‘We need people who see things differently’: tackling cybersecurity’s gender problem | Guardian Careers

What figure do you associate with the word “cybersecurity”? Of all the already-male-dominated fields of tech, this one possibly has the most deeply engrained boys’ club image of them all – which may be why it has one of the worst gender pay gaps in the country. The industry’s female workforce is a paltry 8% in the UK (and only 7% in Europe) and they earn on average 15.5% less than their male colleagues. And this gender imbalance may have serious implications for our safety.

“I think what’s happened is the tide has come in on the beach – no one’s had the foresight to see what’s going on,” says Jane Frankland, managing director of Cyber Security Capital and author of InSecurity: Why a Failure to Attract and Retain Women Is Making Us All Less Safe. She explains that she entered the industry soon after university and “never noticed” the gender disparity around her – “it was just normal to me” – until she saw statistics stating that, globally, the percentage of women in the field is just 11%, a number that has remained steady since 2013.

Frankland believes that this lack of diversity is almost certainly leading to blind spots. “As cyber-attacks have become more creative, we need people who can see things in different ways and help us not be blindsided,” she says. She also cites studies that claim women and men gauge risk differently.

“Women are far better at assessing odds than men, and this often manifests itself as an increased avoidance of risk,” she continues. “[Women’s] preference for detailed exploration makes them more attuned to changing patterns of behaviour – a skill needed for correctly identifying threats and protecting environments.”

A lack of female role models in the industry has, in Frankland’s view, contributed to the problem. “There are amazing women in cybersecurity but they’re just not visible,” she says. “Cybersecurity has an identity problem. It’s viewed as being incredibly technical, yet it’s actually very interdisciplinary and diverse.”

According to Frankland, the issues lie not just in attracting female talent but in retaining it. “More women leave the industry than come in,” she says. “The industry culture is very tough. Women feel constantly beaten down and fed up. There’s a lot of language of the military used, and a heavy drinking culture.” She also adds that the online community surrounding the industry can be very aggressive at times.

“The people in the industry are fantastic, but we also need to look at how we create fantastic working cultures. People have got to work on their leadership and how they are designing work environments.”

One cybersecurity company that has successfully recruited a 50% female workforce at all levels of seniority is Templar Executives. Director Anu Khurmi says she believes this is due to the company taking a “holistic” approach to security, rather than focusing on recruiting only those with advanced technical skills. “[Cybersecurity] isn’t just about tech, it’s about many other disciplines within business,” she says. “We’re very open-minded about recruiting people from different backgrounds.”

Her associate, Eloise Fitzmaurice, has been working with the company since finishing her geography degree and is now pursuing a master’s degree in risk at Durham University. “I think I would have struggled if the culture was more male-dominated and everyone was doing very technical work,” she admits. “I think the culture of an organisation is very important, and having a mix of not just genders but also ages really helps. It makes you feel that you have role models.”

However, she also adds that increasing the number of women in tech overall “is something we need to develop as a society”.

Like almost every field of tech, the issues that lead to fewer women entering and remaining in cybersecurity are deeply systemic. But they need to be urgently addressed if the industry is going to remain effective. “There’s a growth in this industry, which makes it even more of a requirement,” concludes Frankland. “We’re looking at a [1.8 million] deficit of skilled workers globally [by 2022].” This has huge implications not just for those working in the industry, but for all of us who rely on it to keep us safe.

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