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Dr. Fai Ben Salamah: Inspiring inclusion and celebrating achievements

International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

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International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

The Times Kuwait features five women from Kuwait published in KPMG Kuwait’s report Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24. These Female Leaders who are Shaping Resilience in a Polycrisis share their amazing stories of challenges and success.

The report finds that despite shouldering increased responsibilities, Global Female Leaders remained optimistic about corporate expansion, societal progress, gender parity, and their own professional aspirations. This resilience in the face of a volatile economic and social backdrop sends a positive message.

The opinions and insights of the Global Female Leaders presented in the report reflected their confidence in future prospects and the importance of equality in ongoing transformation endeavors and emphasize that diversity is not just a buzzword that companies are trying to catch on.

The KPMG report also underlines that despite advancements in promoting diversity, inclusion, and legal structures, considerable hurdles remain. Numerous women still encounter bias, often switch jobs to progress in their careers, are underrepresented in leadership roles, and navigate male-centric networks within organizations.

Overcoming these hurdles is crucial to unleashing the complete potential of equal participation. The report illuminates evolving trends that Global Female Leaders are driving within their companies. They are adjusting digitalization strategies, with a greater focus on employee development rather than technology investments, and they are strengthening cybersecurity measures.

This ability to respond to external changes through internal adjustments indicates a promising enhancement of organizational resilience. Global Female Leaders underline that certain personal qualities are gaining prominence, particularly adaptability and foresight.

The fast-paced advancement of technology, evolving stakeholder demands, compliance requirements, and market disruptions, such as those triggered by geopolitical factors, emphasize the importance of quick response and operational flexibility, while keeping strategic, long-term objectives in mind.

These qualities resonate strongly with the Global Female Leaders KPMG spoke to, enabling them to proactively assume leadership roles despite the complexities of the current polycrisis.

KPMG Kuwait hopes that the Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24 will offer fresh perspectives and help foster a deeper recognition of the female leaders’ ability to navigate challenges with resilience and agility.

Dr. Fai Ben Salamah
Founder, Cyfay Company for Cybersecurity services, Kuwait

When you started your career, women in cybersecurity were not common. Talk to us about your journey as a woman in this sector.

My journey into the realm of cybersecurity began in 2019 after I completed my master’s degree in information technology from Kuwait University (2017). Back then, a lot of us, were unaware of cybersecurity’s scope.
It was during this time that I met my advisor, seeking approval for my proposed PhD topic (May 2019).

Initially, I was focusing on the darker aspects of social media, aiming to explore how organizations could utilize these platforms to safeguard their reputation and avert potential crises. At the time, I had already authored three publications on this topic. However, during our discussion, my advisor suggested shifting towards a deeper exploration of cybersecurity.

Taking her guidance to heart, I redirected my research efforts towards cybersecurity (May 2019). Since then, I have produced a total of seven research papers, with four of them specifically dedicated to various aspects of cybersecurity.

This pivot marked the beginning of a new chapter in my academic and professional journey, one that continues to evolve as I delve deeper into the intricacies of cybersecurity research and its practical implications.

Our report found that six out of ten women do not aspire to take up a pioneering role in digital transformation. What could be the reason for this reservation?

Well, I can say there are many apparent reasons for this fact:

  • Women may not feel confident or eager to take on leadership roles in the digital transformation space due to past encounters with bias/discrimination in the workplace.
  • Traditional gender roles may still be enforced by cultural and societal standards, which discourages women from assuming leading roles in the digital transition in favor of other career pathways or responsibilities.
  • In some regions, women might not have the access to quality education, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, which can hinder their ability to pursue careers in digital transformation.
  • The need for more visible female leaders in technology and digital transformation might be contributing towards a lack of aspiration among women in the region to pursue such roles.
  • Conversely, some women might prioritize having adequate work-life balance over pursuing and accepting challenging leadership positions in the digital transition space, which may call for long hours and high stress levels.

What is your advice to young female leaders seeking a career in technology?

For young female leaders seeking a career in technology, here are some pieces of advice:

  • Have confidence in your abilities and believe that you deserve to be in the technology field. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back from pursuing your goals.
  • Invest in your education and continuously work on developing your technical skills. Stay updated with the latest trends and advancements in technology through courses, workshops, and self-learning.
  • Find mentors, both male and female, who can offer guidance, advice, and support as you navigate your career in technology. Surround yourself with a supportive network of colleagues, friends, and mentors who believe in your potential.
  • Challenge stereotypes and bias in the workplace. Advocate for yourself and other women in technology, and don’t be afraid to speak up against discrimination or inequality.
  • Network with professionals in the technology industry, attend industry events, join online communities, and participate in networking groups to expand your connections and opportunities.
  • Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges or opportunities, even if they seem daunting at first. Embrace failure as a learning experience and use it to grow and improve.
  • Discover what areas of technology you are passionate about and pursue opportunities that align with your interests and strengths. Whether it’s software development, data science, cybersecurity, or another field, find what excites you and pursue it wholeheartedly.
  • Advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and strive to create environments where everyone feels valued and respected regardless of their gender, race, or background.
  • Remember to prioritize your well-being and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Don’t hesitate to set boundaries and take time for self-care and relaxation outside of work.
  • The path to leadership in technology may have obstacles and setbacks but stay resilient and persevere in pursuit of your goals. Keep pushing forward and don’t let challenges deter you from achieving your dreams.

What challenges have you encountered in implementing digital transformation and how are you addressing them?

When I ventured into establishing my cybersecurity company, Cyfay, back in 2022, I anticipated challenges, but the reality proved to be even more demanding than what I had anticipated. While my journey through studying cybersecurity was largely self-driven and manageable, transitioning to the realm of entrepreneurship presented a host of new obstacles.

Building a reputable brand, assembling a capable team, and effectively promoting our services have been formidable undertakings that require immense effort and perseverance. However, despite the challenges, I find immense fulfillment in nurturing Cyfay — it feels like my own child and requires constant care and dedication to flourish. I’ve come to understand that success in entrepreneurship is a gradual process, one that demands both time and unwavering commitment. Despite the hurdles, I’m resolute in my determination to see Cyfay thrive, knowing that each challenge we overcome brings us a step closer to our vision of providing top-tier cybersecurity solutions to individuals and businesses alike.

In your experience, what lessons have you learned about leadership that are particularly relevant in navigating a crisis?

My journey into the world of cybersecurity has been anything but conventional. As a mother of three children, I made the bold decision to embark on a life-changing adventure: pursuing a PhD degree in cybersecurity in the United Kingdom. It was a leap of faith, filled with uncertainties and risks, but I was determined to pursue my passion for technology and make a meaningful contribution to the field.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was uprooting my children and relocating to a new country. It meant exposing my children to unfamiliar surroundings, new schools, and a different culture. Every day, I found myself praying for their smooth transition and adjustment, hoping that this leap of faith would ultimately lead to new opportunities and experiences for all of us.

Despite the initial apprehension, our journey has been one of growth, resilience, and unwavering determination. My children embraced their new environment with resilience and curiosity, making friends and adapting to their new schools with remarkable ease. Their courage and adaptability served as a source of inspiration for me, reaffirming my belief that taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones is often the catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Ending up, choosing to pursue our dreams, despite the risks involved, is far better than living with the regret of not trying. Working towards our aspirations with unwavering belief is the true secret to success.

Dr. Fai is the Founder of Cyfay Company for Cybersecurity Services, a cyber security consultancy company that aims to help individuals and organizations protect their data and systems from cyber threats. She is also part of the National Cyber Security Center, Kuwait, She has a PhD in Cyber Security from the University of Plymouth, where she developed a system for increasing public awareness by addressing the human factors as the weakest link in cyber security. Her research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

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