Annika Sponselee

Partner, Deloitte Netherlands

Cyberattacks are the number one business risk in most of the world, according to a 2022 study from the World Economic Forum. Not all cyber threats are alike, and diverse problems require diverse solutions. Yet, the cyber industry is predominantly led by men. How can we solve this significant threat to the business world with only half of the population? Fortunately, the women who make up that percentage are some of the fiercest in the greater technology industry. In this series, The Female Quotient and Deloitte are putting a spotlight on 25 women at the forefront of the cyber revolution, amplifying their career advice and sharing their insights on how the industry will evolve in the future. Their stories are proof that behind every functioning society is a woman in cyber.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

There is no typical work day. Every day is different. I have multiple roles. As I have various privacy roles in the Netherlands and globally, I lead Talent in cyber and I have a purpose role. My favorite thing to do each day is to work with my people — my clients and my team — in any and every capacity.

What's a common misconception about women in cyber you'd like to debunk?

A common misconception is that it’s predominantly male. But in the privacy sector, it is not true. We are 50/50. Also, a common misconception is that cyber is just about security or hacking. It’s also about privacy — 50% is focused on dealing with personal data in line with legislation and the other 50% is focused on securing that data. It’s not just a legal topic, but a security topic as well.

What aspects of your career journey have taken you by surprise?

Previously, I was a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie focused on privacy law. The most surprising part of my career journey has been the fact that I went from a law firm to Deloitte to a privacy practice. Before 2012, the privacy team in the Netherlands did not really exist within Deloitte, so I went from being a lawyer to a hands-on go getter hiring people, establishing a network, driving sales, and doing everything you do when building a startup.

What's your superpower as a woman in cyber?

I would never want to say I have superpowers, but the things that make me tick and that I put all my effort into are people and giving back. I am in a very fortunate position to help my professionals and clients grow and help them make steps in their career. For me, it is all about supporting others.

What's the most challenging component of your job today?

As a leader and a partner, the most challenging period of my career was when the pandemic hit and I needed to keep my team together and guide them from a distance. Managing that was all about keeping a cool head and leading the team with confidence and trust. It was the most challenging part of my career.

Tell us about the cyber project you're most proud of working on in your career.

I could not pick a specific project because I love them all. The thing that I like about all of our projects is that at the end of the day, we help our clients and the people behind the data. Privacy is a human right. Not only do we work to protect a human right, but we also protect the data of consumers and citizens. It’s about more than serving a client, but serving a broader group of people. This is the meaningfulness in our work I would say.

What's one must read, watch or listen for women wanting to work in cyber?

Any content that is about raising your voice as a female leader in a male world. It’s important that women become confident along their career journeys. I see a lot of women struggle with insecurity and imposter syndrome. This was true for me as well, but I really worked on it by reading books, talking to my coach and watching TED talks to learn how to have more confidence and know my worth.

How has public perception of cybersecurity changed over the course of your career, and how do you predict in the future?

The perception is changing that security and cybersecurity is only about hacking. Today, I think there is a softer side too that is about strategy and privacy. It’s really about protecting data and people. We are also more aware now that cybersecurity is a topic that does not go away and that it is something we are continuously facing. In the future, we will encounter more legislation around cybersecurity that will continue to change the industry.

What's one piece of advice you'd give your younger self about getting started in cyber?

Don’t waste time being insecure. It costs time second-guessing yourself. I spent so much time validating my own worthiness when I was in certain positions, but it was a waste of time when I now look back. I am not sure whether I could have prevented it completely, but wished I was aware of my own worth at an earlier stage.

Who are some women working in cyber today that you admire?

I admire anyone who has passion and goes after it. They serve a bigger purpose. I think it’s amazing when people go against the odds because they believe in something and pursue it.