Women in cybersecurity – what is holding us back?

Article by Milestone Systems channel business manager Anna Schreiber.

It is no secret that women are under-represented in the cybersecurity industry across the A/NZ region. 

Despite recent census results indicating that women comprise 45% of the working population across all professional industries, and 28% of the technology industry, according to figures released by ASIAL those numbers are closer to 10% in the cybersecurity industry. 

With the world in a state of unprecedented turmoil at present, the cybersecurity industry has never been more important for ensuring personal, economic and national wellbeing. A robust and diverse workforce with wide-ranging skills and depth of experience is essential for providing balance, safety and continuity to both the industry and countries at large. 

There have been steps taken to redress this – with a heightened focus on encouraging female students to engage in STEM programs throughout their school years, for example. However, certain issues still seem to stand in the way of women moving into the cybersecurity industry after graduation. 

While great things are being done with coding and robotics now in schools, and STEM programs seem to drive more women towards general technology jobs, there is little to no direct discussion about cybersecurity industries, and the pathways towards those careers remain unclear. Yet, the dynamic cybersecurity industry offers abundant opportunities for fresh graduates and even mid-career professionals. 

The industry needs to do better to promote its host of stimulating and rewarding jobs. Most front-line security installers get into the industry through the electrical trade, or because they were taught to lay cable in some capacity. To some extent, as an industry, we have not evolved our perceptions from the days where the entire industry was built around the relatively simple installation of cameras and monitors.

In today’s world, interconnectivity exists between cameras, software, access control, alarms and audio, analytics, and so much more. This makes for a rich and fascinating industry – but there seems to be a lack of knowledge about this in the wider community. 

Perhaps, people are unaware of the rich and diverse career paths, ranging from governments to so many industries all available to professional women via the cybersecurity vertical. 

The cybersecurity industry also involves a lot of travel and face-to-face meetings. While there used to be an assumption that women would generally be typecast into certain roles such as administration or marketing if they entered the cybersecurity industry, we are slowly seeing more women performing roles that require them to meet with partners and customers. 

In the case of a regional channel manager or account manager, this may involve travel across states and territories, or even between countries. 

The spectre of motherhood and family engagement also hangs large over many female professionals, and travel for work is undoubtedly one major factor holding many women back from the industry. For instance, instead of driving an hour-and-a-half to meet with a customer, then returning, the same meeting can be made from home or an office, effectively saving those three hours of travel time. As any parent will attest, it is hard being away from family, especially when you have younger children. 

Another factor holding women back is that our industry is heavily male-dominated, and this can be a deterrent for some women, as they consider factors such as a balanced workplace, equal opportunities and the gender pay gap. 

One silver lining is the current COVID-19 situation, which could be a gateway towards more flexible working conditions. With so many people working from home, there seems to be new-found acceptance of virtual events and meetings taking place within the industry. 

The cybersecurity industry certainly does not lack the technology infrastructure to work remotely, and many companies have been agile enough to implement flexible working policies that have been working well. 

When organisations encourage greater involvement at home for all employees, both women and men can share in the responsibilities, taking the stress off women who may feel particularly responsible for traditional female tasks. The flexibility for all to balance work and life would make the employee more productive. If the shift away from the nine-to-five grind at the office becomes commonplace, this will entice more women to join the cybersecurity industry. 

While we acknowledge that there are many jobs in the cybersecurity industry that require 24/7 presence with irregular hours, and cannot be done remotely, there are still many other jobs within the industry that allow for more flexibility and can accommodate employees who require a better balance of work and life. 

This dynamic industry of ours thrives on agility and flexibility. It also offers excellent scope, diversity and pathways to professional success, and there is certainly room for a much higher proportion of women. Organisations must learn quickly to adapt and build new virtual workplace relationships and cultures while keeping employee productivity and interactions high. 

The cybersecurity and technologies industry have all the tools it needs to lead the way in reshaping our new normal. We can start to level the gender playing field for a more inclusive, happier and more equal world.

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