A report that examined 70 Venture Capital funds and 424 private and VC-backed startups that are active in Israel revealed that the average percentage of women represented in companies is 33%. Though there is a more substantial presence of women in large companies (36%) than in smaller companies (30.8%), the representation of women in tech jobs is a mere 27%. When it comes to management roles, being a C-level executive, VP, or director, only 23.4% of these positions are filled by women. That is to say, less than a quarter of the decision-makers in the ecosystem are women. When looking at VCs, only 14.8% of the partners are women and only 9% are investing partners. This piece of data correlates with the percentage of companies that are founded by women in the tech industry which is 12%. These statistics reflect not only the Israeli tech ecosystem but also the global one, as the universal technology industry has only 31% overall female representation.

In order for the startup nation to continue to thrive, there needs to be more diversity within tech. Overall, higher gender inclusivity in the tech industry can lead to better outcomes, with more efficient decision-making, bolstered innovation, and enhanced business and economic yields. And so, there is no reason why the human makeup of the ecosystem should not represent the number of women in the general population and the number of qualified women for these roles. Though there has been a significant increase in the number of women that are represented in the tech ecosystem in Israel, it is far from being enough. This series will focus on those women who have made it in tech and tell the stories of their journeys within the tech ecosystem– where they are now, and how they got there. We hope that this series will inspire other women to go after their tech-driven goals and not let gender biases, prejudices, and stereotypes get in their way; we hope to motivate companies to allocate considerable resources to the implementation of diversity programs and focus on expanding the pool of candidates that are underrepresented in the workforce; we hope to encourage government and educational institutions to take measures in providing the tools, support, and means necessary to enable a more diversified tech workforce.

Lee Kappon, featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2021, is an entrepreneur and innovator at heart. She received her BA from Tel Aviv University and then went on to obtain her MBA from the Tel Aviv University Coller School of Management. Having worked at EY and Deloitte, Lee learned her passion for building operations from the ground up. She brings extensive management experience in both startup and corporate environments and lives for new challenges. It is this mentality that led her to found Suridata, a SaaS Security solution designed to increase security across several different applications– it is the challenge of simplifying and protecting corporate SaaS applications using a unique technology that pushes her daily.

Suridata helps organizations secure the use of SaaS applications such as Salesforce, Slack, Google, and others. Since cyber-security threats and attacks have been around since the beginning of technology, the risks of cyberattacks are essentially endless. What's more, is that online threats have become more intricate and smarter as technology has improved. Kappon, along with her team at Suridata, wants to curb those attacks. They do so with a unique approach that allows security teams to focus on the greater risks first and figure out a solution to respond promptly. Suridata is trained to recognize security gaps related to settings and access to SaaS applications.

On a team of all males, Kappon is the only female. In an interview with Geektime, she discusses what that means to her.

Though the life of a startup CEO and mother often is quite chaotic, Kappon was able to sit down with me and discuss her journey through tech as a woman. “Fortunately, my background has prepared me well for this ‘controlled chaos’. I served 3 years as an Operations Officer in the Israeli Air Force, earned a BA and an MBA from Tel-Aviv University, and gained an appreciation for fast pace and change during my career with two of the world’s leading consultancies. But it was during my time building an investment fund from scratch that the seed was planted for entrepreneurialism.

“My current role as CEO at Suridata pulls upon every ounce of my training and experience. We are helping companies of all sizes secure their SaaS applications, a huge issue in light of the explosion of SaaS. These applications, like Microsoft365 or Salesforce or Slack, are by design wide open, accessible, and flexible. While this is great for users, it presents a cybersecurity nightmare.

“As organizations increasingly rely upon SaaS applications to run their business, they lose the ability to manually secure each application and maintain focus on the highest risks. Suridata serves up one dashboard which spotlights misconfigurations, third-party applications, and access risks. This unified view, prioritized based on business impact, ensures security teams are efficiently focused on critical security issues first. Basically, we enable the cybersecurity teams to empower their businesses to take advantage of SaaS applications without exposing the business to all the risk that comes along with it.

“I was introduced to the challenge of securing SaaS applications during my time with Deloitte. I thought “This really needs to be fixed!” and felt compelled to dive in and build a solution. That was the birth of Suridata.”

Lee, the only female participant, in a panel as part of the RSA Conference in San Francisco

Her Journey to tech

Kappon describes her journey through tech. Though she wasn't always in the field, her roles throughout her life paved the way for her to succeed in the sector. “From my early teen years, I was interested in the stock market. I taught myself how to trade stocks. I was fascinated by the fact that I could analyze the strength of a business, determine how strong I thought they were, and then own a small part of that company and watch its stock go up (or down). This interest inspired me to pursue my degrees in Economics and Accounting.

“Then, while in university, I started an investment fund which was based on an algorithm that calculated investment opportunities. After university, while at Deloitte, I got a glimpse into the challenges organizations had with securing their SaaS applications. And then, all the pieces to the puzzle came together. My drive to tackle problems met with my passion for building products and I felt compelled to start a technology company to solve it. I am not sure if all roads lead to technology, but mine certainly did.

“And though I loved my previous jobs, I found that the corporate lifestyle– putting in your time, climbing the ladder, and all its ups and downs did not appeal to me. I could feel the energy getting sucked out of me. So, starting my own company seemed like a perfect fit. The contrast between the two is amazing: running my own company allows me to avoid the parts of the corporate world that I liked least, and instead focus on the things for which I am best equipped.

Winning innovation awards for Suridata’s innovation in SaaS Security

Entrepreneurship, motherhood, and everything in between

Of course, being a female founder is not as common in today's workforce. But Kappon found that her gender doesn't get in her way. “I find performance is the great equalizer. If you can come to the job, collaborate productively with your teammates, produce great work, power through the challenges, and celebrate the wins, then any discrepancies in age, gender, or whatever disappear.”

She also admits that finding a work-life balance didn’t come easy to her until she had her first son. “My personal tendency has been to allow work to overtake the day. Things have changed, especially since the birth of my son. But I prefer to view work and life to be integrated parts of a day. Especially today when remote work is the norm, it doesn’t seem reasonable—or even possible— to say, ‘I am at work now and can’t do life’, or ‘I am at home now and can’t do work’. I encourage my team to constantly gauge both their work responsibilities and their personal obligations to ensure they are spending their limited time and energy where it is most needed. That feels like a more fruitful exercise than enforcing increasingly imaginary boundaries between the two.”

When I asked Kappon what she loves most about being a woman in tech, she said: “Standing out. It is hard to stand out in today’s self-promotional savvy world. Everyone is working to grab a click or a headline or get a meeting. As a woman in technology, and even more so in cybersecurity, being a woman helps me stand out. It helps at conferences where only 1 out of 20 people are women. It helps with networking online. And it even helps in calls where first impressions can make or break a 30-minute call. Just being something different can be helpful at times to stand out from the crowd.

Lee talking about SaaS Security as part of the Black Hat Conference

“But we mustn't forget that there are still obstacles the industry is facing when it comes to including women in tech. For example, when a senior leader states ‘I want to see more women in tech’, they are fishing for a momentary dose of goodwill. I call this the ‘Good Intention Trap’. I know their intentions are good, but as Jeff Bezos says “Good intentions don’t work. Mechanisms do.” They don't have a plan or mechanism to follow through on that statement. They don’t create concrete proposals or resource initiatives with specific goals and discrete timelines. So, they aren't fixing the underlying mechanisms. We will only get out of this ‘good intentions trap’ when this kind of planning is also given to including women in technology. That's not to say that there haven't been successful women in tech without such initiatives.

“There have been hundreds of incredibly driven, intelligent, gifted women who have graced the sector with their presence. But that took dedication and hard work. I would like to think that these days, gender is not a motivating factor in the workforce. Everyone has to work hard for the best jobs and promotions, regardless of age, race, or gender. But I also know that unfortunately people still face discrimination, just as I have as a woman. But when faced with such a situation, I remind myself of the only three options that I always have available to me. I can: 1) accept the situation as it is, 2) try to fix it, or, 3) remove myself from the situation. That simple exercise, for me, gives me the time and freedom to more often than not do the right thing.

“Remember, there is still some work to do when it comes to women in tech. My approach when running into any sense of bias is always to allow my results to speak for themselves. I am clear that their bias and reaction say more about them than it does about me, and I can’t fix them. So, I just make sure my preparation is complete, my plan is clear, my execution is flawless, and my energy and attitude are positive. I would give this advice to every woman, and every person, in the marketplace. “

What is your biggest piece of advice for women In tech?

“My biggest piece of advice to women is to just dive in. The men I have worked with have this wonderful fearlessness of diving into situations and challenges even before they are fully prepared. They seem to not be worried about being right, or even making sense sometimes, they are just eager to get started. Then they wrestle their way through the issues, clarify the important points, formulate a plan, and arrive at a great place in a relatively short amount of time.

“Women, in general, I feel, tend to be more deliberate about their involvement. We will consider options, angles, and alternatives in our heads before sharing what we believe to be a well-formulated and considered position. There is beauty and strength to this, of course. But what I see often is that women with highly valuable perspectives get left on the sidelines of conversations and working sessions because of this reluctance to dive in. For the women on my team, I counsel them to ‘just dive in’ and not worry about the messiness or the awkwardness of the early stages of that rumble. I have to tell myself this at times, too.

“Moreover, get yourself a mentor. My mentor has been so important to me along the way, and I highly recommend that every professional at every stage find at least one person who can invest in them in this way. My mentor has been through everything I am going through ten times. He is the founder of a very successful Israeli security company. He has built and grown the company and established overseas markets. All the things I am trying to accomplish. He is very busy and yet he is still willing to take my call, sometimes even at 2 am! He is incredibly generous with his time and his wisdom, often spending hours with me to think through my challenge of the day from multiple angles. His trademark is his questions—he always seems to ask the question at the heart of the problem. Sometimes I wish he would just give me the answer. Instead, and probably more importantly, he teaches me how to think through the problem. Then it seems like the right answer just presents itself. I value his time and input so much that I work hard to earn it by making sure I am prepared for all our conversations, take good notes, then follow up to thank him and let him know how things turned out.”

“Lastly, I would say find your people. You need allies, so find others like you in your field. Either in your company or if they aren’t there, find an external group like Women in Cyber. I am always amazed at how willing people are to spend time with me and help me– share notes, establish best practices, vent, and encourage each other. Then, mix it up with the mainstream. The goal can’t be to create little pockets of similar people throughout the company. The goal must be to harness the power of diversity. So, take your youth, or your gender, take your whatever and represent that well in all group settings. Sometimes it’s just by doing your job well. Other times it could be by calling it out and saying, ‘we would benefit from having more women in this group.’ This two-sided approach to ‘strengthening muscles’ and then ‘putting them to work’ seems to me like an important step forward for women in the workplace.

“This advice holds true for young girls looking to get into tech as well. Just go for it. There are endless opportunities to break into technology and cyber fields. I like Naval Ravikant’s advice of ‘Learn to sell. Learn to build. If you can do both you will be unstoppable.’ This is especially true in technology and cybersecurity. If you are technically trained and minded, try coding or product management. If not, try sales, or product marketing. Either way, get as deep into the details as you can. That is the only way you are going to understand the problems and the solutions at their deepest levels. Do your research, talk to other professionals, and learn about the industry. And when you feel like you are at the core of an issue, take risks on ways to solve it. It is this young professional who is deep in the weeds on a problem who I like to encourage to believe in themselves.

“It is helpful to think of your career as a four-decade-long journey. Building a foundation of understanding at the lowest levels will pave the way for an incredible journey that you can literally take in any direction, and to any level in an organization.”