Cyber Specialist Crystal Simmons on Finding a Home and Working for Change
“To really make an impact and be successful, cybersecurity requires diverse people, backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets. There is no one size fits all in this industry.”
Crystal Simmons lives these words through her work at Booz Allen. With GLOBE, the firm’s LGBTQ+ employee forum, she leads a “cyber squad” to recruit highly skilled LGBTQ+ talent and represents the firm in a similar role at Queercon, the largest social network of LGBT hackers from around the world.
“When people who look like me and love like me are thriving and happy, we attract more industry-leading minorities,” she said.
“I feel celebrated for the first time”
At Booz Allen, “I walk into the office with my tailored suit and closely cropped hair. I feel respected,” she said. “I feel celebrated for the first time. Not just tolerated. Celebrated.”
Such inclusion is vital. Simmons has managed corporate and government IT projects for more than 18 years, including cloud and mobile projects for the Department of Homeland Security. She’s also been named a Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) Modern-Day Technology Leader for 2019. Despite her extensive skills and background, she said that she sometimes gets surprised looks when she says she’s in a leadership role.
“I’ve seen the field evolve over the course of my career, but there’s more work to do.”
Expanding the cyber community
This work includes engaging more young girls and women in cyber. “The next technology is going to come from collaboration, and it’s important that that collaboration has a fair number of women involved.”
To this end, Simmons volunteers with Booz Allen’s STEM Girls 4 Social Good, which addresses the talent gap by inviting young women to learn STEM concepts and apply them to social good problems. Simmons also leads by example through her work as the CDM Cloud and Mobile Lead at Booz Allen.
“Each time a woman stands up and is a leader, it levels the playing field, and it starts to become the norm,” she said. “Always remember, you are smart, capable, and here for a reason. Never be afraid to utilize your voice!”