Women account for just a quarter of cybersecurity jobs globally. While this figure has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade (rising from just 10 percent in 2013), it’s no secret that there are still notable barriers for women looking to enter or stay in the space. These obstacles won’t disappear overnight.
Achieving equality starts with identifying these issues, raising awareness, and creating opportunities for change. This International Women’s Day, we spoke to industry experts to learn more about the obstacles facing women in cybersecurity, and what actions organisations can take to drive progress.
Visibility is key
Research from Skillsoft shows that over two thirds of women in tech claim that men outnumber them in the workplace at ratios of two-to-one or greater. This can be disparaging for those looking to enter the sector.
“Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see” and that still very much stands,” explains Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam. “There is still so much more that needs to be done to highlight and uplift women in the technology industry – if a company wants diversity, they have to show it and actively strive for it, and when they do so it pays dividends.”
“When people do not have mentors or role models to look up to they are less likely to be able to envisage themselves doing that job,” adds Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb Global. “And, while there are numerous men in the tech sector, female role models are few and far between. 78% of students from a recent survey couldn’t name a single famous female working in tech.
“To change perceptions, more female role models are needed who, supported by practical initiatives like training, open days and internship opportunities, can help to create a more compelling image for the tech industry as a sector that’s fun and rewarding to work in.”
“One of my philosophies toward creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is paying it forward,” furthers Julie Giannini, Chief Customer Officer at Egnyte. “Just as a longtime friend and former colleague helped me over the course of my tech career, I’m currently mentoring several young women, including one interested in pursuing a career in STEM. Everyone deserves a seat at the table; this begins at an early age and is fostered through helping others.”
Invest in growth
Despite growing conversations about gender equality in tech, women continue to struggle with how they are treated in the workplace, compensated, and valued within their field. Around 94% of women in tech believe they are held to a ‘higher standard’ than their male colleagues.
Tanja Omeragic, Director, Technical Sales – Cybersecurity at ConnectWise, outlines the challenges she has experienced throughout her career: “Being overlooked for the opportunity to further my career in cyber while I was pregnant, people wrongly assuming I’m in an administrative role, and having others being given the credit for my hard work.”
Omeragic now feels lucky to work for a manager and company who take her voice seriously, and advises how other organisations can support women – “increasing awareness of the possibilities for women in tech, and encouraging its leaders to mentor other women in the workplace. Having someone invest in your career and growth can make a world of difference.”
“Throughout my career, the opportunities I was interested in weren’t designed to attract women; it was up to me to dig in,” adds Susanne Gurman, VP of Revenue Marketing at Beyond Identity. She explains: “When I did, I found that I opened myself up to new and exciting opportunities. I encourage other women to do the same. Finding mentors who want to support you is vital. Early in my career, I thought I needed to figure things out on my own. That was one of my biggest mistakes – my career excelled when I started asking for help.”
She offers her advice to women starting in the industry: “The easiest way to be seen as someone who adds value is to know your craft and offer ideas on how to move things forward – building confidence in your ability to contribute. Finally, find an environment with strong DEI roots and do not tolerate environments without.”
Ultimately, organisations need to ensure they are creating an environment where women feel welcomed and supported, providing them with opportunities to grow.
“It’s not enough to simply get women in the door, there needs to be resources and support in place that keep them there,” urges Exabeam’s Humphries. “For example, employee support groups, mentorship programs, initiatives such as menstrual and menopause policies, comprehensive medical insurance – the list goes on!”
“Diversifying the workforce has been a topic of much-needed discussion for a few years now – especially in tech,” adds Caroline Mantle Strategic Alliance Manager at Six Degrees. “Organisations have listened and many are making concerted efforts to increase the gender balance through various schemes and outreaches like ‘Returnship’ programmes to specifically help restart the careers of women returning to STEM roles.
“Organisations should reflect on how they are facilitating success for the women already in their workforces in addition to supporting those looking to start, or restart, their careers in the sector. In doing so, they will be able to foster a far more equitable and inclusive workplace environment, whilst also reaping the essential benefits that come with female achievement and talent.”
Oylum Tagmac, Senior Director of International Partner Management at Commvault, agrees that returning to work can be challenging for women who take a break to have children. “These women should be supported to have short pauses in their careers and there should be programs in place to bring them up to speed on their return. Flexible business hours and hybrid work policies should be implemented to provide flexibility for women balancing domestic and work responsibilities.
“Ultimately, it all starts with leadership commitment and, at Commvault, we are very lucky to have a female leader heading up our D&I efforts. Senior teams should create an inclusive environment where every voice is heard and valued whilst also taking an introspective approach – if you don’t understand the biases that exist in your organisation, it is very hard to nurture a diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Equity means actions
#EmbraceEquity, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, calls on organisations to take actionable steps towards gender equality.
“Benefits and programs designed to meet and support the needs of women are vital throughout all aspects of the working world to ensure equality is achievable,” highlights Beyond Identity’s Susanne Gurman. “We have Women of Beyond Identity, WOBI, a company-funded committee that develops social, educational, and rewarding programs for the entire company. A sanctioned and funded program like this helps show support.”
After all, creating a level playing field for all genders is not just a moral imperative but also a business imperative, explains Nicola Kinsella, SVP of global marketing at Fluent Commerce.
“This year, Fluent Commerce has signed the MACH Manifesto for gender equality, a document developed by over 100 women in tech and a select few male allies. By signing this manifesto, we are committing to important issues such as equal pay, equality in hiring, combating unconscious bias and promoting a culture of respect and diversity. We also recognise the importance of representation in leadership and the value of allies and mentorship.
“Embracing equality involves action,” she concludes.“So, look for tangible ways to involve your company in the fight to advance equal opportunities for all to celebrate this year’s #InternationalWomensDay.”