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Close the gender gap to overcome the cyber skills shortage

Maureen Kaplan
Head of Enterprise Security Sales

As news of cyber security attacks and emerging threats become the daily norm, the need for a greater number of skilled cyber security professionals is becoming critical. However, there is a chronic shortage of these vital skills today - a recent Frost & Sullivan report found that the global cyber security workforce will fall short by approximately 1.8 million people by 2022 - a 20% increase since 2015. One significant factor contributing to this skills gap is that women currently represent just 10% of cyber security technologists.

Addressing this problem is fundamental to increasing our ability to respond to emerging cyber security threats worldwide – so encouraging more women to pursue cyber security careers can go some way to addressing this issue. I am proposing that as a community, we need to focus on three key areas to close this gender gap:

  1. Tech career visibility – start young!

  2. Embrace non-standard career paths

  3. Active mentoring to encourage a cyber-career path

Diving into some of the reasons why women are under-represented goes back to technology literacy, which starts at about age ten. Studies show that is the age when career choice self-selection begins. Showing girls the variety of roles open to those with ability in maths and science encourages the development of these core skills. Building on those skills throughout education will form a foundation for success in a cyber-career. Academic and career choices can be more challenging to achieve if this awareness doesn’t start until mid-teens.

Another path to consider is being open to non-traditional skills that could be utilised in cyber. Cyber security job postings typically include a long list of technical and business attributes – essentially looking for a “purple unicorn” candidate. Instead, tailor your job description to search for creative skillsets – this might be gamers who love solving puzzles, project managers who enjoy detailed analysis and people who seek constant change and thrive with a wide variety of tasks. Candidates with these skills, and an attitude that matches your corporate culture, will be terrific assets to your team no matter what their formal backgrounds are. Investing time to train the right people on specific tools will reap rewards for years to come, with dedicated employees sharing a diverse perspective. Organisations should also consider non-traditional approaches to hiring such as there-connect program at Vodafone, which offers people returning to the workforce after a period of time off with the opportunity to position themselves in a completely new field.

Finally, few individuals succeed in an organisation on their own. Active mentoring is key to increasing the number of women working in cyber security. Sharing ideas about advancing a skill or taking on a new role can be the spark needed to encourage a change. The Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) has created guidelines for helping people grow in their cyber careers. You can find the Cyber Security Career Lifecycle here. There are a number of terrific resources to aid the transition to into a cyber-career path including courses at local universities and hands-on practical courses from SANS.

While all of these tips and suggestions apply universally to both men and women, they are particularly important for closing the gender gap and encouraging women to join the ranks of security professionals. Female professionals can bring a unique perspective to problem-solving and their diversity of thought will be an incredible boost to your cyber team. This requires a combination of focus and creativity at the organisational hiring level, with aggressive mentoring and sponsorship programs to encourage women to proceed with this career path.

Cyber security is a key concern for organisations of all sizes. Protecting devices, networks, data and apps is an essential component of doing business. Vodafone provides security products and services to businesses of all sizes, helping you secure your business anywhere because we are everywhere. We are trusted by organisations globally, including utilities, financial institutions and government agencies. For more cyber security insights, you can find us on LinkedIn.

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