I decided to study Network and IT Security instead, something I am very happy about today. I love my job, and have never experienced more respect, support and equality anywhere else” she says.
There was no shortage of job offers when Mia was nearing the end of her studies in 2020. But there was one employer in particular that stood out as a natural choice.
“Orange Cyberdefense Norway supported my dreams and wanted me to continue the important job I was doing around being safe online. I was not the best hacker at the time, but they were willing to spend time and resources on me” she says and continues:
“They saw a talent they wanted to develop further, and I was ready to put in the work to succeed. The whole situation made me think of an expression I learned in my sports career: “Hard work beats talent, when talent tops working hard”.
When Mia started in Orange Cyberdefense Norway, the pentest team consisted of three people. One and a half years later, they are now 11, two of whom are women. The proportion of women in the company is now about 25%, but the management is working purposefully to recruit more women. It is an investment Mia supports.
“It’s a smart way to go. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is profitable for the company. Having a higher proportion of women does something with the dynamics and working environment here, which creates well-being and increases both creativity and productivity. We have had this confirmed by those who have worked here since the beginning, when there were only male employees.”
Mia herself has recruited two of her three classmates from Noroff for positions within the company. In addition, she was involved in recruiting her best friend as Office Manager.
“Many are recruited by other women in the company, which says a bit about the environment here. We would never have recruited other women if it was a sexist or discriminatory work environment. Here we are treated equally with the guys in every way. We are primarily treated as human beings, not women” she emphasizes.
Although gender equality within the IT security industry has improved in recent years, we still have a way to go, Mia believes.
“You don’t solve the problem just by bringing women onboard. We must also work to include women, get them talking and give them space to be heard. They must be given the opportunity to show what they are good at. Companies must dare to front their ladies, and at the very least support them in comment field debates. It is important that we women support each other, but it’s also important that we have men who believe in us and who support us”
She cites an example from when she published a post on LinkedIn that was about sexual harassment. She received many ugly comments, but she also noticed that there were many men in leadership positions who came with encouraging comments and shared her post.
“Their actions may help to change the thinking of those who don’t listen to us. If your male boss shares my post, and shows that he completely agrees with what I say, then it will contribute a lot.”
In Mia’s experience it’s primarily men who speak up in the IT security groups online. When she has asked other women why this is the case, they answer that they are afraid of not being taken seriously, or that they will be laughed at. Therefore, Mia chose to start the group «Women in cyber security Norway», which has around 160 members.
“It’s not like the ODA Network, which works for diversity in technology industries. This will be a discussion forum where women are trained to express themselves in a safe environment, so that they become comfortable enough to do so even elsewhere. There are many women who have had bad experiences, so we see a clear need for this group” she says.
Mia hopes that male leaders will become better at focusing on diversity and recruiting more women to their businesses. And once they’re hired, that there will be more support for them. But to get there more women must be brave enough to apply for these positions.
Women generally need to venture more into working life. Go for what you want, whether it’s in IT security or something completely different. Apply for the job you think you are not qualified for. Believe that you are good enough. We all need to become better at cheering for each other.
“You should also dare to publish a professional post on social media, go to IT security conferences and be visible within the industry. If you don’t think you’re good enough, swallow your fears and publish it anyway. If you get any negative feedback, contact me or anyone else you feel you can talk to. You are not alone. Take your place at the table and don’t be afraid to make noise” Mia concludes.