Gabriella Espensen

IWD 2023: Why it’s time the cyber sector improved its gender ratio

What a difference a few years and a few dozen high-profile hacks can make. 

Not so long ago, cybersecurity was seen as a decidedly unglamorous subset of the ICT sector: backroom stuff and very much a grudge purchase as far as customers were concerned. As is the case for other forms of ‘insurance’, businesses knew they needed it. Still, it was never an attention-grabbing agenda item, nor something on which most businesses were prepared to spend more than the minimum.

Today, however, that is not the case. Since the advent of the Covid pandemic, there’s been an extraordinary surge in malicious cyber activity, including phishing campaigns and malware attacks targeted at both individuals and organisations. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) received over 76,000 cybercrime reports in the 2022 financial year, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year’s figure. 

Massive data breaches suffered by high-profile organisations, including Optus, Medibank and Woolworths-owned MyDeal, have rattled customers, invoked vigorous government responses and continually tested business leaders’ mettle, who are keen to ensure their enterprise isn’t the next to fall victim.

A growing market

With decision makers now very much alive to the existential threat a cyber-attack can represent, there’s been an increased willingness to invest in solutions and practices to mitigate the risk.

That spells good news for companies working in the sector and for individuals seeking a challenging and rewarding career helping customers maintain the robust security postures that are their best hope of avoiding compromise or attack.

Unfortunately, too few of those individuals are women. 

Historically, cyber has been heavily male-dominated, and it remains so today. The plethora of jobs on offer – many of which go unfilled because companies can’t find the right talents, according to Aust Cyber – are filled primarily by men. 

Is it because women lack the requisite attributes and skills or merely the confidence necessary to pursue careers for themselves in this dynamic and burgeoning sector?

Transporting skills

In my opinion, it’s the latter, but it’s high time that changed. While some technical roles may call for specific qualifications or certification training, many others do not.

Transportable skills in areas such as project management, sales, marketing and customer success can be put to use in the cyber sector, as can natural curiosity, creativity and a bent for solving problems.

Many women already have what it takes, along with the drive and determination to succeed. They need only be given opportunities to enter the sector and find their feet as cyber-security professionals.  

Opening up opportunities for women

I’d love to see cyber companies step up and embrace equity by being more proactive about offering those opportunities. That could be done by casting the recruitment net wider, striving to eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process, and fostering a working environment and culture that’s welcoming, inclusive and offers the flexible arrangements women very often need in order to do their best work.

Some organisations are already doing all these things and reaping the returns. My employer, Devicie, the end user device management security SaaS vendor, for example, is enjoying rapid growth thanks to the commitment and dedication of a diverse yet tight-knit team, which includes a full complement of capable women.

When more cyber start-ups and established players begin to do the same, they’ll be availing themselves of a formidable resource – and going some way towards mitigating the significant cyber skills shortage that’s otherwise expected to persist for many more years.

As we mark the occasion of International Women’s Day 2023 by celebrating how far we’ve come, I’m excited by the prospect of seeing just how much further women in my industry can go.

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