Woman Can... In Cybersecurity

June 2022. AMCHAM Trinidad  & Tobago recently published the following article by Vitra Gopee, Chief Operating Officer at DigitalEra Group, for Linkage Magazine, "Break the Bias". 

Vitra Gopee_with name for blog postsIn a world of 7.8 billion people, with more than 50% comprising of women, females account for 47.7% of the global workforce, 35% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students, 27.1% are managers and leaders, only 26% of jobs in computer-related sectors are occupied by women and the pay gap between men and women is 20%. These opener statistics are intended to provide a visual viewpoint as to the level of under-representation and to proffer this as an inspiring opportunity for females to represent.

Growth projections in the Cybersecurity space according to Fortune Business Insights, are expected to more than double from US$165.78 billion to US$366.10 billion in the period between 2021 and 2028, with about 32 million new positions to be created. Women account for only 11% of the Cybersecurity workforce overall, despite having higher levels of education than men for the past 20 years. It is not that Cybersecurity and IT are predisposed to men, but rather that women have been “conditioned” into thinking that IT is a field for men, which has not always been the case. In the early 20th century, women were the first programmers who made substantial contributions to the industry during World War II where they were the backbone of computing.

Around the mid-1980s, this outpacing representation started its reverse, then plunged, even though women’s representation in other technical fields maintained a healthy incline. This phenomenon coincided with the introduction of home PCs, with advertising targeted toward a male-dominated audience. This heralded the beginning of gender identification on a mass scale and so, male roles developed out of computers creating this presumed male predisposition. The mass media seemed to have “naturally” carved out technical “toys” (or gadgets) for men, which stands as a plausible reason why so many women “naturally” gravitated to “softer” fields and felt more suitably “placed” in careers inclined to caring, nursing and education.

While changing the face and look of advertising around technology and gadgets to be more gender-neutral, this cannot be the responsibility of marketing only. Fathers and mothers need to carry these conversations that women can be anything they want to be. Sesame Street got it right when they boldly showcased in 1974 the song “Women Can Be” about the many careers that “Women Can” pursue. The chorus proclaims, “there's nothing we women can't be…Just look around, it’s easy to see, there’s nothing we women can’t be!”

Global statistics show that while there is an increase in female enrollment in STEM disciplines, there is also a notable outflow of women throughout this educational period, termed “Pipeline Leak”. The issue does not seem to be education, as global and local statistics confirm that females outperform and outpace their male counterparts at all levels of secondary and tertiary level education, and are outpacing in the field of engineering and medicine. Unconscious bias presents another problem, dating back and promoting male-dominated cultures. This proud and compelling history of women who dominated programming and computing must be communicated as proof and potential.

There are no careers “reserved” for men just as there are no careers that women are better “suited” for. It shows up as neurosexism—which needs a mind-shift overhaul—where people discriminate against women because they think that female brains are “wired differently” from men's, therefore women have trouble pursuing “harder subjects” such as IT, mathematics, and the like. Career opportunities in IT and Cybersecurity are due to a talent shortage, a skills gap that the development of such skills can only solve. Teachers are responsible for communicating and encouraging our female students to advance studies in STEM and communicate how they can fit in. There shouldn’t be gender-based segregation in curriculum and learning, and education in IT must be available from as early as entry into high school.

Female role models are critically needed to increase careers in IT and Cybersecurity, for women to see, hear, believe, and know that rewarding and promising careers are achievable. The International Information System Security Certification Consortium or (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Report published in August 2018, cited that while men outnumber women three to one in Cybersecurity, more women are now entering the field, making a name for themselves in the profession, carving a path to management and climbing the ladder to leadership positions. The findings point to younger, more educated female millennials, although there is a higher percentage of GenX men who make up more of the current workforce in Cybersecurity — a clear and promising sign of a shift in gender equality and change in gender-based workforce roles.

Creating awareness about careers in IT and Cybersecurity – Girls in Tech Days, Digital Girls, and Girls in ICT, to name a few, are all recent initiatives and programs promoted by IT companies to encourage females in the field. Concurrently, there needs to be more support and outreach programs at the secondary and tertiary levels to provide guidance and steer and support females into non-traditional studies that may be less “natural” and more rewarding.

The Cybersecurity industry has moved well beyond advanced programming skills, coding, and networking to include assessments, analytics, forensics, business consulting, operations, auditing, compliance, project management, sales, graphics, marketing, advertising, and the like. At our schools, in our homes, at job fairs, campus initiatives, hiring programs, and corporate reach-outs to women colleges, we need to correct misperceptions that this is a male-dominated, “techie” space as well as communicate the balance, depth, breadth, and mix of skills required in Cybersecurity in targeted marketing programs to females.

The (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Report also pointed out that although the entry of females in Cybersecurity careers was changing, compensation continues to be an uphill battle. Fewer women earn the same level of compensation as men. Although this may be explained by the age and tenure of the growing entry of females into the Cybersecurity field, currently the industry is dominated by older men with more tenure. Previous research revealed the troubling reality that women in Cybersecurity managerial positions earn about US$5,000 less than men. Such pay inequity is a significant issue. More women are proportionally earning more degrees and certifications than men to “out skill” and “overcompensate” in order to be compensated equally.

Our hiring practices and workplace gender disparity contribute in part to low career entry for women. There is evidence that females in Cybersecurity have been on the receiving end of conscious and unconscious workplace discrimination, with male-oriented language used in job descriptions and more favourability towards men in the interviewing and performance evaluation processes. We must tackle representation head-on, not only in terms of who we employ and how we hire but in terms of reaching otherwise qualified candidates who do not apply. According to a 2014 HP Report, women “disqualify” themselves from consideration if they do not match 100% of the qualifications, while men apply for positions where they satisfy 60% of the prerequisites for the job. From an HR perspective, we need to re-look how job requirements are structured, the language used to attract and encourage “soft” skills as equally critical to technical capabilities, and the interviewing process should include a more diverse panel of technology and business professionals.

The mentoring process must be an ongoing initiative at all educational levels as well as in the HR, marketing, and promotional campaigns of tertiary level institutions and corporations. We need male and female mentors to stand as credible voices to break the stereotype about traditional gender-based roles in Cybersecurity and to encourage and support women to harness their educational superiority. Indra Nooyi, former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and current member of the Board of Directors at Amazon appropriately capture it, “Women helping each other – coaching, mentoring and providing tips – is a great way for us to be our own force.”

One of the most compelling ways to get past and overcome the issue of underrepresentation is to show how far we have come with representation. The more women see women who succeed, the greater the opportunity to attract women to rise to meet opportunities that exist.

We do not lack female role models in business, industry, IT, and Cybersecurity, although we acknowledge that the opportunity to outnumber men in leadership roles is ours for the taking. Women must step up, show up and share their experiences as role models. We have a duty to represent. In a European study of girls and young women ages 11–30, girls’ interest in STEM studies nearly doubled when they had role models in the field, and three-fifths of respondents said they would feel more confident choosing a STEM career if the field had more gender equity. One way for us to decrease income disparities is for more females to get and stay involved in STEM studies and apply for jobs where we meet at least 60% of the qualifications, recognizing that there are other “soft” skills that enhance our job function and performance — decision making, problem-solving, organization, time management and the like.

Former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon’s message for International Women’s Day in 2014 stands as a poignantly relevant appeal to our men and women today, “Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

The opportunity for women to have rewarding careers in the field of Cybersecurity is overwhelming. There’s no one silver bullet and it will take a multi-faceted approach and partnership among varied stakeholders of all genders, ages, demographics, corporations, and academics, to help females meet the challenge. The opportunity is ours, for us women to support other women and together build a strong, adequate, and compelling workforce, finding new solutions to solve the talent shortage in Cybersecurity. Women Can…And Women Will.

Link to the original article published by AMCHAM Trinidad: https://www.amchamtt.com/Linkage-Articles/12829061

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About DigitalEra

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