Cybersecurity has become a key element of modern business.
Whether it’s protecting your company’s data from malicious attacks or making sure employees stay safe online, cybersecurity jobs are essential – and they come with both challenges and rewards.
In particular, women have several barriers to overcome when entering the industry and progressing their careers. Whether it’s a lack of awareness of the roles available to them or limited role models to look up to, these issues need addressing.
A recent report from the UK government showed that female representation in the overall technology workforce has dropped from 22% to 17%. This suggests that we are going backwards.
As much as conversations are being had, talking can only do so much. Every company within the space must commit to changing the industry for the better and making it a more appealing place for women to have a seat at the table.
So, with October marking Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Natasha Stitch, Senior Director – EMEA Enterprise and Partner Services at Tanium, looks at what are the best ways for women to break into the sector and work their way up.
Natasha is Senior Director for the EMEA Enterprise and Partner Services organisation at Tanium. With a passion for business and leadership, she has worked in the IT services industry for over twenty years. For the last 14 years she has focused on cyber, leading professional services organisations for large service providers and more recently for vendor companies. She enjoys this industry as it allows her to play a part keeping organisations, governments, and individuals more secure.
Starting out in cybersecurity
Taking your first steps in any career can be daunting. And sometimes it’s a case of not knowing where to start. You might have a passion for or curiosity about cybersecurity or tech, but not have any guidance on where that can take you and what options are available – especially as a woman.
While there’s more of an effort to balance the gender divide in STEM subjects and careers, many women in particular will not have been exposed to the numerous job options that are available within this space.
Trainee programmes are a brilliant route into the technology and cybersecurity sector. As someone starting out, they provide an opportunity to gain essential skills and learn ‘on the job’. They can help you get your footing and are often a key stepping stone to future promotions.
Many companies provide more entry level roles for those curious about the industry and will invest in your training. As someone who ‘fell’ into tech, my main advice is to not be afraid to start at the bottom.
What you know and who you know
A self-starting and proactive attitude will serve you well in interviews, especially if you’re just starting out or even changing career paths. Having that drive and hunger to learn is a great start – and showing that you’re invested in building your own knowledge will really set you apart.
LinkedIn learning is a fantastic tool for someone who’s interested in discovering more about a certain subject. Making the most of every available resource will enhance your knowledge of the industry and show that you’re informed and dedicated.
Another great tip for those starting out in the industry is to speak to people who are already working within it. Security and technology exhibitions are a great place to network and find people who inspire you, both women and men. They can act as sounding boards for advice, share their experiences and even act as mentors.
It may be a technical industry, but people like people, and gaining exposure is important. Never underestimate the power of just getting out there and talking to people.
The challenges faced by women
Entering the tech industry as a woman, you need to prepare to be outnumbered. It’s a simple fact that you will be surrounded by men – and it’s important not to let that intimidate you.
Lack of representation for women is a real challenge in many sectors, which means that we have to work harder to prove ourselves to peers and leaders. There is still a bias that women should be fulfilling “back office” roles or tasks and not taking technical or leadership roles.
For example, in a previous leadership role, I attended a regular meeting with my peers and was asked to take minutes. However, I straight away enforced that this would be a rolling responsibility of everyone in the room, not just me (as the only woman).
Another common assumption that is made, is that my male team members are my manager, when in actual fact I am. This has happened many times when attending meetings.
To overcome challenges in the tech sector, women have to be strong and not afraid to push back. It can be really hard as a female to be heard, so you have to be tenacious. Be confident in your opinions and the value you add.
A great way to overcome the obstacles that women entering and working in the sector can face is to have a goal and strive to achieve it. You need a target to focus your energy on — it can really help to motivate you in those frustrating moments.
Female tech leaders
There is so much awareness around the need for greater diversity in tech – and cybersecurity is no different. At the same time, the commitment to change this at an industry-wide level is just not there yet. Despite there being numerous businesses with amazing D&I programmes, not every company is fulfilling its promises. Companies cannot play lip service to this, they have to be accountable, drive change and take the gender gap seriously.
It’s vital for women starting out in their career to have someone to look up to in a senior position of power. In cybersecurity, this is rare. There simply aren’t enough women in the industry to have that variety of female leaders – but there could be, with the right attitudes and incentives.
Many C-suite executives will have mentors who support them, nurture their talent, and help develop them into great leaders. Without women in the workforce who are (or can become) leaders, we’ll lack that representation at a board level. And the gap will continue to widen.
There are already inspirational, hardworking, and innovative women working within the industry that could be leaders today. But, for some reason, this just isn’t happening as much as it could – or should. Obviously, the right person has to get the job. But, if 95% of the applicants are male, it’s statistically way more likely he’ll get the role. We must level this playing field.
There are numerous not-for-profit groups, such as Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), which are dedicated to bringing together and empowering women from across cybersecurity. These communities can be a valuable resource for those starting out and looking to advance themselves in the sector. Becoming a member is an easy way for women and allies to support each other and learn.
The future of women in tech
The world needs more women in tech – and it’s time for the industry to catch up. Despite calls for more diversity in the sector for over twenty years, it’s an issue that still hasn’t been properly addressed.
There are so many women out there with the potential to be great future leaders and CEOs in the tech space. But we cannot get to that stage if they’re not encouraged to join the sector in the first place.
One of the first improvements that needs to be made is in strengthening government incentives. Exposure to young girls and potential STEM careers has to start much earlier in their education, so that we’re laying the groundwork for the future of the industry. The key is to get girls interested – not just in the early stages of their education but following it throughout their entire time at school. Girls need to know that they can pursue technical or leadership roles within the tech industry, and that it is a career path they can take – and succeed in.