#IWD2022: Women in Cybersecurity: Why We Need to Inspire the Younger Generation

The cybersecurity industry continues to grow year after year, with the UK alone recording a massive £10.1bn in investment in the sector over the last year. These impressive figures are set to grow even more within the next couple of years, and the need for more people to join the sector is evident. However, an age-old conversation remains whether enough is being done to close the gender gap and encourage women to join an industry that desperately needs more skilled professionals.

There is no doubt that the cybersecurity industry has realized the importance of having women as part of the workforce. However, the fact remains that there is still some way to go. A recent study by Cybersecurity Ventures and WiCyS reported that women would hold 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally by the end of 2021, a five percent rise from the previous year. We are certainly heading in the right direction, but there is a lot more that needs to be done in not only providing a space for women within the cybersecurity industry but for also promoting these opportunities and communicating to young girls and women that there is a space for them.

Lara Vafiadis, regional sales manager at Deep Instinct, says that she was introduced to the technology industry at the age of 21 and had no idea about the diversity of jobs on offer, and she is seeing a similar trend with the younger generation of girls: “Year on year we see more women moving into the technology sector - but when speaking to young girls as a part of Learning to Work, there is still so much confusion about what working in tech means. There needs to be a better understanding for young women about what careers are available for them in technology.” 

Racha Abdallah, customer solutions architect at EfficientIP, however, was aware of the job opportunities available in the industry from a young age, “I always knew I wanted to be a woman working in cybersecurity. My father, an officer, always said that the next war would be a cyber-war. He, therefore, wanted all of his kids to have a career in cybersecurity, so it was instilled in us from a young age.”

So, what happens when these young girls and women land a career in the industry? What is evident is the sheer determination of the women within the cybersecurity community to enter the field and progress throughout it. Joani Green, global head of incident response at F-Secure, is a prime example of this, working incredibly long hours at the start of her career while she completed a security consultant internship; “[I spent] every possible moment trying to figure things out, suffering from insane imposter syndrome and dizzying anxiety, but it paid off. After the internship, I was offered a role as an associate consultant in the security consultancy at F-Secure. Today, I’m global head of incident response, leading incident response for the company around the globe.”

"The industry can help its next generation to become more diverse by helping young girls who are interested in tech-related fields to fulfill their potential"

Christine Bejerasco is equally impressive, having faced her own challenges when progressing throughout her career to become CTO at F-Secure; “My journey to where I am now didn’t come without its challenges, and I was faced with some adversity along the way. I tackled biased salaries with male counterparts earning more despite coming from equivalent backgrounds. The perception that men are better than women in the industry was clear, but I never let this deter me.”

There is a consensus among the women in the industry that one of the ways we will improve in closing the gender gap is to make the younger generations aware of the opportunities available to them.

Bar Block, a threat intelligence researcher at Deep Instinct, says that “The industry can help its next generation to become more diverse by helping young girls who are interested in tech-related fields to fulfill their potential. This can be done by creating tech-related afternoon programs for girls, encouraging them to take part in existing programs or even just sending women who work in the industry to lecture in schools and show them that they also have a place in this industry.” 

The need for role models is echoed by Maria Thompson Saeb, senior program manager governance, risk and compliance, at Illumio, “when I first started in technology, I didn’t see a lot of women in the industry. While it didn’t bother me much at the time, it’s exciting and rewarding to have female peers now. Women are becoming better represented in the technology space, and we’re pushing the industry forward.”  

Representation is vital, and Vafiadis sums it up nicely, “when reading about some of the largest technology companies, Microsoft, Google, VMware and IBM, we know these are all led by great leaders - but not women. The idea that technology is a male industry starts at a young age, and there are still stigmas around young girls showing interest in science and technology when at school. This needs to change, and maybe seeing a strong female leader at one of these companies could be the push it needs.”

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