As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the cybersecurity industry has continued to accelerate and has no indication of slowing down anytime soon. With new and innovative methods of hacking affecting businesses of all kinds, the number of cyber-attacks is also increasing. A report by DCMS showed that the UK's cyber security industry is now worth an estimated £8.3 billion – but why do we still see a lack of female representatives for an industry so high in demand?
The industry predominantly remains male-dominated, and this lack of diversity, in turn, means less available talent to help keep up with the rise in mounting cyber threats. Women currently represent about 20 per cent of people working in the field of cybersecurity, says Gartner. On National STEM Day (8th November), Andrea Babbs, Head of Sales UK & Ireland at VIPRE Security, outlines how providing equal opportunities within the workplace is significant for the future of the cybersecurity industry.
STEM subjects are traditionally considered masculine by many. All too often, teachers and parents may steer girls away from pursuing such areas, with females making up just 26 per cent of STEM graduates in 2019. Additionally, there is a need for more female STEM teachers, as young girls may feel that they cannot be what they can’t see.
Obstacles and challenges
Research demonstrates that 66 per cent of women reported that there is no path of progression for them in their career at their current tech companies, suggesting the very reason why women tend to end up in the more ‘customer facing’ roles, such as marketing, sales, or customer support. How can females continue to advance once they have a foot in the door into more technical or product-focused roles?
Maternity leave or taking a break to raise a family is another challenge women face later in their careers. Employers might question the gap in their CVs when they eventually want to return to work after taking a break from such a demanding industry to start and raise a family. A recent study shows that three in five professional women return to lower-paid or lower-skilled jobs following their career breaks.
So why not get everyone involved?
To ensure that women gain equal footing in stereotypically male-dominated industries, there is an often-overlooked factor, men need equality too. Businesses need to offer the same level of paternity leave and support to men as they do to women when it comes to looking after a family. This then leads to the need for flexibility within working hours for school runs, for example, as it needs to be understood that men have children too, and women are not always the number one caregiver.
A ‘return to work scheme’ would greatly benefit women if companies were to implement them. This can help those who have had a break from the industry get back into work – and this doesn’t necessarily mean limiting them to roles such as customer support, sales, and marketing. HR teams must also do better when it comes to job descriptions, ensuring they appeal to a wider audience, offer flexibility and that the recruitment pool is as diverse as can be.
Setting up the Cyber Security Skill strategy, the government has started acting. Businesses themselves have also started to enforce programmes to support those with gaps in their CVs and are eager to return to their careers, such as Ziff Davis’s Restart Programme. This programme is committed to those who have a gap in their experience and are keen to return to their careers, providing them with an employment opportunity that emphasises growth and training, helping professionals return to the workforce.
Creating a gender-balanced cyber workforce
There is more of a need than ever before for more diverse teams, as cybersecurity threats become more varied. Becoming part of a gender-balanced cyber workforce is an efficient way to avoid unconscious bias and build a range of solutions to complex problems.
Whilst the latest government initiatives and courses to attract diverse talent, and better the UK’s security and technology sectors are a great start, the only way to progress is more investment and emphasis on STEM as a career path.