Date of Award



© 2021 Toni C. Plato

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Ella Benson

Second Advisor

Brandie Shatto

Third Advisor

Tracey Adams


Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing industries with a critical role in protecting businesses and people from attacks that continue to grow and affect our nation. There is an increasing gap between the demand to fill jobs in the field and the skilled professionals available. Women currently fill less than 17% of those skilled positions. Understanding the paths of success and the barriers experienced by women cybersecurity leaders is key to determining how to fill the skill gap in the industry. This study uses a qualitative methodology with a descriptive phenomenological design to answer the research questions from the perspective of sixteen women C-Suite executives in the cybersecurity industry. The study focused on the human experience and behavior through descriptions of transformational experiences on a journey toward leadership. Exploring the concepts of mentorship, sponsorship, and trusted advisor in relation to the experiences of these women executives in cybersecurity provides insight into how organizations can replicate similar situations to overcome gender bias and encourage career growth for women in the industry. Participants described organic and informal instances of mentorship and other significant relationships as crucial to their success. Sponsorship was described as the most influential contribution to pivotal moments in their careers. The barriers the participants described were a variety of instances related to gender bias and discrimination with clear examples of both the glass ceiling and the glass cliff.

Findings from this study provide organizations a framework by which to shift the organizational mindset away from marginalizing women and toward attracting and retaining them through support, sponsorship, and continued career and leadership development. Some recommendations from the study are: 1. Make it an organizational strategy to define, recognize, and deconstruct microaggressions in practices and processes that perpetuate unconscious bias. 2. Develop sponsorship for women at all levels of the organization. 3. Develop job descriptions in cybersecurity that create pathways for women. 4. Educate women to navigate various aspects of an organization and how to develop relationships that can support their growth.


Ed.D. Dissertation