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IWD 2024: Championing women in STEM and cybersecurity: Key to safeguarding Australia's future
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

With the rapid advancement of emerging technologies such as Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI), 5G connectivity, and the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber threats are evolving in complexity and sophistication at an alarming rate. Building awareness and encouraging people to consider their opportunities in the field have become necessary steps to building a national cybersecurity workforce that can protect society's digital world.

There have been studies that show companies with the greatest proportion of women on executive committees earned a 47% higher rate of return on equity than companies with no women executives. Companies in the top 25% for gender diversity are 27% more likely to outperform their national industry average in terms of profitability. The current state of affairs, however, paints a grimmer picture. According to the Global Gender Gap Report (2023), women comprise only 29.2 % of the STEM workforce in 146 nations evaluated, compared to nearly 50 % of non-STEM occupations. Here in Australia, the state of STEM gender equity report 2023 found that only 15% of STEM-qualified jobs are held by women, and according to The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, Australia will need over 16,000 workers in cybersecurity by 2026 to close the gender disparity. 

To showcase our commitment to promoting cybersecurity education and talent development in Australia, we launched the ESET Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship in Australia three years ago to encourage more women to enter this critical field. We are grateful for the collaboration (since 2023) with the Australian Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, Clare O'Neil, to expand the reach and impact of this scholarship. Our belief in the necessity of a diverse workforce in combating cybercrime is encapsulated in the words of our APJ President, Parvinder Walia, that "eradicating cybercrime needs a global army of passionate cybersecurity evangelists with different perspectives," 

When we consider initiatives, such as The Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship, we can see this brings more to the table than just financial support. Activities and private-public initiatives like this show a tangible commitment to inclusivity and empowerment in a field traditionally dominated by men. These initiatives also send a strong message that women are not only welcome but are essential to the future of cybersecurity in Australia and globally. 

We must ensure our DEI efforts extend beyond one-off programs — we need to be consistent with our efforts to promote diversity at the workplace and build an overarching strategy to inspire the next gen of leaders. The onus is on leaders to adopt a comprehensive approach that includes hiring practices, employee resource groups, and community engagement to be all-inclusive. Efforts must contribute to a more competitive and innovative cybersecurity industry where women have equal opportunities to excel and lead beyond more than tokenistic gestures.

The Australian government's lofty objective to become a world in cybersecurity by 2030 underscores the critical importance of nurturing a diverse workforce in STEM and cybersecurity. To realise this vision, industry leaders and policymakers must persist in advocating for cybersecurity and strive to reshape perceptions within the field.

As we commemorate International Women's Day (IWD) with the theme #InspireInclusion, it is paramount that we collectively acknowledge the significance of fostering inclusion in STEM and cybersecurity. This has implications beyond representation — embracing diverse perspectives and experiences is essential for enhancing national security and safeguarding our digital future. Inclusion is not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic necessity in our journey towards a more resilient and secure cyber landscape.