It’s a disheartening fact, but one we all know to be true, that women cybersecurity professionals still face an uphill climb.
New research from the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec) shows encouraging signs of an increasing representation of women in cybersecurity, with more women achieving leadership roles. However, there continues to be gender pay discrepancies (46% said they’d been paid noticeably less than male counterparts) and deflated attributes towards achieving gender balance. 57% believe it will take 10 years before true equality exists in the workplace, while 20% feel that it will never happen.
Despite the industry’s shortcomings, however, it’s important to focus on and celebrate the achievements of women in tech and IT. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, teiss spoke to a number of experts on their experiences of gender disparity, and ideas on how organisations can promote a fairer, more inclusive culture.
Gender balance is an 'Everyone' issue
“The unfortunate reality is that we continue to live and work in an unequal world,” says Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA, Exabeam. “Currently, just one quarter of the cybersecurity sector is made up of women. And, whilst finding ways to bridge this gap is crucial, it also requires a genuine commitment to changing the fabric of everyday working life.”
Recalling on personal experience, Sam explains, “There were times where I’d walk into a meeting, and there’d be a man in the back speaking to me like I wasn’t supposed to be there. I felt I had to constantly justify my own position to men like these, ultimately, working harder to prove my worth. And still, it would take months before they would treat me like an equal. But regardless of this, I chose to challenge, I chose to persist.
“There have been a lot of steps forward, with brighter and more accessible paths being made for women in the industry. However, we cannot walk alone. It is not just women who should support one another, but male allies too.”
Donna Cooper, Global Marketing Director at WhereScape, agrees that it is everyone’s responsibility - men and women’s - to pave the way for a more equal future. “I have to believe that gender bias and inequality can be overcome but we are all responsible for making this happen. I am happy to have witnessed a groundswell of support from men who actively respond to the tacit consent of wrongdoing toward female colleagues, and there’s one organisation in particular where I know at least two men left as they were uncomfortable with its misogynistic mindset.
“With time and attention the issue of gender bias and inequality can be addressed with us all removing stereotypes from our language, being an advocate and ally to all women, having a flexible attitude toward those responsible for childcare, embracing diversity and - above all - being considerate toward the needs and feelings of our fellow human beings.”
Rajlakshmi Pandey, iOS Developer at Eagle Eye Networks, talks about the importance of creating a safe space. “To help redress the balance, companies should put in place processes and programs that actively encourage women to come forward. These include things like internship programs for university students with flexible hours to accommodate ongoing studies and allocating headcount for women in technical roles.”
“Joining a support group that is inclusive and can give advice is a great way to get one’s foot in the door,” adds Madelene Campos, Software Developer at BrightGauge, a ConnectWise solution. “There are many organisations that focus and support underrepresented groups in tech, such as PyLadies and RailsGirls. It’s important to understand that no one is born with tech skills. Learning how to solve problems, think critically and, at the very least, grow an awareness of what is happening in the tooling we use on a daily basis, is definitely worth the time and effort."
Supporting working mothers
Something that is often overlooked and underappreciated is providing support to working mothers. Research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) carried out during lockdown highlighted that women were carrying out on average two-thirds more childcare duties per day than men. What’s more when schools were kept closed after Christmas, a study showed that women were twice as likely to need time off work with no pay to look after children because of school closures, and are more likely to be the ones homeschooling their children.
Elke Steinegger, Germany AVP and GM at Commvault, suggests that COVID-19 has most impacted women with childcare responsibilities, and argues companies need to be more flexible, agile, and creative in order to attract and motivate top talent.
“I see female talent in charge of childcare experiencing challenges finding new jobs. This is why society has a key role to play in this regard to avoid undoing all the progress that has been made, for example finding smarter childcare options.”
“The software and software development sectors are two key areas of the tech industry that may appeal to potential female recruits in particular, as this is a segment with massive growth and therefore career potential. To get into these careers, my advice to all young, aspiring female technologists would be: be brave, believe in yourselves, have a plan and dream big. Build your network, be open to learning and find a mentor.”
Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO at Aqilla, suggests that automated technology will offer a more flexible, rewarding style of working that will support a greater work-life balance, which is particularly important to support working mothers.
Hugh says, "If the past year has proved anything, it’s that remote working, supported by the appropriate cloud technologies, is certainly productive and achievable. For working mothers, who traditionally faced challenges to provision childcare arrangements that accommodated the obligatory office - and associated travel time, it's paved the way for flexible, rewarding, digital working, which supports that vital work-life balance.”
Choosing to challenge
Despite the progress that has been made, there is still a way to go. “According to TechNation, £10.1 billion was invested into UK tech companies in 2019, with employment in the sector growing by 40% in comparison to two years prior. But despite this growth, just 30% of these roles are occupied by women,” says Leane Parsons, Change Manager at Node4.
“I strongly believe it’s difficult to fully challenge the inequality in tech until more women are in positions of power within the industry. We continue to be led by the top, which is predominantly male, and this feeds into the existing technical landscape slanted towards male audiences.
“Seeing more women in leadership roles and positions of influence will inevitably lead to more women joining the industry, as well as more girls hoping to study an IT or tech related subject at university or in an apprenticeship."
Fiona Hound, Pre Sales Director at Totalmobile, agrees that visibility of women in leadership positions will be a key driver for change. “Many organisations have been set up to work with schools and businesses to show girls what a career in tech could look like, such as Women Who Code, which a number of our staff are passionately involved in. Getting female developers, engineers and senior leaders to talk to young women and girls about their jobs and highlighting that tech can be exciting and engaging is hugely powerful.”
As a final observation, Stephen Roostan, VP EMEA at Kenna Security talks about the importance of teams banding together and promoting a positive culture where everyone can thrive. “Now more than ever, initiatives such as International Women’s Day play a pivotal role, ensuring that women and girls’ rights are treated equally and fairly remains at the forefront of our approach to life, work, friendships and common human courtesy.
“The world is full of opportunity - and that opportunity should be open equally for everyone. To the women and girls who choose to challenge, I salute you."