Cybersecurity Industry Must #ChooseToChallenge on #IWD2021

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International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 is a call to action for accelerating women’s equality, as well as highlighting the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge: encouraging everyone to call out gender bias and inequity, drawing on the notion that, from challenge, comes change.

With the first IWD gathering now more than a century ago, its modern day format serves as a vital reminder of the need to remain active on equality across all aspects of society – careers and the workplace being among the most important. This is particularly timely considering the events of the last year, which cast a worrying light on progress towards gender parity. In the UK, for instance, the Labour Party has warned that another 8.5 million women will spend the entirety of their careers not seeing equal pay unless measures are introduced to tackle the gender pay gap.

Looking more specifically at one of the major growth areas in the digital economy – cybersecurity – helps illustrate the challenges women still face. Whilst almost a third of the global cybersecurity workforce is now female, discrimination and a major gender pay gap continue to blight the industry. What’s more, recent research found that over a fifth (22%) of women in cybersecurity cited discrimination as an issue they’d experienced in their careers, versus just 13% of men, with women paid around 21% less than their male counterparts globally.

Despite these challenges, the industry is also presented with an unprecedented opportunity to deliver positive change. Lockdown and social distancing has driven people across the workforce into the home office and, in the process, has also accelerated a widespread cultural shift in attitudes towards flexible and remote working.

Organizations previously opposed to changes in basic working culture, either through published internal policies or via unwritten ground rules, have seen attitudes transformed by experience. Major brands around the world, from Twitter and Salesforce to Fujistsu and Facebook, have made permanent changes to how and where people do their jobs. At the very least, the hybrid approach which gives workers the option of home and office-based time is becoming the publicly stated norm of organizations around the world.

This should also signal a major turning point in corporate attitudes towards the recruitment and progression of employees who, for instance, combine careers with childcare. The idea that everyone needs to be in the office everyday to be effective has always been used as justification for limiting equal opportunities for women. As we’ve all seen in the last 12 months, this demonstrably archaic mindset has been literally overtaken by events.

What’s more, this change in dynamic is not only an opportunity to address inequality and improve the work-life balance of employees, but it can also help eliminate two major problems in IT: the lack of skilled workers and the ongoing shortage of women in the industry.

A Win-Win for the Cybersecurity Industry

Cybersecurity has a chronic global skills gap. Indeed, research by (ISC)2 has shown that the worldwide workforce cybersecurity shortage reached 3.12 million in 2020 – down from over four million the previous year, but still a huge number considering there are 3.5 million people working in the industry in total. For women, however, the challenge is more acute with Exabeam’s own annual Cybersecurity Survey revealing that only 21% of respondents self-identified as women. Although up from last year, the data illustrates a huge deficit still exists across the sector.

Cybersecurity needs to increase efforts to bring more women into roles at every level, from those at the very start of their careers to more established, experienced professionals. One of the major barriers for many women in returning to work after maternity leave, for example, is flexibility. Yet, given the widespread acceptance of the work from home culture, the industry has a clear opportunity to utilize technology and focused programs to help talented people come back to or join teams that are in need of their skills.

Addressing this issue is not just about filling vacant job roles, it’s also about the inherent value of diversity in the workplace. Without doubt, diverse teams bring much needed creativity and new perspectives to industries such as cybersecurity. What’s more, women typically possess a high level of emotional IQ and empathy, which can boost team collaboration. Studies have shown that diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time.

In reflecting on the importance and role of International Women’s Day 2021 and its value to the cybersecurity industry, it’s useful to return to the words of IWD organizers. “A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

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