Cyber security is one of the fastest growing sectors worldwide – now estimated to be worth over £10.5 billion according to DCMS – which is not surprising given the rapidly evolving digital landscape and pace of technological innovation. With us growing ever-more reliant on technology for work and leisure, unfortunately, this has paved the way for increasing numbers of financially crippling cyber attacks, which can potentially leave a business’ reputation in tatters.
Cyber security has emerged as a paramount concern for individuals, businesses and governments across the globe. While there is continued investment and awareness, the unfortunate reality is that individuals with cyber security skills are in exceptionally short supply – the amount of trained cyber experts is simply lacking in comparison to the demand for such workers.
Another major problem is that women represent a shockingly low percentage of the cyber security workforce (25% as reported by CyberCrime Magazine in 2022), further perpetuating the industry’s poor gender representation and diversity. While this percentage has increased year-on-year, it still has a long way to go. This worrying lack of diversity, unfortunately, means that fewer women are inclined to contribute and excel in this field to combat the growing number of cyber threats.
This article will delve into why the cyber security industry urgently needs more women and how organizations can empower women to bridge the pervasive gender gap in this evolving sector.
The Importance of Women in Cyber Security
The gender imbalance in cyber security is a problem. For starters, finding innovative new cyber defense approaches requires critical thinking, strategies and perspectives from people of diverse backgrounds. By encouraging greater female representation, the industry can uncover new tactics to help defend organizations and individuals from more sophisticated cyber attacks and hackers.
Here is a short breakdown of why the cyber industry needs more women.
Diverse Perspectives and Problem-Solving
In the ever-evolving world of cyber security, diverse perspectives are invaluable. Women bring unique problem-solving skills and approaches to the table and it doesn’t help that the IT industry has long had an ‘old-school’ mentality and bias towards common cyber security problems. Diverse teams are, statistically, more innovative and capable of addressing complex challenges, as well as being able to make informed decisions more decisively.
Women have the potential to approach technical and strategic problems differently to men, whether that’s undertaking highly-intricate penetration testing exercises or establishing top-level corporate cyber policies. Women’s distinct viewpoints and experiences can lead to fresh insights and novel strategies in combating cyber threats.
Addressing the Skills Gap
The cyber security industry is currently grappling with a severe shortage of skilled professionals, as well as preconceived notions that the industry is a ‘boys-only club’. The demand for cyber security experts continues to surge, and women represent an untapped talent pool that can help bridge this skills gap.
Not only that but hiring more women will help companies stand out from those that aren’t actively trying to change the industry from being exclusively known as a male-dominated sector. Encouraging more women to pursue careers in technology and cyber security can alleviate the shortage, diversify the talent pool, and bolster the industry’s ability to tackle evolving threats effectively.
What is Preventing Women from Entering the Cyber Sector?
As said above, the cyber security sector possesses long-standing stereotypes and biases that, frankly, deter women from entering the field, much less flourishing within it. Women are less inclined to enter male-dominated industries, particularly if there is a distinct lack of visible female role models, mentors and success stories.
If women were to see first-hand how they can forge a successful career in cyber security, companies need to actively challenge the stereotypes that persist and actively promote the diversity of skills and perspectives that the industry so desperately needs.
To help more aspiring female professionals envision successful careers in security, it’s crucial that the industry makes a greater collective effort to paint the industry as a place of inclusivity and belonging. This can be done through structured support groups, networks, guided mentorship and diversity and inclusion training programmes, to name just a few.
Empowering Women in Cyber Security
Leaders, teams and companies that hold influence in the cyber security community need to be proactive in empowering more women to join and thrive in the industry. Below are some initiatives that we can take.
Education and Training Initiatives
Early exposure and education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields are key to cultivating an interest in cyber security among young girls. Efforts should focus on encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects, providing mentorship opportunities, and showcasing successful women in the industry as role models.
Enhancing education in schools about technical fields like cyber security, as well as others like programming, coding, development, IT, and so on, will foster greater interest in the field from an early age.
Initiatives such as internships and apprenticeships with educational institutions can also help bridge the gender gap by equipping women with the necessary skills and knowledge to embark on successful careers in cyber security. This can be enhanced significantly by offering training to in-house interns, apprentices and employees that want to make the switch to cyber security from an adjacent field.
Furthermore, companies should provide strong mentors to aspiring female professionals that hold a fervent interest in cyber defense. Whether this involves bringing guest female keynote speakers for an event or partnering with female business coaches, it can help to build feelings of belonging in the sector.
Promoting Inclusive Hiring Practices
Companies must adopt inclusive recruitment strategies to attract and retain female talent in cyber security. It goes without saying that companies should provide equal pay and opportunities for their female and male employees, and establish clear pathways to help employees pursue their true passions.
By outlining this career progression path from the outset, it will entice more women to apply and, if the ‘proof is in the pudding’, so to speak, they will be more inclined to stay with the company for longer. Over time, if the company demonstrates inclusivity and commitment to holding those values dear, many women will feel more empowered to thrive and assume future leadership roles.
Cultivating a Supportive Work Environment
Creating a culture that values diversity, inclusion, and gender equality is crucial for breaking down those barriers. Companies should aim to create work environments that encourage open dialogue, flexibility and a healthy work-life balance. As more women begin to enter the cyber security field, companies should take greater steps to provide mentorship programmes and networking opportunities, alongside inclusive training that holds value to their roles.
Similarly, it’s imperative that organizations provide tailored professional development and career advancement opportunities to allow women to hone their skills, learn new technologies and tools, and pursue management or leadership roles.
Bridging the gender gap in the cyber security industry is not only a matter of fairness and equality but also a strategic imperative for its growth and resilience. By embracing diversity and challenging stereotypes, companies can create a stronger and more inclusive cyber security future that addresses future complex challenges and builds a safer online space.