Engaging our Future Female Cyber Workforce

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The shortage of female talent in the cyber workforce remains a global challenge. There’s no denying that the cybersecurity industry has come a long way in bringing women into the industry and it’s even predicted that by the end of 2019, women will represent more than 20 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce.

However, there’s still a long way to go. When you consider that women make up almost half (47 percent) of the entire UK workforce, yet only one in six technology specialists in Britain are women, the question remains whether the industry and governments globally are doing enough to really engage our ‘future female workforce’.

Another topic on everyone’s lips is the cyber skills gap, and whether there’s enough being done to encourage young people to join the industry. With this in mind, I think the challenge of engaging our future female workforce is two-fold: 

  1. Are we leveraging our current female workforce to start and/or build upon their existing careers in the cyber workforce?
  2. Is enough being done to encourage young females to join the industry from an early age and become our future cyber leaders?

Future female cyber leaders
Today, only seven percent of students taking computer science A-level courses are female. While this is an extremely small number, I do believe there is growing appetite from young females to join the cyber industry, and that this number will increase. 

I was fortunate enough to recently speak on a Women in Cybersecurity Panel at Infosecurity Europe 2019, where I, along with some influential women in the industry, were given the chance to debate the challenges around diversity and discuss career opportunities for women in the industry. The room was packed, in fact it was standing room only, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many attendees were recent graduates. For the first time we not only have cyber degrees for young people, we have a growing pool of females graduating from these courses. 

Following the panel, many of these graduates asked the same questions: How do I get my foot in the door? What roles should I be going after? Do I have enough experience?

The answers to these questions should be readily available to this new female cyber talent pool. The UK Government is making some great movements here, for example, CyberFirst, and partnering with Girl Guides groups across the country to tap into the younger age group, but there still remains a sense of uncertainty for this newly educated workforce that needs to be resolved.

Alienating the current female workforce
It’s not just our future workforce we need to help break through the barriers – it’s our current female leaders that want to progress their careers in the industry.

Based on discussions on the Infosecurity Europe panel, I believe there’s an air of confusion among women considering entering the cyber industry: Are these roles too technical for me? Am I skilled enough?

Cybersecurity companies need to carefully consider the language they’re using when recruiting for these roles. The overuse of technical language or terms like ‘rockstar’ may be off-putting, for example. 

Although females are in technical roles, there are plenty of other skills that cybersecurity companies require. During the panel, for example, we were asked by an established communications professional how they could get into the industry. My response was that today’s threat landscape has changed. It’s not just all about what went wrong before the data breach, but the aftermath too.

A key thing to think about post-data breach is to how to communicate this effectively - internally, to customers, stakeholders and the media. These are skills that the industry needs. 

When organizations are thinking about the types of roles they are trying to fill in security, it’s no longer just the information security role itself. Security teams are changing. Cybersecurity is not just about protecting networks and data and the technical language that comes with this, it’s about people and training employees not to be the weakest link, an area that requires a diverse team – not just by sex, but by background and experience.

We need to harness our powerful female business professionals as ultimately, cyber risk is just another business risk. 

Time to Show Up
Whether you’re starting out your job search, or looking to progress your established career in the cyber industry, my advice remains the same: 

Put your hand up: Get involved in workshops or technical sessions, volunteer for new opportunities at work, college, university or school. Attend hackathons to get the insider view of cyber threats. 

Network, network, network: There is a plethora of networking events in the cyber industry, and not just for women. Attend these, attend panel sessions. Network with not only influential women in the industry, but men too. Demonstrate your capability within these networking sessions. 

You may not have the skills today, but go for it anyway: There’s always the opportunity to learn on the job. Don’t let a job posting put you off because you don’t think you have the technical skills – remember, security teams require diversity.

Build your brand: Shout about your successes, internally and externally. Blog, write, tweet – promote your own brand and let your company and the industry know why you deserve to progress.

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