Cybersecurity's Challenge is to Attract More Women

Are we putting women off entering cybersecurity by talking about the challenges women face in the industry?

There is often a perception that pursuing a career in a male-dominated environment presents a challenge for a woman.

We know that there is a massive skills gap in STEM subjects, and yet, 50% of the population are being put off studying these subjects because they keep hearing about the challenges they will face in their careers. That is what can lead them to choose subjects which they perceive will give them an easier path to success.

At a recent debate on Women in Cybersecurity, I heard a member of the audience say that she feels undermined by her all-male colleagues when leading a meeting or project. Her assumption was that this happens because she is a woman and she asked the panel for advice.

The following day at a Human Resources Academy training course that I was running, every person in the room was a woman. HR is clearly a female-dominated field. One of the participants asked for advice on how to lead a meeting. Same question, different scenarios.

The issue is surely not about the gender of the people in the industry, but how we prepare ourselves for any circumstances that we find ourselves in. If we are going to lead a meeting, then we need to prepare thoroughly – understand what we want to achieve, work out what the objections could be and how to counter, know the audience, get an ally. Ultimately just be prepared.

I have had challenges in my career but I don’t put them down to being a woman. In particular, the time I was asked to run some training in Saudi Arabia, I faced a new challenge every day of the two weeks I was there. I look back on it as an educational, enriching and, yes, ultimately enjoyable experience.

It was a fantastic opportunity and I like to think the presence of a woman in the room added a new dimension to the overall experience for the course participants. I did everything I felt possible to prepare myself for the program. Were there things I could have done better? Absolutely. But we learn from our experiences and use that learning to ensure we are better next time.  

Organizational cultures can be hostile. I do not believe this is just a gender issue. Gender bias does exist. I have seen it with my own eyes. In some cases it is conscious and in others it is unconscious. But there are other kinds of bias too. If we started a list, how long would it be?

So, how do we encourage women into cybersecurity rather than alienate them? At the Women in Cybersecurity panel discussion last month, it was wonderful to hear the female panelists say that they didn’t remember having faced any challenges because of their gender. Hurrah! They were a very diverse group of women (refer to our imaginary list above!). Let’s hear more of these successes. Let’s tell and celebrate their stories.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard them give was “Don’t try to act like a man. Be yourself!”

While we certainly cannot ignore and just let gender bias happen, there needs to be a balance between championing that cause and making sure we do not put women off entering the dynamic, exciting and growing sector that is cybersecurity.

Nicky Lawlor is a business finance trainer at Creating Value and co-founder of cyberfen, a company that, through a facilitated desk top simulation, enables business leaders to assess, understand and mitigate cyber risk and its specific impacts on the running of their organization.

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