Where are we at?
We no longer live in a world or job market where technical professions are seen as a man’s business. More women are taking up careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and female representation within Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is growing – but a gender disparity still exists. The ‘Women in Cybersecurity: Spanning the Career Life Cycle’ report from SANS, which ThreatQuotient recently supported, explores the current situation of female decision-makers in technology, who make up almost 25% of the field. How can we encourage women to take the leap to pursue a career in cyber security, an industry which is in-demand for skilled professionals? How can we help women take the leap into the industry? More women in ICT means more female cyber security leaders and mentors, ultimately benefiting the growth of the industry.
Although not holding a development or engineering role in a technology company, for the last 10 years of my career, I’ve worked for some of the largest cybersecurity companies in the world and now a start-up, in ThreatQuotient. My experiences have demonstrated a concerted effort to increase female representation in technology and engineering roles, which must be continued. However, there are also opportunities for women to contribute to the industry by performing key functional roles within technology companies, for example in Sales, Finance and Marketing.
According to the SANS report, women in cybersecurity positions are often uncertain about their career development, as many are unsure how they fit in, what their primary role is and how they define themselves. In general, women experience a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ and hold themselves back from being seen as ‘leaders’, despite having a great deal of experience and career success. In cybersecurity, this is even more prominent. The report reveals many women believe they ‘earned’ their positions by simply being in the right place, at the right time, despite 44.6% holding a master’s degree.
What needs to change?
In cybersecurity, female employees have a higher turnover rate at all stages of their career than their male counterparts. For many women, pay disparity, a lack of flexible working arrangements and a realistic work/life balance all impact on their tenure or choice to remain. Some women are made to choose between work and family responsibilities, with primary caregivers working part-time finding they were excluded from working on certain projects or were allocated mostly menial tasks, both which ultimately impacts on career progression. This feeds into a greater hesitation when applying for senior positions, with the report highlighting more than 35% of women feel their career was not progressing because of their gender.
Mentoring plays an important role in professional development for both men and women across all industries. Women, particularly in cybersecurity, feel as though they lack a role model they can emulate or a mentor to learn from, which only stands to impact their career potential. The report found 25% of women said they haven’t benefited from being mentored – a concerning figure seeing as how important mentoring is for skills and leadership progression. Mentoring should be gender-neutral but some women seek out a female mentor because they want gender empathy – and a lack of females in the industry limits this opportunity.
The first step
We all play a part in mentoring the future of ICT and cybersecurity, we need to encourage women to take STEM subjects at school and pursue this study through secondary and tertiary education. Once women in STEM join an organisation, it’s crucial to provide the right support, encourage career growth and development, and flexibility. As a working-mum of an 18-month old boy, I know well about the difficulty of juggling a professional and personal life while working from home. In my case, when my son isn’t at daycare (all the time under the current COVID-19 circumstances), it’s certainly not unusual for him to make himself ‘known’ during conference calls. I’m lucky enough to be in a workplace where my boss and my team colleagues are understanding, and they often greet him with a friendly ‘Hi Buddy’, which immediately removes any guilt I could have over any disruption this causes. It’s a feeling or situation that I know is playing on the minds of working parents right now, yet accommodating responses like these from colleagues, including your boss, and key stakeholders do foster healthier work and home life integration.
At ThreatQuotient, we want to help the next generation of female cybersecurity professionals, such as cyber analysts or threat hunters, get their start in the industry by having access to the knowledge they need to take the leap. We provide a wide range of free webinars which explore different topics of cybersecurity and threat intelligence and deliver an in-depth look at the tools needed for investigations and managing threats.
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The SANS Institute published further results of the “Women in Cybersecurity” study sponsored by ThreatQuotient and other companies. The full report can be found at the following link: Women in Cybersecurity
The Carousel would like to thank Céline Gajnik for her article.