Here’s to constantly raising the bar, carving a niche, clearing pathways and shining a bright light in her industry and beyond. Here’s to Confidence Staveley aka Sisi Nerd. Confidence doesn’t only thrive as a tech lady in all brilliance and beauty, but also uplifts, empower and builds opportunities for others to thrive.
Join us on this special Heart-2-Heart conversation, as Confidence shares a truckload of inspiration on her creative journey and everything beautiful, in between.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired:
We are in awe of your brilliance. How you effortlessly breakdown seemingly complex Cybersecurity terms in a rather simple and enjoyable way is inspiring. How you continue to raise the bar and even uplift young minds in your industry is ICONIC. The kind that will stay evergreen in the lives you continue to touch positively. Please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as a Cyber-security Expert and Coach.
Thank you so much for that very interesting question and very kind words you shared, I really appreciate that I am seen and the contribution that myself and my team are making is recognized, thank you so much. On how my journey started, I date it back to when I said to myself omg! I want to be a cyber-security professional. As a matter of fact I had been told by my parents for many years that I should build a career in medicine and become a medical doctor, so for a long time it was a borrowed dream let’s put it that way. I didn’t realise it was a borrowed dream until I found my own, so I was living in this bubble where I really wanted to be a medical doctor because my parents had said it for so long until I finished secondary school(known as high school outside Africa). I finished high school and my parent told me to take a gap year before I go into the university. In retrospect, I think my parents told me to take that gap year because of financial reasons, so yeah I took the gap year. We also lived in a hood let me put it that way, so there was a lot of teenage pregnancies at that time, I mean I had so many friends that got pregnant. My parents were also guarding against me been around the house and becoming idle and falling into such a situation, so they wanted to keep me engaged. They said you know what, don’t while away time here, go and attend computer lessons at this place. So I was attending computer classes in that particular location and that was where I got introduced to computer for the first time. Aside knowing how to use Microsoft word which was where I started from and the other very basic stuff, I was introduced to programming. My God, I felt alive! I was excited every time to go there because I had never experienced that kind of joy and freedom and creative power to make things happen on my computer and I knew this was what I wanted to do. So my admission letter came in to go study medicine and I knew this had to change. At the time I didn’t have a computer to make a PowerPoint presentation for my parent so what I did was; I bought cardboards, cut them into slides and wrote on them so as to make a presentation for my parents. To give it some perspective, my parents are not graduates of any university, they didn’t go to school completely, and they just studied up to secondary school level in the case of my mom. So my parents are not exactly as educated as I am now, telling them that I was not going to study medicine any more like they wanted but that I was going to study tech was not going to be easy. There were no examples around me of people who did this and were doing great; so as a parent now, I can imagine how such a big decision it was for them because there were no models, no reference points for us in our neighborhood to say that x.y.z explored this part and is doing great for themselves. All they had at that time was what they saw in their daughter’s eyes, the spark and her passion. The truth is you cannot outdo anyone who is passionate about the work they do, you know. So they could see that passion and they knew I was going to excel anyways .They had to trust me and they permitted me to turn down that admission and go study advanced diploma in software engineering. So I started up as a software engineer and I got a scholarship to do my first degree in a school in the United Kingdom, it was IT. I took that scholarship I did my degree and came back with a first class. My sponsors were so excited that I came and I had a first class and so I got another scholarship from them again to go back to the UK and do masters in IT management. It was during my masters in IT management that I got in contact with cyber-security. It was an elective course called cryptography that I was told was very difficult. I wanted something challenging, so I took on that elective course and that was the beginning. Afterwards, I did a lot of personal development, a lot of self-learning, I got my lecturer at the time that is now the head of the institute for cyber-security in the UK to mentor me. That was how I started off. I grew in leaps and bounds and I can’t tell you this enough I absolutely love what I do so every day it feels like I’m having fun. I’m sure you can see that in my smile and everything so this is my not so straight beginning or story about how I kicked off my career. You know it’s just a back story around how I started off, how I had access, why I’m also so big on exposing women and young girls to have that access and see if this is something they want before they make a decision.
Your platforms do not only empower mentally but also, financially. Please share the inspiration behind CyberGirls.
The inspiration really just came from my own reality you know, practicing cyber-security in this part of the world. I found something interesting; from my story it means that I have been in technology since I was about 18 years old. I have been in the boys club for so long, that I didn’t realise that every time I looked around I was either the only girl, or maximum 1 of 2 girls. Over time I started asking myself, why aren’t there enough women doing this work, this exciting stuff, something I was enjoying so much. So I started to closely notice what the challenges were, I started paying attention because again from my story I was also immune to certain thing; what I mean by that is I didn’t exactly face some of the barrier women face. I remember my dad looking at me one day, I was seven years old and he said to me “in you I have ten sons”. I didn’t exactly understand what that meant until I started getting exposed to the world and seeing how differently girls were raised from boys in this part of the world and how that didn’t give women confidence to go for certain things, certain practices or careers meant for men. I started having conversations that made me see younger people facing these challenges. These things were real and I so I looked back at my life and began evaluating my challenges that were so normal to the point that I didn’t see them as roadblocks. I started internalising all of that experience and in retrospection, I started answering the questions of why there were few women. I sat back after answering those questions , and I asked myself; what can I do as a person to drive a collective effort because this is not something Confidence Staveley can do alone, what can I do to spark up the conversation or work to improve this inclusion issue. The numbers started coming up. I will give an example, the World Bank says that women make 50% of the population in Africa, but do you know that women only contribute 9% of the work force in cyber-security? This means that 91% of the industry is male which means if you find cyber-security professionals, only one out of 10 is female. Do you know how mind blowing that is?So I started seeing more reasons to want to do something about it and the truth is we can talk all we want to about diversity but if we don’t have women who are skilled to take up those roles, we will continue in this particular place we are in. So I wanted to build more skilled women so the opportunities in the industry can be taken by these skilled women. Putting aside the policy that doesn’t support women in work places, I wanted to make sure that employers don’t have excuses not to hire women. I wanted to make sure that women were advantaged with the skill, the access to the tools and the resources to grow and that’s where cyber-girls started from. So when we have this pool of talent that are female, naturally employers will want to hire the best and we don’t want to be hired because we are women, we want to be hired because we are actually the best for the job. That is where grooming these girls to become the best for the job came from and I can’t tell you how life changing it’s been. We are currently moving from 7 countries to 22 African countries and the stories have been absolutely mind blowing. We have a girl in south Africa who presented to the world bank recently ,an alumni and she said that she experienced a 450% increase in her income as a result of going through this training and coming out and gaining a job. So you see we then are able to use these tools as socio-economic development tools, also innovation that happens in Africa and ensuring that it’s cyber safe. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do this work and to play this role alongside the amazing people that supported me in my team internally and externally.
What does Art mean to you?
So I think that Art is a vehicle to communicate creative imagination and why for me I see it as an imagination is because, I mean you commented earlier on how I use my platform to simplify things and the reason I’m able to do that is because of my creative ability which I will call Art. So it’s a vehicle and it can be a vehicle for many things but for me it’s a vehicle to convey cyber-security best practices. We use Art in many forms in still images, videos, memes and comics just think about it. For me, there are no boundaries except unethical stuffs. For me, to use Art is to convey what I believe is education or Advocacy through my platforms, to drive messaging around cyber-security and around tech in general. So I see Art or If I was to use one word to describe it, it will be that it’s a vehicle.
We are grateful to have you onboard this special ISSUE with the theme- Rise, in celebration of inspiring women in the creative industry. We understand how certain stereotypes, cultures, sentiments and faulty orientations have stood as subtle roadblocks for women to thrive boundlessly. Have you ever encountered any form of gender based discrimination? Any quick tips for women who may have been victims of severe circumstances?
I would say I have had subtle impact or experience maybe sometimes. I’m not exactly the party being talked about, but I want to talk more around what I have experienced as a result of doing the work I do to help other people. I think that it is really going to shine the light on how presently challenging this still is. I mean, you would think that all the conversations we’re having around diversity and inclusion especially from the gender lens is going to really or has really changed a lot of people and that people are beginning to accept certain things, but you will find out that there is still so much work to do. I will give you one story. Last month on twitter, a young man tweeted at me and I’ll give you a bit of the genesis of that whole thread back and forth. The genesis was I had openly stated on twitter that although I’m open to supporting young people coming into cyber-security and all of that, I was going to give this proportionality more effort to women than to anyone else because of course; I’ve just shared a statistic which proves why. So I said I was going to dedicate more resources to helping females, and it didn’t sit well with a lot of people, but this one person came at me very, very strongly, and these were his words. Me paraphrasing but not far from what he said, he said that women can do anything they want and be anything they want without anyone stopping them. “Women will do better in industries where emotional people are required and that is different from cyber security. According to him, able-bodied men are required in the cyber security industry”. This was very funny because this person is a young person, so I was expecting this sort of thinking to come from an older person, maybe a man in his fifties could say that to me, and maybe it won’t hit such a cord as it did with this young person. Knowing this person couldn’t be up to thirty and was telling me this also meant patriarchy is alive, the stereotypes are very much alive and these stereotypes are strongly hitting our girls. I mean, when I open up a thread again and ask girls to share what the experiences have been, the stories that were shared under that thread by girls around stereotypes and discrimination were again mind blowing, so you see the challenge is there. People feel like cyber-security or certain things in tech shouldn’t be taken up by women, but that’s an awful lie. That’s what they have told women long enough, for us to believe that maybe our brains are not even caught up, are not even structured to really do technical things but that’s a lie. You know why that’s a lie, and I can tell very strongly that’s a lie and taking myself out of the equation. We currently are using zoom for this interview, the technology behind zoom is called voice over IP, it was invented by a woman, and her name is Dr. Marian. She has over two hundred patents to her name, without Dr. Marian, a woman; we will not be enjoying this interview. We will not be enjoying Face Time. We will not to be able to enjoy WhatsApp video call; that was a woman’s invention too. We use Wi-Fi, we use Bluetooth easily. You can’t imagine your life without this technology, the things that led up to that technology is a patent a woman filed. So you see, women have played very major roles. And until we are able to educate more of the populate around how these stereotypes are standing in the way of women seeing this as an opportunity and how this stops us from being able to achieve more as a collective, only then can we get more people on our side. Making sure that the stereotypes lose their voice and rather enable women see that they have a place in the field of tech.
We love how you are raising a new generation of Africans in your industry who can confidently compete in the global market. Please share any quick tips for young creatives battling with self doubt.
I don’t sell that as a thing. I mean, we call it many fancy names right now. We can call it impostor syndrome, we call it all these really fancy names, but it’s still alive, and you know what’s very intriguing for me, it’s more alive for women than it is for men. In honor of IWD a week ago, I wanted to share something that will rise above the noise because on the eighth of March, everyone is talking about women, so I wanted to just chip this in for women ahead of time .And one of the key things I said as my last tip in that post, I put out on LinkedIn was that women should go for jobs, go for jobs you are forty to fifty percent qualified for. You see, men would do the same thing but we women we wait till we are eighty percent qualified for that job to go for it and in that post, I was saying that you know job description maybe but the man is naturally designed or conditioned to just go for things whether or not they believe in themselves that they can do that thing. They will just take it up and take the bull by the horn, but we as women have been conditioned to self-doubt, it impacts women more than men. In my experience, I mean, I stand to be corrected but in my experience, that has been the thing. So if I was to advise anybody, going under the weights of self-doubt, I would say that first and foremost you may need to come into a place of enough self-awareness to see that you can do very well without necessarily waiting for perfection, and then begin to tell yourself those things repeatedly because I find that most people who suffer from the weight of self-doubt are people who “see themselves finish”, you have a natural ability, you have certain things that come to you naturally because they come to you and because you have been known to have those things you don’t accept them as a strength anymore, you feel like taking them for granted, like everybody else has that thing. Meanwhile, you have the special ability, so I believe that ascertaining these skills, these things yourself over and over just help you begin to believe and say yeah, I can do this. I am able to, you know, and I also believe very strongly in the power of affirmation. So if you’re suffering with self-doubt, please use affirmation, keep track and journal your wins. People don’t do this; I say that even coming from a religious perspective. We read a story for example, David and Saul, when David needed to tell Saul that he could fight Goliath, he didn’t just tell him anything, he told him the things he had done, which means he was journaling. How he killed the bear with his bare hands, how he killed the lion with his bare hands. So, journaling builds your confidence. You will be able to take on the next big thing, and he said, I mean, if you’re going religious as well, it means that Goliath would also be just like the lion I killed. He is relating the journaling of his successes to the challenge in front of him. So I find journaling also a very great tip to rise above self-doubt and obtain that self-awareness that allows you to assert and stay in your place of power and grow in your place of power and in your competence. Well, of course humbly opening up your mind to learning more and increasing your skills in the areas where you may be deficient or not exactly great enough, I think is a key thing that has helped me as a person.
You continue to thrive in both national and international spaces.What would you consider most fulfilling about your creative journey?
That’s an interesting question to ask. I think that one of the most fulfilling things about my creative journey would be how much visibility I enjoy. And I would say visibility from the perspective of not how much it pays me because let’s not pretend about it, being visible does not pay the bill. It’s how many people you are able to impact. I do not know how many people I’m able to educate whose names I do not know, so my strong sense of humor comes from the visibility to be able to reach way more people than I can ever know. Than I can ever fully comprehend, so for me, that’s very fulfilling, and I’m privileged to be able to stand as a person that represents possibilities for women, that people can look at me and think to themselves: oh my god, if she can do it, I can do it. So for me, that’s very fulfilling and just even knowing that there will be more women or men that will be able to make that assertion, whose names I will never know, but my life has been able to make them see that they can be excellent, and they can be global in their industries.
Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
Yes, it’s indeed a very tricky question. I won’t say that creatives in this part of the world,in a developing country will be on the same pedestal as a developed country, and I’ll give you one reason why I say that. The mobility challenges that people in developing countries face are enormous and as a global world whenever things are looked at from the global sense because of that lack of mobility, and many other challenges, there are systemic challenges that make it difficult for us to be in power in terms of visibility, not in terms of talent but in terms of the visibility. For example I was a keynote speaker at a major conference in Canada, which means my speech was the high point of that event. For this event, I was booked and paid to speak in Canada and Italy. I applied for my visa. I couldn’t get one after four months of waiting. I don’t know anyone else in any other part of developed countries that waits four months for their visa to come out. The organisation that was hiring me to come speak had to pay for an immigration lawyer in the country where I was coming to speak for me to get my visa out after waiting four months. Which meant I got invitation, took action quickly, but still had to take an immigration lawyer to file for me to come in, you know what happened? I only spent two days in the country just two days when it took four months for my visa to come out plus an immigration lawyer, a top immigration lawyer being hired. So imagine how much disadvantages I have if the cost was the only reason, if I was put side by side with the counterpart in another part of the world and consider the cost of bringing me in aside paying my booking fee but adding onto the stress and cost of hiring an immigration lawyer, if you put that side by side with someone who already got a passport that can take them to many parts of the world, who would you think they would naturally hire?. If my skill set wasn’t very rare, if my abilities were not very rare, definitely that other person would have been hired. So you see, if you look at it from that perspective, you then begin to understand what the challenges are and how those challenges impact our global competitiveness. I mean, thank God for COVID that made it so normal for us to collaborate virtually and get work done, but just think about even the opportunities we lose out from that do not allow for collaboration over virtual means, so there are challenges. There are many challenges, but the skills are very, very high in this part of the world.
We understand balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
That’s an interesting question especially because of the mention of the word balance. I don’t know but I’m going to share what I believe. I’m known for sharing what I believe. I think that balance is a mirage for a lot of people like me; I mean that’s what I have come to see. What I generally really place an eye on is making sure I am able to read the season. There are seasons, there will be times when your work becomes really challenging, I mean if you were launching something new, If you were starting a new job, you know there are many things that could switch up your seasons. For me, I try to read the season and go with that season and what it presents because there will be times when family is really the all in all and can take preeminence over everything else but there are times when it is the season of work, where certain other things are sacrificed for that to happen and I want to use this opportunity to give a shout out to my family; nuclear and extended because a lot of people see the icon, a lot of people see the person being celebrated but forget there are people at the backend that are daily making sacrifices for that person to be able to do the work they are doing and the way they do it. So that is one thing I’m going to say but I will say that I’m also one person that must structure into structure and healthy boundaries around me, that helps me even in very big seasons, so I’m going to spend time with family. One key thing I do is I always go on vacation and when I am on vacation, my laptop doesn’t come with me. I let my head down and I have crazy fun like a lot of fun with my family. I also have structure around making sure that I spend time with my family. So for example, once a month, every month, I spend time with my child, you call that, mommy, for the whole of the day. We spend time together, so that allows us bond, and we do some stuff that he likes and things like that, so there is that structure, and then they are boundaries as well. So for example, I would not set up a meeting on the weekends, except it’s an emergency and something that I absolutely could not do during the week and is absolutely necessary. I generally will turn down meetings on the weekend, and this also helps me relax and rest and do some self-care and have that hair made, get the nails done, maybe even while away time watching TV with my family and just enjoying my time with them. So that would be my take on it. The fact that one, I respect seasons, there will be seasons that are more demanding than the rest, and then I create boundaries and structure. I also seek and I get a lot of support so in my household, for example, I have domestic staff helping me, so I am not trying to be a superwoman by any chance. I’m leveraging you know …what I have to be able to create help for myself because there is a lot of work women need to do anyhow you want to put it. So I want to make sure that I’m still able to live a full life, and when I’m sixty, seventy that I can look back and say my child didn’t grow up without me realising what his favorite color was or what he enjoyed and did like. So in those very critical times in my family’s life, I enjoy them and allow them enjoy me as well.
What does success mean to you?
Success, that’s a very difficult word for me. I mean it depends on what angle of my life. I am not going to think about success from a career perspective but success also from a family perspective. Success for me is being able to look back and say that I have lived, yeah I have lived. Living is different from existing, yes I am one person that has enjoyed living in passion and I look back and say to myself I won’t be a lonely old woman. For me it’s a huge thing, I will always have someone in every part of the world that I go to or that I eventually when my life ending, I will definitely have people who genuinely love me. That for me is success, just being able to know that I have lived. Living for me isn’t only living for my nuclear family, I mean I will be there for my husband ,break a leg for him and my child. I will do anything for them my father ,my mother, my cousins I will be there for them but far past that life is more than just living for the people who share a family string with you or the people who are in your mediate space, so for me living and success, are tied to being able to do more for other people and being able to impact other people’s lives and just knowing that someone had a better day because I smiled at them that’s success, someone had a better day because what I shared helped them get the work opportunity that changed their lives, that is success for me, and you know, just living.
Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Confidence Staveley.
I can share some fun fact ; (1) I don’t like coffee especially the aroma, most people like coffee because of the aroma but I don’t sorry guys, for the coffee lovers I’m sorry. (2) I am an extremist with sleep so I’m either sleeping very well or not sleeping at all. I can go 48 hours without sleep and I won’t have eye bags, all I need is continuous flow of activity and problems to solve and water, water is like coffee for me so once I’m hydrated there is no stopping me but I love my sleep very well and I sleep well very often.(3) I also I’m very vigorous. I don’t like clutter I like open spaces and white walls. I found out after retrospection quite a while the reason I like open spaces is because it helps my creativity.
Any short story behind the name Sisi Nerd.
I think the name Sisi Nerd came from also stereotype, a lot of girls being programmed by what people said around them to believe that women in tech should look a certain way, I mean, you must be nerdy. Nerdy, means you have to be wearing thick glasses. If you’re not wearing thick glasses, maybe wear boy clothes, you know. Liking jewelry, that’s for people that are outside this industry. Tech girls shouldn’t be that way. Make-up, that’s for lazy girls that don’t know anything about tech, right. So for me, I wanted to show girls that you can be in your true femininity and power of being in your feminine energy and still be able to strive anywhere. So the terms Sisi means young vibrant lady, while the nerd also speaks to that stereotype of people being able to thrive in tech because they are nerds and look a certain way. So I’m trying to say I am the chic version of what you always thought a nerd to look like. That means I exist, and people like me exist, so for me, it’s truly channeling my feminine energy because I will come as a woman if I was given ten times to come to this world. Just believe I’ll be a woman. I never want to be a man and I want to truly show that in my socials and inspire people fully. There is nothing wrong with being that lady who is tomboyish, we can exist in different flavors as women in tech or people in tech in general. Many flavors of us but I’m just saying if your flavor is wearing makeup, there’s nothing wrong with you, if your flavor is having long braids that touch your waist, you can still be competent in tech, that’s exactly what my brand is saying.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one colour in that pallette, what would that be and why?
Okay, so maybe just to put it out there, my favorite color is not in the rainbow, it’s been that color for a long time. It was so bad that when I was getting married, my parents had to beg me not wear black wedding dress. So you know what happened, I’ve been, you know, trying to stay away from black for major events, but on my birthday last year, I wore black. That has been my favorite color for more than two decades now. But if I was to talk about my next favorite color, that’s in the rainbow, it will be green, and I love green a lot. Green for me signifies growth. It signifies being one with nature. There’s nothing as peaceful and as inspiring as a nature. Anyhow you want to look at it. Just taking a walk in a park alone is very inspiring for ideas. You can spark up your creative mind. So I love the earth feeling of green, the nature, the way It’s for me, it’s significance with growth and new beginnings and the fact that I mean, there should always be an infinite number of new beginnings in your life whenever you choose to have them. No matter the age you are in. So green feels new and young to me every time, I love the color. And it suits me by the way.
So we didn’t make mistake by saying your impact, your personality, are evergreen?
Yeah that’s a nice way to put it.
Massive Love Confidence!
The ICONIC Team