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“Women in STEM fields face bias, both conscious and unconscious, at every level; To move forward, I hope male counterparts who acknowledge this will be willing to stand up” with Penny Bauder & Jen Miller-Osborn

It is difficult to get someone who has power, recognized or not, to view a situation through the eyes of someone who does not share some, or all, of that power. Women in STEM fields face bias, both conscious and unconscious, at every level. That is the nature of the current situation. To move forward, […]

It is difficult to get someone who has power, recognized or not, to view a situation through the eyes of someone who does not share some, or all, of that power. Women in STEM fields face bias, both conscious and unconscious, at every level. That is the nature of the current situation. To move forward, I hope male counterparts who acknowledge this will be willing to stand up when a negative situation occurs. Their voice in support of their female colleagues in those moments is incredibly important to help us all move forward. In some ways it isn’t only their support, but acknowledging the situation itself has occurred can create dialogue to help make the situation an opportunity for growth. Change comes through difficult conversations.


Jen Miller-Osborn is the Deputy Director of Threat Intelligence for Unit 42 at Palo Alto Networks. Her focus is detecting, identifying and differentiating between cyber espionage and cyber crime actors and groups.

For more than 10 years, Jen has worked in cyber threat intelligence and served as a subject matter expert to multiple U.S. federal agencies. She has influenced national cyber security policies and regularly briefed at all levels of government.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Jen is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. She has several degrees and technical certifications, including a Master of Science degree in information technology from the University of Maryland.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ihave always been fascinated with technology and early computers. According to my mother, those particular toys were the only ones that caused me to throw temper tantrums. I originally went to college on a full scholarship for genetic engineering, but quickly realized I did not want to pursue a PhD or work in a lab doing repetitive tasks. However, I had no idea what else I wanted to do.

I had enjoyed continually studying foreign languages since elementary school. Knowing that the American military had opportunities to use linguistics in intelligence, combined with invaluable practical skills, made the decision to enlist highly appealing. While serving on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, the federal government started focusing on cybersecurity, asking interested employees to sign up for training in the nascent field, with manager approval. I will be forever grateful to my manager for his support during my entire career there. I am in the position I am largely due to his belief in my ability to succeed. Love of technology, language aptitude, and the support from my mentor has allowed me to turn an opportunity into a career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Working on the Girls Scouts USA cybersecurity badges, especially as a former Girl Scout, has been the most enjoyable and fulfilling project I’ve had the opportunity to experience, so far. Collaborating with educational professionals to ensure the badges accurately reflect valuable real world cybersecurity skills is an amazing feeling. Growing up as a young woman, being told I wasn’t as capable with technology because I was a girl, motivates me to ensure these Girl Scouts will be empowered to take advantage of any opportunity available. Additionally, education concerning their personal online safety is increasingly important in our world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was working on a large, high-profile investigation where I had the lead role at my organization trying to identify the attackers. I had a great track record doing that. I became overconfident, trusting my research over any other data. I spent far too much time and effort arguing that I had to be right and all conflicting data wrong, instead of actually listening to my colleagues. Reflecting, I realized I did not have the best data nor had I reached the right conclusion. I wasted a few weeks of precious time before finally acknowledging I was wrong. Doubling my efforts to turn in the right direction, we began incorporating the data I previously ignored. Ultimately, the investigation was a success and it taught me to be open and consider all information, not prioritizing mine, and above all — when you realize you made a mistake, own it, correct course, and do your best not to make the same mistake again.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I am proud to be a part of Palo Alto Networks and its mission is to be the cybersecurity partner of choice, protecting our digital way of life. As the global cybersecurity leader, our vision is a world where each day is safer and more secure than the one before.

Additionally, Palo Alto Networks’ STEM initiatives, partnership with the Girl Scouts that developed the first-ever national cybersecurity badge program that provides access to cybersecurity education for girls across the United States, and the company’s programs and trainings for active military and veterans are all programs that I find to be inspiring and help make the company stand out.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m always excited by new research and that is what I am lucky enough to work with every day. One of the things I love about my job and company, we publish research freely so everyone can read it. The real world isn’t exclusive to threat researchers. With new risks increasing in speed and determination, collective available information is vital. We strive for timely, actionable threat intelligence. Reflecting on areas in which we can improve, we will continue to develop strategies that we hope will inform the greater community.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’m happy to see the focus on dispelling the myths about women in STEM and long-term focus on fixing problems. It has to start when children are small and continue throughout their lives, which is why I feel the Girls Scouts cybersecurity badges are so important. My grandmother challenged her status quo by working in a sewing factory. My mother was restricted by her family from enlisting to serve her country. I exist in a professional world where I am a woman first and an expert second. Every generation of women will work for more equal representation. It is only through greater visibility that the next generation will see the advances being made, but also see how they themselves must keep working. It is my hope that the next generation will be seen as the specialists and experts they are, rather than have that qualified with their gender.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

It is difficult to get someone who has power, recognized or not, to view a situation through the eyes of someone who does not share some, or all, of that power. Women in STEM fields face bias, both conscious and unconscious, at every level. That is the nature of the current situation. To move forward, I hope male counterparts who acknowledge this will be willing to stand up when a negative situation occurs. Their voice in support of their female colleagues in those moments is incredibly important to help us all move forward. In some ways it isn’t only their support, but acknowledging the situation itself has occurred can create dialogue to help make the situation an opportunity for growth. Change comes through difficult conversations.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

In 2019, there are still women in the classroom and the boardroom who are pressured to leave STEM fields because of pervasive and systemic pressures. We can’t talk about ‘dispelling myths’ anymore. Women aren’t bad at math. We need to focus on realities. At professional conferences, it’s considered a victory when there is any line at a women’s restroom. That’s the benchmark we’re at. But it will change. It will change because there are women and allies working every day to create opportunities, to challenge preconceived notions, and to work against antiquated and prejudiced concepts.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Ownership. When I was a government employee, I had to inform the wider community of a naming schema change. Easily a thousand emails inundated my inbox informing me as to my ignorance, incompetence, and general maleficence. In the deciding meeting, I had been a voice of dissent against the change, something inconsequential to my detractors.
  2. People as resources. I have been privileged to work with many talented people over the course of my career. Their skills and support have been the reasons for many of my successes, and I like to think that I am someone they rely on, too. In a world of ones and zeros, we must intentionally work to develop our personal relationships. The success of my colleagues is my success too.
  3. Team as a benchmark. We win as a team. Our connection is based on affinity, mindset, and determination. We work well because we take the time to get to know each other. We support each other. It must be the goal of the team to develop something greater than their collective parts. And woe unto the Escape Room that stands in our way.
  4. Delegation. There are always people on a team eager to prove themselves. There are also too many tasks in a day to reasonably complete. By delegating, a leader can create intentional opportunities for developing professionals. Growth needs to be experiential, and by delegating responsibility, these emerging team members can gain invaluable experience. Even better if they need to engage their team members to complete the responsibility.
  5. Representation. We believe what we see. Young women are astronauts because of Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova. Katherine Johnson and Margaret Hamilton showed us we were good with computers. We won the Oscar with Marcia Lucas, and the Nobel with Donna Strickland. We are responsible to be the best we can possibly be, because our daughters and granddaughters are watching.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Get to know your team as people and figure out how you can most effectively help them with their career. Strong personal relationships foster an environment of respect and support. Personal and professional development are important to make sure the individual is growing, as is the collective team. Pay special attention when hiring new people and take your time to find the best possible fit, don’t rush at the expense of chemistry. The composition and character of the team is incredibly important.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Employee one-on-ones and team meetings are incredibly important. A leader is only as successful as their team and that requires regular, open communication. That requires advanced planning to ensure meetings are not an information dump, but rather intentional opportunities to grow. This looks different depending on the desired outcome. Bowling and cheeseburgers are sometimes more important than a freelance motivational speaker. A leader needs to anticipate their team’s needs. Personal and collective motivations, however, usually require a personal connection to become visible.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is the same superior to which I referred earlier that supported me 100% in getting into the nascent field when I was still in the military. He truly focused on the employee and their skills, nothing else. As a young woman in a male-dominated environment, I was incredibly lucky to have a few amazing male leaders, both military and federal, support me and not let me be left out of training because I was usually the only female.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Outside of being free tech support for friends, family, and some local volunteer organizations, I serve on the board of the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County and my husband and I (and our six rescue dogs and cats) are supporters of BARCS and Maryland Animal Sanctuary, among others. Additionally, we are annual participants of the Great Strides Walk to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Find volunteer organizations which support causes near and dear to your heart and volunteer however you can! I don’t know any volunteer organization that has ever had too much help, you will make a difference.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That the only thing you can control in any situation is yourself, and it is not always about you. What I mean by that is if your boss, or co-worker, or friend, or other drivers are behaving in a negative way you don’t have to respond with the same. Maybe their grandmother is in the hospital, or maybe they’ve just spilled boiling hot coffee on themselves. This doesn’t mean tolerating abusive behavior, but everyone has bad days and while you don’t have to like everyone, you should always be decent to them.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

An off-the-record talk with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As a woman in power during the changing and re-ordering of the world, who has faced almost every challenge imaginable, her uncensored opinions would be amazing to hear. By navigating her position as a world leader with grace and dignity, she has created an example for women that will endure for generations.

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