Women in cybersecurity: Identifying gender disparities within the industry and closing the gap

By Dave Merkel, CEO & co-founder of Expel.

  • Wednesday, 18th January 2023 Posted 1 year ago in by Phil Alsop

The cybersecurity industry has steadily gained a reputation as being highly exclusionary. While unfortunate, that reputation is not without merit. A recent UK Government report found that although diversity—in terms of ethnicity and gender—has improved over the last three years within the cybersecurity sector, employers (and likely employees) agree that more must be done.

After all, implementing strategies to ensure diversity, inclusivity, and equity (DE&I) within your organisation has the potential to not only create a better work environment for employees belonging to diverse backgrounds, but also impacts the long-term profitability of the business. How? It enables businesses to tap into innovation and creativity through diversity of thought, which is essential when it comes to better understanding the needs of end-users, stakeholders and everyone in your ecosystem.

However, businesses tend to prioritise diversity, particularly in hiring practices, without fully committing to longer-term initiatives focussed on equity and inclusion to encourage retention of those diverse hires. This lack of follow-through has led to a perception that cybersecurity isn’t a viable career path for those belonging to minority groups—including women. It’s no wonder the headlines around the cybersecurity skills gap only seem to increase. With this in mind, is it really surprising that women only hold 25% of the cybersecurity job roles globally? The ongoing skills shortage has forced businesses in many industries, including cybersecurity, to reconsider their hiring processes.

Addressing gender disparity and gatekeeping in security

Before bringing new employees into the mix, consider your current environment. Take some time to self-examine and actively prioritise equity and inclusivity before diversity (an EI&D approach). If you’re building an equitable, inclusive culture then you’ll not only increase retention for current employees, but also attract a bigger—more diverse—pool of potential new hires.

Ask hard questions. Look critically at compensation structures and determine if a gender pay gap exists. Ask yourself if the environment is conducive to women speaking honestly about the various issues they face at work.

This is also a good time to consider whether your organisation would benefit from salary transparency. By sharing salary ranges for job roles internally and externally, you open the door to have straightforward conversations with your people about their pay, and help your organisation take a step toward disrupting systemic inequity.

Once your organisation has firmly committed to creating an equitable culture from within, you can begin to improve your recruiting and hiring practices.

Because of this reputation for gatekeeping and catering to individuals from a certain educational background, many qualified, capable women tend to self-select themselves out of the cybersecurity talent pool.

Rather than placing too much emphasis on educational qualifications, years of experience or specific skills, organisations should focus on expanding their idea of the “ideal candidate” to include the right personality traits.

Businesses should consider traits like resilience, creativity and ambition, particularly in entry-level positions, to bring new and diverse talent into the cybersecurity domain. To attract more women, consider adopting more inclusive benefits—such as improved parental leave policies, child care assistance and employee assistance programs.

By curating job listings with inclusive benefits and rethinking the necessary qualifications or requirements for each role, organisations can tap into a larger talent pool and encourage individuals from minority groups—including women—to pursue cybersecurity careers.

Working towards a better future

As we look to break stereotypes and build a more inclusive environment, employers can also establish well-structured support systems for their employees via employee resource groups (ERGs).

While these groups can take many shapes and be tailored to suit the needs of individuals belonging to a particular minority group, they play a crucial role in empowering women in the workplace. ERGs provide an important sense of empowerment for women within a workplace, encouraging leadership and mentorship opportunities from within. It also creates a strong community and allows women to bring their whole, authentic self to work.

Although this journey of empowerment and dismantling workplace biases might seem daunting—it’s vital. In general, treating employees equally regardless of their gender, age or ethnicity, can lead to a more productive workplace, where everyone feels accepted and motivated to do their best.

As we look toward the future, organisations that prioritise thought diversity to help resolve problems will be the ones to solve the challenges of tomorrow.