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IWD 2024: Gearing up for next-gen female leaders in cybersecurity
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

We know the world is short of cybersecurity professionals. Every day, cyber-attacks occur, causing damage from minor disruptions to significant breaches. It is a no-brainer that the talent shortage problem exacerbates the ongoing crisis.

Asia Pacific, despite experiencing significant growth in the cyber workforce, still faces a major shortfall in addressing this need – nearly 2.7 million positions were unfilled last year, and most organisations acknowledge this gap.

These figures confirm one thing: an inadequacy of cyber talent diversity. In 2023, women constituted just over a quarter of the global cybersecurity workforce. Although strides are being made towards enhancing diversity and inclusion, progress is slow.

Projections and expectations for the next decade or two, however, show a more positive outlook. By 2030, we can expect an increase of 35% in women in cybersecurity and anticipation of a cyber workforce, with half being women in 2050. This would largely be a result of the new ​​Generation Alpha, also known as the digitally savvy cohort, entering the workforce within 5 years.

But presently, what is making female representation in cybersecurity moving at a snail's pace? And how can we prepare and ensure these projections are on the right track, and even faster, for the next generation of female cyber talents to balance the equation?

The visible walls
From the start, women have been in the minority compared to men when it comes to taking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. As a consequence, there's a significant imbalance between male and female graduates with the right qualifications for the industry. Women would have to fight harder for their seats and compete with other male candidates in a lesser fair game.

What's even more unjust is the pay gap that we're seeing. To this day, women still earn about 14% less than their male counterparts. With the absence of financial and career progression support, the scarcity of female role models in the ICT field will become more prevalent.

It's time to dismantle these outdated barriers and challenge the norms that prevent talented women from entering and thriving in the cybersecurity domain. We should accept that the skills required for cybersecurity are not inherently tied to any gender.

Contrary to common belief, cybersecurity involves more than just combating viruses. I came into this field from a marketing background unrelated to IT. You can imagine it was challenging having to face all gender bias and recruitment hurdles, especially at the time when I first started. However, my passion for technology and fervour for cybersecurity motivated me to push through and make it to where I am now. It is safe to say success in cybersecurity is achievable regardless of one's gender.

With the new generation of digital natives approaching, organisations and leaders need to be future-ready and provide support to the growing population of female professionals pursuing technology and ICT professions.

Next-gen female breakthrough

Over two decades, I have had the privilege to meet many remarkable women in the cybersecurity industry. In this space, women often bring unique, outside-the-box ideas, approaching problems with a stronger emphasis on soft skills—a critical component in the multifaceted world of cybersecurity.

To effectively narrow the gender gap and bring out more women in cybersecurity, organisations must implement strategies to not only draw female talent but also on their retention and career progression.

First, it should begin with targeted recruitment drives. These initiatives should focus on attracting women through clear messaging and outreach programmes that highlight the inclusive culture and opportunities within the organisation.

Organisations can cultivate a supportive workplace ambience. This involves creating an environment where women feel valued, supported, and empowered to share their unique perspectives and ideas. I'm extremely proud that we have a strong presence of female leaders at Exclusive Networks. Each of them demonstrates leadership with integrity and serves as an inspirational role model for their team, setting a standard for excellence and inclusivity within our organisation.

Importantly, I believe enhancing education from early on by championing initiatives that fortify women's presence in STEM fields and leadership training is essential. This could involve partnerships with schools and universities, sponsorship of women-focused tech events, and internal initiatives to celebrate and promote women's achievements in cybersecurity and technology.

Finally, offering tailored professional development opportunities is key to fostering women's growth and advancement in the field. This could include mentorship programmes, skill-building workshops, and career advancement tracks designed to address specific aspirations of female cyber practitioners.

The ramifications of diversity and inclusion measures extend far beyond immediate organisational benefits; they contribute to a more equitable, just society while driving remarkable business growth and sparking innovation. A broad spectrum of viewpoints enables us to tackle challenges with greater efficacy and creativity.

In Australia, we witness a promising shrinkage in gender disparity, signalling an uplifting shift towards gender equality within the tech landscape. However, the world will still need to undertake vigorous efforts.

I wholeheartedly encourage a new wave of women to pursue careers in cybersecurity. The field offers endless opportunities for learning, growth and making a tangible difference in the world.

Beyond 'Inspire Inclusion', we can build a more robust and inclusive cyber landscape by creating opportunities for women at all levels, from entry to senior leadership roles. By doing so, we not only elevate the industry as a whole but also pave the way for future generations of female leaders in tech.