By Sydney Asensio, Head of Operations at 2020 Partners
As a woman who has recently entered the cybersecurity field, I can safely say that I viewed it as an intimidating, male dominated career path. That perception needs to change if we are to see more women build careers in cybersecurity. For an industry that is built on innovation and being fast paced, this should be very achievable.
Every single day, businesses face new risks and threats that need to be protected against. And one of the best ways that we as an industry can do that is by realizing that different skillsets and mindsets are advantageous. Do I feel the industry is averse to this, or against having more women in the field? Absolutely not. Work has already been undertaken into creating equal opportunities for both men and women in cyber, yet it remains that only 24% of the workforce are female.
Now more than ever, companies are creating enticing brand statements, promoting attractive benefit packages, and offering training and certification programs to appeal to the skilled prospects. Cybersecurity organizations now need to prioritize eradicating the remaining false perceptions through encouraging messages towards women, to successfully break biases and make them feel empowered about pursuing a job in cybersecurity.
Are the perceptions fair, and justified?
We have already witnessed the growth of initiatives to help support and act as a platform for women looking to enter the industry, including WiCys (Women in CyberSecurity) and WoSEC (Women of Cybersecurity.) They’re aiming to unite aspiring women in cyber through collaboration, networking, and mentoring, but how often is this same initiative being prioritized within a company?
Unconscious biases exist within every sector, as well as pretty much everywhere else in this world. The attitude of “jobs are meant for X because of Y” is no one’s fault, but we need to work hard in ridding that misperception. Research from tech giant Samsung last year showed that 44% of workers said they believe certain jobs are exclusively male or female. And 17% of women have also not applied for a job for fear of being discriminated against because of their gender.
Before entering the cybersecurity sector, my professional background was in client relations, sales, without a drop of cyber experience. I was worried about the male-dominated industry and found myself feeling intimidated, questioning my ability to stand out and succeed in cybersecurity. That was until I realized the value of the transferable skills that I had developed through my previous experience as well as my endeavor to develop industry-specific knowledge. Coupled with a strong support network around me, these fears are long gone, and I can now see the endless opportunities for women in cybersecurity, regardless of their background in the sector.
Leadership and management roles, advisory, and customer relations positions are paramount to business and industry success, and create countless opportunities for new talent to take the reins and become a huge driving force for the sector. The business of cyber is extensive, and there are countless opportunities for newcomers, especially women, with different backgrounds who will add greater value to a company.
How can businesses expedite the situation?
With it being such a dynamic landscape, encouraging more women to operate in the cybersecurity industry can help introduce new perspectives and ways of thinking to help combat the ever-changing threat landscape. It is vital that we endeavor to make women feel empowered to be part of a growing industry – a tactic that all organizations should be encouraged to adopt. Only then will applicants of all backgrounds gain the confidence to take steps towards cyber.
There are currently over three million unfilled positions in the cyber industry, and that number is still growing. It’s important for companies to be inclusive and make themselves more attractive to women with different backgrounds and skillsets. This includes shaping their messaging, having a strong female leadership presence, promoting mentorship programs to help sculpt future female leaders, and offering certification and training programs for upskilling opportunities. It’s about championing those already contributing to the greatness of the industry and replacing old misperceptions with truthful representations of the sector.
Creating a positive step change
It is going to be difficult to fight against the human nature behind perceptions, but it is very possible. Aside from ensuring business messaging is tailored to all groups of people, from any walk of life, there are several other approaches that organizations can take to help close the gap.
Firstly, it’s crucial to remember that all perceptions and stigmas start having an impact on individuals before their careers begin. Efforts should be made early on in educational settings to encourage the next generation of women to not fear or shy away from paths previously deemed to be male-dominated, and companies can work specifically with educators and parents to tackle the issue from all angles. Establishing a strong support network early on is fundamental. Having connections to those already in the industry, ready to give you a helping hand whenever you need it, is extremely valuable.
The gender gap isn’t a tick-box exercise for businesses to fix, it is an underappreciated area that needs genuine effort from all sides. Promoting strong, exciting female role models who are in leadership positions through to entry level roles, organizations will be changing perceptions on a daily basis. The more we see these people doing their jobs, we have a great opportunity to trigger real and lasting change. The next generation of talent must be welcomed into the industry with open arms, if they are to one day take over the mantle of responsibility.
About the Author
Having graduated from Florida International University in 2014, Sydney has acted in a number of managerial and sales roles before becoming Head of Operations at 2020 Partners in February 2021 as her first step into the cybersecurity industry. During her time so far in the industry, Sydney has recognized the need for perceptions to be changed for women to be more actively encouraged to join.