Sophie De Ferranti is a Senior Managing Director within Teneo’s People Advisory business, having joined from a US based Executive Search firm where she was responsible for leading the Global Cybersecurity Practice. In her earlier career, she held a high security UN classified role at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She works across the Financial Services, Professional Services and Insurance sectors and has a functional specialism in Cybersecurity, Digital and Operational Risk, Information Security and Human Capital succession planning. A philanthropist and advocate for environmental protection, she is a semi-professional female polo player and is based between London, New York and Buenos Aires.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Sophie shared her career trajectory, current roles and responsibilities at Teneo People Advisory, insights on the lack of women in tech, her secret to striking work-life balance, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Sophie, please tell us a bit about yourself and how did you start out in the industry.
Educated in Germany and having read Oceanography at Southampton University, UK, my career began in the late 1990s when I worked down in the G1 Bunker at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Headquarters Brussels, Belgium (otherwise known as ‘SHAPE’) during the Balkans conflict. I worked under the then leadership of General Wesley Clarke during the time that the three former Soviet states joined the NATO Alliance. This experience, during times of heightened geo-political risk, provided me with the beginnings of a deep insight into the human factors involved with creating ‘physical’ security postures. Since then, and over the last two decades, I have become more involved in virtual and digital security – notably that involving Cybersecurity, AI and Technology risk on a global scale. During my career I have founded two successful HR consulting boutiques in Singapore and Switzerland and am now based between London, New York and Buenos Aires – the latter where I call home.
Brief us about your roles and responsibilities as Global Head of the Cybersecurity & Technology Practice at Teneo People Advisory.
As a Senior Managing Director and Head of Global Cybersecurity at Teneo – the Global CEO Advisory Firm – my expertise lies in helping CEOs and Boards keep abreast of human capital developments in ensuring their organisation has an appropriate security risk posture. By this I mean through ensuring that organisations are engaging the best and most highly skilled talent in the market. Teneo People Advisory, the executive search division of Teneo, provide leadership advisory services to a broad range of corporate and private sector clients across all industry sectors and geographies. I specialise in senior cybersecurity, risk and technology functions (for example CISO, CTO, CRO, CIO), both in the executive suite and the boardroom. At Teneo People Advisory we also have a highly sophisticated Board and Non-Executive Search Practice focusing on Financial Services, Consumer, Insurance and HR Leadership so we are best placed to provide the full suite of senior search solutions.
Why do you think there are still so few females in the technology sector? How can we get more women into technology?
The industry still continues to find it challenging to attract females into the technology and cybersecurity space, largely due to the distinct lack of diversity that exists in the senior leadership suite. As of 2023 current data suggests that senior technology and cybersecurity functions are dominated by white Caucasian males – approx. 82% of the available talent landscape. And if we look at typical Board composition for example, there are less than 2% females taking a seat in the boardroom whom have dedicated cybersecurity expertise. In my role at Teneo I also have a particular focus on diverse talent, both by gender and ethnicity, and in particular women leading the way in Cybersecurity and Technology. To help support my network, I am also an active member of Women in Cybersecurity UK, the United Cybersecurity Alliance and WiCySME (Women in Cybersecurity Middle East).
As a prominent public speaker and advisor on the topics of women leading the way in global cybersecurity, I often debate the hidden roadblocks many women face in their careers when it comes to promotion into the C-suite. Private and public sector organisations, and academic institutions alike, can certainly be doing more at grassroots level to encourage more young women into technology-related professions, and in particular with the emergence of AI, and to ensure that they provide diverse leadership to help mentor and develop women’s careers. One of the most career defining moments for me, has been when I recently co-chaired a specialist panel on ‘US versus European harmonisation of SEC regulatory reporting on cyber breaches’ together with the US Ambassador to Ireland, and whilst presenting to the audience I quickly observed more than 90% male delegates. This is evidence in itself that there remains a stark gender imbalance.
So the question is why? And where are the next generation of female leaders in the tech, cyber and AI space? I think this observation only serves to reinforce why I am so passionate about promoting women in tech and to helping coach and mentor those professional females throughout their careers. The optimal sense of achievement for me is to see a greater representation of women in the C-suite, leading on cybersecurity and technical matters when it comes to articulating cybersecurity as a business risk as opposed to purely a technology risk. This however has to start at the top down, and what better place to raise awareness than in the Boardroom.
In my profession in leadership advisory, and also as a semi professional female polo player, I see the landscape in which I work professionally not too dissimilar to my opponents on the polo pitch. Polo – by the very nature of being a high speed, agile and dare I say it – very dangerous sport (not for the feint-hearted) is a very male dominated sport. My passion for promoting women in extreme team sports such as Polo (I keep 20 or so horses at my ranch in Buenos Aires province, Argentina where I play for some six months or so of the year) is very aligned with the dedication I afford to expanding my network of women in technology around the world. To be successful, I am always conscious of where the next generation of female leaders is originating from – be that Israel – a breeding ground of expert talent, the Middle East or the Far East. Geography is to some extent irrelevant. Cybersecurity knows no boundaries and I see the global talent landscape in a similar vein.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
With the speed at which technology, cybersecurity and AI is evolving I continually strive to stay as closely tuned in with the entrepreneurs – the masterminds who are shaping the future, be it the OpenAIs and ScaleAIs of the world, or the tech entrepreneurs involved in fintech, advanced machine learning and even quantum computing. These, combined with the rapid evolution of AI driven technologies are all specialist areas in which we need stay ahead of the drag curve if we are to succeed helping businesses attract the best diverse talent. Regulation such as SEC Reporting, the EU AI Act and DORA are also all important considerations as these regulatory frameworks will undoubtedly provide the breathing space for the world to actually understand how best to adopt and regulate AI, without leaving margin for weaponization or misuse.
Technology as a sector is extremely fast paced as we know and almost everything we touch in our day to day lives has a potential cyber risk or privacy vulnerability associated with it. For this reason, as a career path, I am a staunch ambassador – even starting as early in the classroom with secondary school students – for promoting careers in technology, AI and cybersecurity for female students. If those in their formative years observe these career initiatives being pioneered by global women such as myself, I believe there is a far greater chance of young women choosing that path and feeling confident that they will not be in the minority by the time they enter the realms of senior leadership. I also embrace opportunities to talk to college students and graduates alike on the global options that a career in cyber tech can offer as – given the current talent shortage there will always be opportunities for diverse candidates.
What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?
This career path does not come without compromise and a high degree of dedication. As a global leader, I work in multiple time zones and across many cultures, all the way from the US through to South East Asia, solving time critical problems. When significant cyber events occur a quick recovery plan is needed, and that oftentimes means finding a replacement CISO or CRO at relatively short notice. It is important therefore to have a finger on the pulse to be able to respond with agile solutions to be able to help clients recover their resiliency plans without delay and minimise reputational damage. Perseverance, passion and, most of all, the power of a trusted network is paramount.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
My advice to anybody embarking on a career in Executive Recruitment or Leadership Advisory – with a tech or cybersecurity specialism – is be prepared to see the world through ‘one’ lens. Cybersecurity and technology are borderless and therefore we must mirror this in our own approach to the expert work we do. We are in uncertain economic and geopolitical times which means resilience, a good degree of curiosity and first class reputation is key!