When Samantha Bolet, Angela Hill and Vanessa Morales founded the security nonprofit Latinas in Cyber (LAIC), they sought to create a community in the cybersecurity field during a turbulent time in the profession and wider world.

“LAIC was a pandemic baby,” says Bolet, Vice President and Founder of LAIC and Senior Privacy Program Manager at ByteDance, the parent company for TikTok. “It came out of this moment where we were really trying to connect and build community.”

The trio of founders launched the organization in September 2022 after months of determining the organization’s mission: empowering Latinas to enter and succeed in the cybersecurity profession. Morales, Executive Director; Hill, President of LAIC; and Bolet, Vice President, saw “a resounding level of support” from the cybersecurity and Latina communities after launching, according to Bolet.

“The community response was confirmation that this organization is important. Latinas only make up about one to two percent of the cybersecurity industry, and that’s a high estimate,” says Bolet. “Cybersecurity is a unique field in the sense that there’s a low barrier to entry. For other high-paying careers, you have to take the LSAT, MCAT or GRE and earn graduate-level degrees, whereas cybersecurity is more skills- and certification-based. That lowers the barrier to entry for women and allows them to take this different route to get the technical acumen and enter the space.”

LAIC propels Latinas into the cybersecurity field by supporting women through the various paths that can lead into the cybersecurity profession, from enabling certifications to mentorship or networking. One initiative LAIC prides itself in is their Mentorship Academy, a partnership with Google that has helped accelerate the cybersecurity careers of a number of Latina women already.

Samantha Bolet, Vice President and Founder of Latinas in Cyber

"There are subconscious barriers that happen within first-gen and Latinx communities when we enter certain workplaces… but that doesn’t mean that our aptitude and our capability isn’t there.”

— Samantha Bolet, Vice President and Founder of Latinas in Cyber

"We were able to create custom personal and professional relationships with 15 women entering the cybersecurity space and give them workshops on networking, interview skills, elevator pitches and personal branding. Then they were paired with an executive or manager at Google to build their initial network and have a safe space to ask questions about the field,” says Bolet.

Members of the first LAIC Mentorship Academy have already entered and risen in the field, according to Bolet. “We had a Project Manager for the Mentorship Academy and it was her first exposure to cybersecurity, and within six months, she earned her first fulltime role in the field. We also have someone on our leadership team today — Megan Montez, Co-Lead of Committees — who was previously involved as a mentee in our Mentorship Academy. We’re invested in the overall experience and lifecycle of women in our space,” Bolet says.

Creating and having space to ask questions and explore the cybersecurity profession plays an important role in increasing diverse representation in the cybersecurity field, Bolet says. Her own career in cybersecurity was enabled by the power of mentorship and a refusal to be hindered by failure. In addition to her VP role at LAIC, Bolet serves as Senior Privacy Program Manager at ByteDance — but she says her path to cybersecurity wasn’t completely straightforward.

“I failed my first semester of college,” she says. “I talk about it because I think there are subconscious barriers that happen within first-gen and Latinx communities when we enter certain workplaces, whether academic, professional or social, and sometimes we may not get it right on the first try. But that doesn’t mean that our aptitude and our capability isn’t there. It just requires this tweaking of skills and cultural context to be able to understand the institution you’re entering. I always encourage people to ask questions because it’s totally okay to not get it right the first time.”

At the end of her college experience, Bolet graduated with an M.S. in Technology Management and Information Systems and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish. She was also a featured student speaker in the Latinx graduation ceremony for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

According to Bolet, leveraging the power of community is key to increasing representation of Latinas in the cybersecurity field and ensuring their success once they are a part of the profession. LAIC prioritizes community by both hosting an online discussion forum for Latinas in cybersecurity to connect and honoring the successes of Latinas in the field. This year, LAIC partnered with another cybersecurity nonprofit to host the Top Women in Cybersecurity Award, which highlighted the top 50 executive Latina women across Latin America and the U.S. Bolet says the award served a dual purpose to give visibility to the awardees’ accomplishments and unite them with one another.

Going forward, LAIC aims to focus on supporting Latina women entering and rising through the ranks of the cybersecurity field. According to Bolet, LAIC’s mission isn’t only to increase Latina representation in cybersecurity, but to commit to supporting individual members and the Latina community through cybersecurity programming and networking.

“Cybersecurity is a really lucrative career field,” says Bolet. “It has some of the highest-paying jobs, and it has a large marketplace gap right now with a number of open positions. I’m also really passionate about Latina women having financial independence and being able to make life happen on their own terms. Cybersecurity really presents that opportunity, as well as a flexible work-life balance, benefits and the chance to work with an organization that is on the cutting edge of what’s happening in our world. I want Latina women to be at the forefront of that.”