Cybersecurity is a diverse field, ranging from privacy and information to application and network security. As we rely more on software and the Internet in our day-to-day lives, the expanding domain of cybersecurity stands to provide everyone with a safe virtual environment. While the Internet has the capacity to greatly improve our quality of life, it also opens the door for fraud, theft, and violence. As a woman working in cybersecurity, it’s encouraging to know that my efforts protect others’ privacy, assets, and even lives.
This blog is about the shortage of women in the cybersecurity field and how organizations can motivate more women to have a contribution, as it is important to have diverse perspectives in every domain of work.
When we talk about convincing more women to work in information security, it’s easy to forget that we’ve been involved for a long time. During World War II, 7,500 of 10,000 people who were trying to crack German codes in British labs were women. We know today that this massive participation of women led to information that heavily contributed to ending a war whose outcome could have been very different (McCann, 2013).
Women have the capacity to deliver outstanding results in technology, especially in the field of cybersecurity, perhaps because we’ve been taught from a young age to be safety-conscious (Dallaway, 2013). We also see that, throughout history, we’ve been facing challenges based on our gender that may pressure us out of the industry.
I grew up in southwest Asia where some restrictions prevented girls and boys from studying together before the post-secondary level. I studied in England for my Bachelor’s in IT Business, and then in Canada for my Master’s in IT Security. In my first class in grad school, there was only one other woman out of almost 20 students. She reached out to me on that first day to ask me if I thought we could make it in the program. When she dropped out, I became the only woman in the majority of my courses, and throughout my two-year graduate program, I only met two other women.
The reason I stayed is simple: it was my passion. It’s still my passion, and as each day passes, I am grateful for studying what I love. However, the pressures that caused my classmate to leave the program still exist. I am fortunate that I never felt my gender led to challenges in my studies.
In my research for Women In Security, I’ve met with other women in the tech industry, and I discovered that, like me, they are led by their passion for technology and security. While both men and women face obstacles in the workplace, I’d like to address some of the challenges women are facing in tech fields.
Many women in tech overexert themselves to avoid being judged or stereotyped by their gender. However, this habit is physically and mentally draining. It’s unsustainable and will eventually affect the quality of their work. This has led some women to doubt their abilities and to question their qualifications, even in intermediate and senior positions.
To invite more women into the industry and take advantage of their perspective and skills, we need to provide them with a welcoming environment. Give women the same level of trust as anyone else in their skills, and let them experiment freely without the fear of failure. Overexertion is not a healthy way of addressing the issue: women should be able to believe in themselves and learn through experimentation. Women should feel safe asking for help, without judgment, and contribute to an environment of growth. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality, and it is not a problem we can solve overnight, or by ourselves. Both men and women need to work together to provide a fair environment for one another so we can feel free to grow together.
Schools play a big role in attracting women into STEM fields. There should be programs at schools for discovering students’ talents and attracting them to the field they might like to work in, in the future. This can lead to a diverse workplace in which everyone’s skills are used.
Today, more than ever, women are embracing their passions and finding success. I’m thankful that the challenges I’ve overcome have contributed to who I am today, and have made my work rewarding. Working at Security Compass has proven to me that attitudes are already changing and that improving the work environment leads to more engagement from women. We are working towards a day when everyone can be treated and trusted equally regardless of gender or nationality — a day when we can all feel free to follow our passions.
I had a chance to speak to other women about their experience working in the field of cybersecurity. Listen to what they have to say in the podcasts below, and let us know what your experience has been like.
<a class="hooked" href="https://soundcloud.com/user-845332136/ophe-pc1-with-intro" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener" data-internal="false">https://soundcloud.com/user-845332136/ophe-pc1-with-intro</a>
<a class="hooked" href="https://soundcloud.com/user-845332136/antonia-pc2-with-intro" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener" data-internal="false">https://soundcloud.com/user-845332136/antonia-pc2-with-intro</a>
Dallaway, E (2013). “Let’s Hear it for the Ladies: Women in Information Security.” 17 October.
McCann, K (2013). It’s no secret: we need more women in security. 18 October. The