Women in cyber; the path to 50/50

Women in cyber; the path to 50/50

Over the last 5 years, cyber security has become a rapidly increasing industry both throughout the globe and in the UK, with companies understanding more and more the need to invest. Following a series of increasingly high profile cyber-attacks there has been a massive increase in the number of jobs available naturally culminating in a steep skills-shortage with 35% of organisations unable to fill their security jobs in 2017.

Having been in my role for the last 5 years, I’m witnessing this more than ever whilst at the same time also recognising a large gap in the talent pool… women.

In 2017, only 7% of cyber security professionals in Europe were women but this number is beginning to increase. It’s well known that historically, women have been a vastly underrated demographic in the tech sector and cyber security is no exception.

So why is this the case?

Having spoken to my contacts in the industry, it’s clear that many female cyber security professionals believe that from the off, promotion of the industry can be ‘boring, not powerful and not empowering’ and therefore not attractive to women. The Women in Cyber Security white paper also showed that over 50% of female cyber security professionals have experienced one or more forms of discrimination in the workplace and on top of this the gender pay gap is also valued at around 15%.

In addition, many female cyber security professionals believe an unconscious bias is ingrained in girls meaning they find it challenging to pursue what may be traditionally seen as a ‘male’ industry[1]. An FT report revealed that an “old-boys’ network”[2] often exists making roles for women seem hard to come by.

So how can the industry address this?

Industry research has revealed that women are more receptive to sponsorship and mentorship programmes, and feel higher levels of job satisfaction and value with plenty of role models in the industry willing to get involved. Speaking to Valerie Reynolds, Director – Head of IT Governance & Control at ReAssure she stated “it’s rewarding to see individuals grow and gain confidence through being coached and knowing that others have been able to progress in their chosen field. Personally, I have always benefited from coaching/mentoring others as much as the individuals concerned.”

Women already in the industry are using their position to encourage girls into cyber security. We are seeing more and more ambassador’s talk about their roles in schools, dispelling the stigma that STEM is purely technical and dull[3] and acting as role models and ambassadors for the industry.

Julie Evans, Global IT Risk & Cyber Security Manager at Kautex Textron, loves her role in the cyber security industry and certainly presents it as a dynamic industry: "Working in cyber security is fascinating; there's something different happening every day. It balances out the mundane jobs with something more achievable and exciting […] Technology is powerful and security is thriving.”

At an educational level, many country-wide initiatives have also been launched to attract young girls into cyber security. GCHQ for example launched the CyberFirst Girls Competition; whereby teams of young women from 13-15 are given the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

At career level, there are now multiple groups and societies with the goal of advancing women in the industry. The WSS (Women’s Security Society) encourages women in the security industry to network, mentor and give career advice. Similarly, PGI launched the Women in Cyber programme, sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport that trains women into entry level cyber security professionals.

Here’s just a few more reasons to join the industry…

It has been predicted that by 2021, there will be 3.5 million cyber security job openings, more than triple the current number. The industry finally recognises that something must be done and the encouragement and inclusion of women in filling these roles can only benefit the industry as a whole.

I am incredibly proud of the fact that the Cyber & Information Security team at Sanderson are an all-female team with a fantastic overview of the industry as a whole. The industry is certainly on the up and witnessing these changes is incredibly encouraging.

For more information on cyber security recruitment at Sanderson, visit our Cyber and Information Security division.