Championing Women in Cyber security

23 February 2018

Last week while attending a technology conference in San Diego, I was incredibly honoured to receive an international award in recognition of my work promoting and furthering the careers of women working in STEM fields. It was so rewarding being recognised for this, currently 11% of UK cyber security professionals are women, which is something I am passionate about changing!

I wanted to write this blog post to share some thoughts I’ve put together on how we can all champion women who are looking to start their careers in cyber security, as well as support those currently working in our industry.

Recruitment and Outreach

Cyber security in the UK has a growing skills shortage, and in response, our industry has started to develop initiatives to address these concerns. As a result, there are now many government and privately sponsored outreach projects that have been designed to engage with students and school leavers with the aim of creating the next generation of professionals. This even includes searching in unexpected places, with the goal of reaching out to women interested in technology, but who may not have considered cyber as a career option. Non-profit organisations like Cyber Security Challenge UK do just this, and host events where enthusiasts and hobbyists can develop and showcase their ‘hacking’ skills, or learn how to program and build their own computer games as part of extracurricular projects. I believe outreach is paramount to helping women into our industry, and encourage everyone to get involved!

Outreach also presents us with a great opportunity to meet with individuals who are unsure what it’s really like to work in our type of work environment. Through meeting them we also have the chance to displace many of the common myths about working in security. Many women I’ve spoken to have not always been aware of the full range of opportunities available in cyber security because of perceptions that it’s too technical, despite the diverse roles accessible to them. This even includes talented women from other technology fields, such as data analytics, who were surprised that they have valuable transferable skills that we are searching for! It’s so important that we as cyber professionals share our experiences with women outside our industry, promote different career paths to them and help them identify how in-demand their skills are.

Support Networks

Retention is just as important as recruitment. We can ensure we support women who already work in cyber security roles by championing them, highlighting their successes and giving them opportunities where they are continuously challenged and interested in their work. Solving problems in our field requires diverse backgrounds and experiences, and surprisingly these aren’t all technical in nature. While training is important to enable everyone new to our profession to have a foundation level of knowledge, classroom-based training has limitations; so we need a support network to help women develop their careers by gaining valuable hands-on experience in a range of areas, enabling them to specialise and build up subject matter expertise.

Here at PwC we have various Women in Tech initiatives in place across the firm to mentor and coach each other. Our Women in Cyber group meets regularly and helps to develop skills, recruitment and mentorship initiatives. These support networks are also essential to promote opportunities to each other, such as external speaking events, or calls for papers from industry conferences. We also all come from different backgrounds, and as no two cyber security clients are the same, it means we’re constantly developing new ways to support them and their businesses. Because of this, everyone already working in cyber has valuable knowledge to share with others, and we can all help those new to our field learn from our experiences.

Passion for my work is what drives me, and I’m keen to give back and help others gain the same opportunities I have. I believe you’re never too junior to start mentoring others, and being part of a support network is a great way of paying it forward.

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