Preventing the ‘Brain Drain’: Promoting women’s engagement in Cybersecurity

the words brain drain written on night wet window glass close-up with blurred background in classic blue color


In this insightful piece, Charly Davis, CCO at Sapphire, presents a fresh perspective on combating the looming cybersecurity 'brain drain.' Rather than dwelling solely on the challenges, Charly illuminates the potential for cybersecurity careers to provide flexible and rewarding opportunities for women. Emphasising the pivotal role of early education, she underscores the importance of nurturing interest in cybersecurity from a young age, laying the foundation for a robust talent pipeline.

Charly joined Sapphire in October 2023 as Chief Commercial Officer.  

Brain Drain

Prior to this, she had established and managed Global Security practices at organisations like NCC Group and Insight.  

Charly has also worked as a Cyber Risk Consultant for clients of all sizes across the globe. Her expertise includes helping clients maximise the value of their security budgets and managing IT and OT security as part of a unified business risk framework.  

Charly is mum to Molly and has two dogs that enjoy walking along the Norfolk coast. In her free time, she enjoys flying her light aircraft, affectionately named Colin. 

The cybersecurity industry has always faced the persistent challenge of ‘brain drain’, where skilled professionals frequently leave their positions for other industries, roles, or countries.

The reason often varies. For some, the relentless pace of technological change overtakes their skills development, or the constant stress causes burnout. Others might find better and more convenient opportunities in different industries. The increasing demand for technical skills in every sector also means that cybersecurity professionals are always highly sought after and extremely competitive. 

These reasons consistently leave a vacuum of expertise, making talent retention very difficult in this sector. However, alongside this challenge lies a unique opportunity, particularly for women. The factors contributing to the brain drain in cybersecurity open new doors for broadening the engagement and roles of women in this industry.

Cybersecurity careers can offer women flexibility and rewarding opportunities not generally found in other tech roles. The industry has an endless demand for diverse perspectives and skills, which helps to break the traditional barriers of gender biases that have historically limited women’s participation in STEM.

However, to encourage more women to enter cybersecurity and address the industry’s challenges, we need to lay the foundation for a robust talent pipeline—nurturing interest from a young age, providing the right resources, and establishing effective guidance and mentorship.

Brain Drain

The role of leadership and mentorship

My journey and experiences have taught me the significance of being not just a leader but a mentor who can identify and nurture potential talents. Leadership is multifaceted, with one of its fundamental aspects being the ability to empower others. This empowerment can take many forms, from individual mentoring to broader external engagement with women’s charities and empowerment events.

The current generation of security leaders must take on more mentorship roles to make cybersecurity more accessible and appealing to women. Personal stories and hands-on guidance can significantly impact young women, helping them see cybersecurity as a viable career path and a domain where they can excel and lead.

Mentorship and leadership should extend beyond just offering advice. It must involve actively working to change perceptions. That shows that cybersecurity is not necessarily a male-dominated field but rather one that thrives on diversity. The discussions around gender discrepancies in applying for roles highlight a crucial barrier: the confidence gap. Men often apply for a role when they meet only half the qualifications, while women typically wait until they meet 80-90%. This narrative needs changing, and mentorship can play a vital role in this transformation by encouraging women to pursue opportunities without hesitation.

Embracing flexibility and diversity

Cybersecurity roles have certain unique perks that appeal more significantly to women. For example, the pandemic highlighted the crucial role of flexible work arrangements in balancing professional growth and personal responsibilities. Many women, faced with the dual demands of their careers and caregiving responsibilities, found refuge in the cybersecurity industry’s capacity to accommodate remote work, flexible hours, and a focus on output rather than traditional office hours. This shift is not just about work-life balance; it’s equally about recognising and valuing the diverse life experiences that women bring to the table, enhancing business strategies, outcomes, and organisational cultures.

Furthermore, the cybersecurity sector is well known for celebrating neurodiversity. The field’s complex and dynamic nature requires various cognitive approaches, making it an ideal environment for individuals who perceive the world differently to flourish. So, organisations need to promote the unique advantages of cybersecurity roles, which will help to attract more women into the sector.

At the same time, significant emphasis needs to be placed on making the sector appealing to the next generation. So, the educational foundation needs to be established from an early age. To truly promote cybersecurity as a viable career path for women, we need to integrate security education into early learning curricula. The responsibility for laying this groundwork should be equally shared by the industry and government.

Early education and changing perceptions

Drawing on personal experience, in the early days, my engagements in schools were met with curiosity and a notable need for more understanding about what a career in cybersecurity entailed. There was a Hollywood-inspired image of cybersecurity professionals cloaked in trench coats, sitting in dark basements, which are a far cry from reality.

However, today, the narrative is shifting. Young minds increasingly associate cybersecurity with innovation, problem-solving, and a promising career path. This change didn’t happen overnight. It results from mentors and educational institutions working proactively to break down stereotypes and showcase the real, dynamic nature of cybersecurity work. Through mentorship programmes, outreach to schools, and the promotion of diversity within the industry, we’ve challenged outdated perceptions and demonstrated the inclusivity and excitement of cybersecurity careers.

Despite these positive changes, there remains a disconnect in effectively translating this growing interest into a steady pipeline of women entering the field. The challenge now is to harness this interest and ensure that young women feel supported and encouraged to pursue cybersecurity from an early age.

We need to continue breaking down the misconceptions and barriers that deter women from considering a career in cybersecurity. By fostering an environment that celebrates curiosity, innovation, and diversity, we can ensure that cybersecurity is seen not just as a viable career path for women but as a field where they are desperately needed and can thrive.




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