The Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Cybersecurity

March is Women’s History Month with this year’s theme being “choose to challenge.” From a cybersecurity perspective, the number of women in this sector is increasing rapidly and it’s an exciting time to be part of this industry. However, that doesn’t take away from the challenges as studies show the number of women currently working in cybersecurity is only between 20% and 25%.

This article features the thoughts of three female leaders at ThreatQuotient, Celine Gajnik, Head of International Marketing, Chantelle Dembowski, Senior Director of Human Resources and Liz Bush, Director of Product and Partner Marketing.   All three are at the top of their game and have been ‘choosing to challenge’ the status quo for years. Here they discuss their female role models and mentors, the future of cybersecurity, the advice they would give to women looking for a career in cybersecurity and how they are making a difference and driving change.

The importance of female mentors

For any job, having a mentor throughout your career to guide and advise you is important. However, in many industries, especially cybersecurity, it would seem that there is a lack of female mentors. This in turn presents a challenge for women in this sector as they have an absence of other women in leadership roles, who they can identify with.

But, Dembowski interestingly stated that she has been fortunate enough to have a female mentor in her previous job who helped her gain a good understanding of her professional strengths and weaknesses and who she still is in touch with today. She said “I’ve had more female mentors in the past and I would say now I have more male mentors. This is primarily because there are fewer females in senior positions at organisations to provide that mentorship, hence I’m definitely connecting with more males at a higher level.”

Likewise, Bush’s first mentor in her career was female, and was a great mentor and example to learn from. She comments: “The company I started out at was very male-dominated and my first mentor was the only woman I had any interaction with. She taught me ‘How to be the only woman in a very male-dominated area’. Going forward, in many of my jobs, I was in groups where I was the only woman, so her advice has really helped.”

Gajnik mirrored this notion, adding “I think it does highlight that unfortunately today you still have more males at the executive and senior leadership level than females. Even at this point of my career, I have never had a woman as my boss.”

This highlights how the cybersecurity and tech sector is still very male-dominated and that having a female mentor can benefit women in their careers in terms of building confidence, enhancing skills, and setting achievable career goals.

The future of cybersecurity

More of our personal lives and business activities are being conducted online than ever, making cybersecurity a key issue of our time. Statistics such as the number of global ransomware hacks show increases of nearly 25% between 2018 and 2019 and 68% of business leaders feel their cybersecurity risks are increasing.

Hopefully, this increase in demand for cybersecurity globally will be reflected in an uptick in female employees and leaders within this exciting and innovative sector.

All three of our interviewees agreed that they love working in the cybersecurity space and find it a dynamic and exciting industry to be working in. Gajnik said, “I find cybersecurity interesting and love that we are making a real impact. I feel there are no limitations when it comes to cybersecurity.”

Dembowski has worked across many other industries and thinks that cybersecurity is an ‘’innovative and groundbreaking place to be”. She continues by saying she doesn’t see herself changing industry anytime soon as “there’s so much opportunity in this particular industry and there’s an acceptance and a desire to have more diversity and an openness to different perspectives.”

Advice to women in the tech and cybersecurity space

As mentioned above, women working in cybersecurity still only make up between 20% and 25% of the workforce. However, this is a significant increase from previous years, for example, women only made up 11% of the cybersecurity workforce in 2017, showing that there is a drive for and an uptake in women moving into the industry.

Gajnik stated that women shouldn’t rule out the tech sector because they think it is ‘too tough’ or ‘male-dominated’ as women shouldn’t put barriers on their careers due to fear of  embracing the unknown and any self-doubt. She highlights that, “you can have your place in different roles, you don’t have to be a developer or a threat intelligence analyst if that is not your aspiration, you can be part of this industry doing other roles.”

Dembowski advises women to “take risks and chances when you are young”. She believes that doing what makes you happy and not being afraid to follow your passion, even if this wasn’t part of your original plan, helps women to evolve, she adds: “We learn much more from our failures than our successes.”

Bush adds that women shouldn’t be afraid to take on new challenges and responsibilities as this is how we learn and grow professionally. Additionally, she advises that women “should not be afraid to give their opinions, as their point of view is just as valuable”.

Even though currently men outnumber women significantly in cybersecurity, we are seeing an increase in women joining the industry and asserting themselves within the profession. Going forward, as more women continue to succeed in this space they will undoubtedly serve as role models and mentors for other women. In turn, this will enable the workforce to become more diverse and help address the cybersecurity skills gap. In order to attract more women into the industry, organisations need to make sure this sector is rewarding and a welcoming career for anyone, whilst also understanding and addressing the workforce challenges this sector faces.

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