Spending her days fighting cybercrime, Mookho plays a vital part in protecting our customers’ data. Passionate about sharing her knowledge and upskilling others, for International Women’s Day, she tells us about how she’s encouraging more women into the workplace, redefining gender stereotypes in Lesotho.
Mookho Hlaahla didn’t know she wanted to work in cybersecurity. Only that she was good at IT and found it interesting.
After studying information systems at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, she returned to Lesotho to work for Vodacom as an intern before being hired into her current role as a Governance, Risk and Control specialist within the cybersecurity space.
“When I joined as an intern, Vodacom was specifically looking to diversify the team and that alone tells you that there weren't a lot of women within cybersecurity.”
Admitting she felt intimidated initially, she soon adjusted to working in a male dominated industry.
Mookho goes on to explain that in Lesotho, a woman’s place is still considered to be in the home.
“Society’s expectation is that as a woman, you have certain responsibilities at home. So, if you're not married, then maybe your parents are expecting you to be at home before sunset because you're a woman and you have to do certain chores.”
She realises that because of this, there is an assumption that women won’t be able to fulfil a role in cybersecurity as successfully as their male counterparts.
“As a woman, it is no longer safe for you after dark, so you can't necessarily be as available as the cybersecurity community would expect.”
She adds, “We are monitoring the security of our technology environment and at any given point in time, anything can happen, whether it's during the day or at night, meaning it needs someone that is always available.”
This is just one, damaging assumption which is used to safeguard what has predominantly been a man’s environment for many years.
“I think just being in the technology space alone, there's a lot of men and they just come up with all these reasons why you are not as capable as them and if you disagree with them on a certain work issue, it's because of your hormones. It's because of your menstrual cycle. All these funny things.”
This isn’t so much an issue within her own team, but more in terms of the broader technology landscape. However, it is changing.
Mookho recalls that when she joined the team as an intern, there was only one other woman on the team.
“What I liked about her was that she was so fierce, and she stood up to the men and was so confident. Because of those characteristics, she became the manager. So that was very inspiring because I had never seen a woman in cybersecurity hold a management position,” says Mookho.
“She has now moved onto a new job as a director in another company in Madagascar and so that’s even more inspiring because it shows that if you put your mind to it, there are opportunities out there and you, as a woman, can also grab them.”
Today, the Head of Cyber for Vodacom Group is a woman, Kerissa Varma, and she is also the President for Women in Cybersecurity Southern Africa. Arranging meet ups for women across different businesses, she is creating opportunities for girls to get into technology by inviting local schools along to these events too.
This shows the industry’s transformation already. “You see it in the way the local schools are receiving the invitation. They are excited for it and are allowing the students to participate in the events.”
Mookho also talks about how “Vodacom is putting in a lot of effort to train, not just men, but also women, to give us equal opportunities and to encourage more women to take up space in this area.”
As a Vodacom Cybersecurity Ambassador, she is part of this effort, often educating colleagues about digital skills and going into schools to teach children about internet safety, giving them tips for protecting themselves online.
Outside of work, Mookho is also part of the Internet Society, working with governments and regulators to promote free and open internet for all.
“Giving back to the community, raising awareness on cybersecurity issues within my workspace is a proud moment,” she says. “At Vodacom, we connect for a greater purpose so we have that obligation to society to also protect them.”
For Mookho, the future is bright and she’s excited for what lies ahead.
“New challenges are exciting. In cybersecurity, you don’t deal with one thing that you've been dealing with the past 10 years. It's constantly changing and challenging you.”
Might a job in Madagascar be on the cards?
“I cannot wait,” she laughs, and with that she’s gone to fight the next iteration of cybercrime.