Women in Cyber Security Middle East
Empowering Women Cyber Security Professionals
Before 2020, WiCSME hosted various small in-person meetings and events for their affiliates in 11 countries across the Middle East. But with the onset of COVID-19 and various travel restrictions in place, all in-person networking events came to a standstill.
But this didn’t deter the WiCSME leadership from their mission of creating networking opportunities for women cyber security professionals. Modern problems require modern solutions, and they realised they simply needed to change gears towards a new strategy. According to Priyanka Chatterjee, co-founder of WiCSME, “In 2020, we decided to host our first virtual annual conference.” And soon after, the leadership realised they were going to need an event technology partner.
Going Virtual for WiCSME 2020
The WiCSME team wanted their Annual Conference to have three key components:
- A cyber hacking competiton focussed on encouraging more women to take on technical cyber security roles, boosting confidence, and helping them network with mentors.
- A two-day conference with women keynote speakers to help assimilate knowledge and discuss the latest trends in the cyber security landscape.
- An annual awards ceremony focused on recognising and celebrating women in cyber security.
According to Priyanka, “While a lot of us had participated in various conferences as attendees or speakers, we realised organising one was a completely different ball game.” As the leadership dug deeper into their agenda and event details, they quickly realised the magnitude of factors involved in ensuring the success of their virtual conference. They were not only pivoting from an in-person event to a virtual conference, but they were also levelling up in scale.
Looking back at it, Priyanka explains, “During in-person meetings, we know our local network and they are easier to coordinate with. But with a virtual conference, we had speakers from across the globe. It was an ambitious attempt for us and I’m glad it all worked out.” She further adds, “It's one thing to work with a team of five versus trying to bring a crowd of thousand people together. And we don’t come from an events background, so we had no idea of how to think about it.”
The leadership also quickly realised that a video conferencing tool was not going to be the right fit for their complex event. According to Priyanka, “We do a couple of online events throughout the year using a simple video conferencing solution, but these are much smaller meetings with usually one speaker talking to multiple attendees. But when you want to plan a series of sessions together, that requires a whole lot of planning and capabilities.”
The Need for An Event Technology Partner
In May 2020, with just 6 months to go for their virtual annual conference, the WiCSME leadership put together a working group and began their research. Priyanka explains, “I was leading the logistics team that was responsible for the delivery and user experience of our event. When we started brainstorming the whole idea of having a virtual annual conference and what we wanted it to look like, we started looking at different conferences that took place across the industry. Being ambitious, we wanted to do a good job at it.”
When the group began planning the two-day conference, they quickly realised it was going to a challenging task and needed to partner with an event technology platform. “We were used to collaboration platforms like Zoom or MS Teams, so our original thought was that we could use them. But as things started evolving and as we learned about the whole user experience journey of an event, it started becoming evident that you need a more comprehensive solution,” says Priyanka.
Being a voluntary organisation, WiCSME team knew they couldn’t necessarily rely on a large team to manage different parts of the event. This made the need for an end-to-end event technology platform that could help run their event from start to finish all the more necessary.
Why Cvent Attendee Hub Was the Right Fit
As the WiCSME team researched about various event management platforms and got in touch with them, they knew there was a big disconnect. None of the event technology platforms understood the real pain point for WiCSME and where they came from.
Priyanka explains, “By the time we approached Cvent, we had looked at numerous platforms, sat on demos, and spoken to our peers about what they were using. But as we spoke to most service providers, we immediately knew they were not going to work for us. They were more focussed on how grander events work. But if you talk to me expecting me to be an event management expert, there was going to be a disconnect.”
After doing some research on Google, WiCSME found Cvent and was put in touch with the Cvent team about 15 weeks before their annual conference. In the initial call itself, Cvent’s team understood where the WiCSME was struggling. According to Priyanka, “I was upfront about how difficult this event was for me to manage. I realised we needed to do all these different things and the coordination piece was not there in the back of our mind.”
The Cvent team asked the right questions, presented a roadmap of how their event journey should look like and communicated the key focus areas. “It started falling into place and I realized how the event needs to look like. I think that’s where Cvent stood out. They realised that we didn’t have experience with managing events, and while they could have used it to oversell their solutions, they rather focussed on just offering us the key elements to make our event successful. I knew that if I asked a question, I was going to get a valid answer and not a salesy response, and that made all the difference! It was clear from the initial discussions that they wanted us to succeed.”
Bringing It All Together
Before the WiCSME team started working with Cvent, they thought they’ll have to fall back on using an online meeting tool as their last resort. But when the Cvent team started asking the right questions – like how were they going to capture registrations, invite keynote speakers, send out reminders and event notifications, and how were they planning to livestream and to whom? – WiCSME was able to slowly but surely piece their event together.
Cvent Attendee Hub helped turn around their first virtual annual conference within 8 weeks. “We completed the entire onboarding, configurations, registrations, and the actual event in 8 weeks. I’m not sure any other event has ever done that,” exclaims Priyanka.
WiCSME successfully hosted 50 sessions, including panel sessions, keynotes, and workshops at their two-day conference on the Cvent Attendee Hub. “We liked that we could run a lot of sessions, including technical and non-technical tracks, parallelly using the Cvent platform,” says the co-founder.
While the WiCSME team expected around 200 people to register for their conference, they were overwhelmingly surprised to see the registrations cross the 1,000 mark. “Most of the registrants also came back to watch our content on-demand and they really liked the fact that it all sits in once place, so they don’t have to look for it in multiple places,” Priyanka mentioned.
Going Hybrid for WiCSME 2021
After a successful debut of their virtual annual conference and halfway through planning the 2021 event, the WiCSME leadership decided on a bold move – to host their annual conference in a hybrid format. From having almost no prior experience of hosting a virtual conference to hosting a group of 1,000 attendees to now planning a hybrid event, the WiCSME leadership knew they had come a long way.
“We found an opportunity to collaborate with a large regional conference called @HACK which was happening in Saudi Arabia at the same time. I would not have taken this jump if I had not been confident about this event platform, honestly. It was a busy event week in Saudi as well, but we decided to go hybrid because we were confident it would all work out with Cvent,” states Priyanka.
The Cvent team helped them quickly switch gears on their strategy and started helping WiCSME plan for a two-day hybrid conference that would comprise both virtual and live components. Day one was planned to be completely virtual and day two was to be held in-persona and live-streamed from Saudi Arabia. While their 2020 conference was focussed on industry insights, the theme for 2021 was career, growth and leadership opportunities for women in the cyber security industry, especially from Saudi Arabia.
With Cvent’s team of experts guiding them every step of the way, WiCSME 2021 was another grand success. “Being cyber security professionals, we live a very busy life. So when the Cvent support experts charted out the timelines for us, it gave us a sense of control and direction. As a team we all appreciated that, and it was one less thing for us to worry about,” says Priyanka.
The 2021 iteration of their annual conference had around 25 sessions with 40 keynote speakers. Day 1 saw around 611 virtual participants, and WiCSME received tremendous response from women in various regional leadership areas. During the in-person segment of their hybrid conference, WiCSME also opened doors to 150 attendees at their venue.
The 2021 WiCSME conference also captured 10,109 engagement actions and achieved an average engagement score of 533 during their conference. According to Priyanka, “We’re thankful to the Cvent team for turning on various engagement parameters for us. During the event wrap-up meeting, Cvent did an analysis to help us understand how our engagement increased from 2020 to 2021. It was surprising to see such an improvement in those numbers, and we also awarded three of the most engaged attendees with certificates!” Having understood the value of driving active engagement at their event, WiCSME plans to leverage more engagement tactics and parameters in 2022.
Priyanka adds, “We got some very emotional messages from our members saying that although they weren’t able to travel, they were happy to see everyone virtually. I couldn’t travel to Saudi Arabia either, but I was organising it and participating live from my home in London. Those were very emotional moments for a lot of our members.”
Planning For Future Events
When asked about their 2022 annual conference, WiCSME plans to keep an open mind to go either way – virtual or hybrid. Having had a great experience so far with Cvent tech, WiCSME hopes to explore the solutions some more. Talking about Cvent Attendee Hub’s user experience, Priyanka says, “I felt that the overall UI experience of the platform has been enhanced greatly. Now, I can easily go and find things on the platform, and that’s a great improvement from my perspective.” WiCSME also used the Zoom plugin for hosting both their 2020 and 2021 annual conferences, as part of technology integrations. For 2022, they’re interested in further integrating their website with the Cvent platform to ensure a more seamless experience for attendees.
Diving deeper into the true value of their Cvent partnership, Priyanka concludes by saying, “I’d like to thank the leadership at Cvent for being able to trickle down the value around total customer satisfaction. Pretty much everyone that we’ve spoken to at Cvent has wanted us to be successful. Being the co-founder of a services organisation, I know that it’s not easy. Thanks to everyone involved for helping us achieve two years of successful events and we look forward to more such events in the future.”