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Social> Gender equality Updated: 26 Nov 2019

Female cybersecurity experts take the floor at BBVA

BBVA hosted the fourth edition of Women in Cybersecurity Spain (WiCS). WiCS is an initiative dedicated to promoting the role of women in cybersecurity - a field where they represent just 24 percent of the global workforce, according to International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ICS). Four women who are senior managers at BBVA participated in the event, which also served to discuss diversity in general.


“Few events are so closely connected to BBVA’s transformation as this one,” says Ricardo Forcano, the Global Head of Engineering and Organization at BBVA at a meeting organized by WiCS. Over 200 people attended the event at BBVA City.

On the one hand, because cybersecurity has become an essential pillar for the bank to fulfill its mission of helping customers use technology and data to make the best financial decisions, Forcano noted. “And also because this event is very clearly connected to the more profound transformation underway at BBVA: the cultural transformation,” he added.

Forcano recalled that gender diversity is a “fundamental chapter” of the transformation of the bank’s organizational model, “because the fact is that diverse teams are more effective.” In this regard, he stressed the need to commit to diversity in all of its dimensions (both gender, as well as cultural or generational). He also drew attention to some of the initiatives the bank is carrying out to improve diversity, such as the application of the Rooney rule in selection processes.

Four of the five women are part of BBVA’s senior management and participated in the event to share their experience taking on leadership roles in areas that have traditionally had little or no female presence.“Seeing this forum of specialized women is comforting, as this is a field where we have a lot more to say to women,” said Ana Fernández Manrique, the Global Head of Regulation and Internal Control at BBVA. The director recalled that frequently, “women set very high standards for themselves, which leads us to put limitations on ourselves. Investing in having more self-confidence would help us overcome the fears that prevent us from going further,” she added.

BBVA’s Global Head of Corporate Banking, Luisa Gómez Bravo, agreed, noting that “visibility “ is also crucial for women to reach leadership positions in companies. “Spending time networking and developing leadership skills is equally - if not more - important than increasing technical skills at certain professional levels,” she said during the meeting. So is being aware that women have gender “biases” that can hinder them when facing new challenges at the workplace. In this regard, she noted that these biases affect us even when writing job offers, and explained that BBVA is improving its selection processes to attract more female talent.

Giving visibility to women in leadership positions relevant to the cybersecurity world is one of the priorities of the WiCS association

Having more women on the team and ultimately, more diversity, should be considered a strength and not a weakness, said María Jesús Arribas, the Global Head of Legal Services at BBVA. “The fact that we are different is what gives us an added value because we can offer a different perspective,” she explained. In her experience, she stressed that being a woman or a mother has never been an obstacle in her career at BBVA. In fact, she received a promotion while on one of her maternity leaves.

Victoria del Castillo, the Global Head of Strategy and M&A, shares María Jesús Arribas’ point of view, and maintains that: “Women should find their own leadership style based on their own, personal perspective, which can be different from that of our male colleagues.” Although, in order to achieve this, she noted, there need to be more examples of women in leadership and management positions, demonstrating that value is created “from diversity”.


Group photo of the participants in WiCS' event at BBVA's headquarters in Madrid.

Bridging the gender gap and promoting diversity

Giving visibility to women in leadership positions relevant to the cybersecurity world is one of the priorities of the WiCS association. During the event, the speakers emphasized that women are still a minority among cybersecurity professionals. Furthermore, they indicated that a high percentage of women do not yet consider themselves experts in the field despite having over 20 years of experience in the field.

The association feels that one of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of support women recieve in their careers. Specifically, they explained that 54 percent of women working in the sector do not feel they have sufficient support to advance in their careers. For this reason, one of the initiatives WiCS has created is a mentoring program where women with over 20 years of experience in security can support women in the industry between the ages of 25 and 35. The program will last for six months, with at least one meeting per month. The goal is to foster relationships among women that will help them to mutually enrich each other and avoid getting stuck in their professional development.

The “dream gap” is another challenge women face starting from when they are girls, said Begoña García, from BBVA’s Corporate Security team, referring to how girls stop seeing themselves as qualified for STEM careers before boys. In this regard, she maintained that “everything we experience when we are little takes root for our entire lives.” Therefore, in order to bridge this gap “it’s important to teach that there are equal opportunities for everyone.” García also stressed the importance of raising awareness among young people of the risks of digitization and technological advances.

The event also hosted a panel featuring the first female team for a “hackathon” organized by The Ninja Project at BBVA. Sandra Olalla, one of the members of this BBVA Next Technologies team, explained that her participation served as an “empowerment exercise” and allowed them to see that despite appearances, both men and women “have the same fears” when facing a competition like this. “These fears are just much more normalized for them,” she added.

Sonia Díez discussed the role men play in raising awareness of these gaps. With a university degree in Psychology and Education Sciences and the lead in a chat organized by Aprendemos Juntos (Let’s learn together), Diéz spoke from personal experience about how unconscious biases can limit women when it comes to taking on roles that are typically held by men, and how men should participate in the process of breaking down these preconceptions.

In this regard, Ízaro Assa Amilibia, the Head of Diversity at BBVA, also described the need to “design and promote innovative strategies” like WiCS, geared toward fostering technological careers in women to “build confidence and demonstrate the value of diversity”.