Why cybersecurity needs more women

Why cybersecurity needs more women
Why cybersecurity needs more women

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Following a year in which the Middle East reported the world's second-highest cost of data breaches, at a staggering $6 million per incident , it is clear that cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for regional governments and enterprises alike.

Unfortunately, the challenge organisations face in addressing their security shortcomings is being exacerbated by the increasingly widening cybersecurity skills gap. Already in 2018-2019, 53 per cent of businesses admitted to facing a cybersecurity shortage and analysts estimate that by 2021, there could be as many as 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions globally.

This of course bears ramifications on organisations that are looking to drive business momentum by utilising digital technologies. Consider how increasingly, businesses are bringing critical services closer to their customers and employees through digital channels. Without sufficient cybersecurity resources in place, these digital innovations have the potential to be exploited, thereby turning a competitive edge into a liability that could cripple business and tarnish a brand's reputation. Worse still, the lack of talented security professionals could mean that the significant security investments that businesses are making today could end up being incorrectly implemented and managed.

While these and other implications of the skills gap have no doubt been worrisome for CIOs and IT decision makers, there's another gap in the industry that unfortunately hasn't raised similar concern - the gender gap. There's no denying the fact that the sector has historically been male dominated and today, women only account for 24 per cent of the cybersecurity workforce . It should be evident that these two industry shortfalls are not mutually independent. With the shortage of skills and 'manpower' only set to grow exponentially in the very near future, engaging talented women in the otherwise male dominated environment is extremely important.

And while this remedy to the skills shortage alone should warrant a change in mindset, there are plenty of other business-oriented reasons for why companies should actively look to hire women in their cybersecurity workforces.

Changing Perceptions

Unfortunately, despite the progress that has been made in recent decades, it's clear that the technology industry is still male dominated. This fact is apparent in educational institutions, hiring trends and ultimately the male to female ratio in the cybersecurity workforce.

To promote the hiring of women in the field, many experts have built their cases around the benefits of more diversity in the workplace. They extoll the 'unique skills' women bring to the workforce and comment on how their perspectives can 'complement' those of their male counterparts. I however believe that these arguments - whether true or not - should not be the basis of cases supporting the employment of more women in cybersecurity. Instead I offer that the fundamental reason why cybersecurity needs more women is simply because they are just as talented, capable, hardworking and qualified as men. To those who may challenge this statement I say - instead of subscribing to the belief that men are better suited to a career in cybersecurity, we as an industry must first introspect and ask ourselves whether we are actually presenting women with equal opportunities to skill up and realise their full potential.

Towards a More Balanced Cybersecurity Workforce

Beyond the obvious need for employers to change their perception of cybersecurity being a male dominated field, there is plenty of work that still needs to be done to make a career in cybersecurity an attractive and rewarding prospect for women. Central to this is getting the support of Human Resources (HR) to create a work environment that favours diversity and ensures that the 'glass ceiling' is shattered so that women have all the same career opportunities as their male colleagues.

I believe that tremendous benefit can also be found by offering cybersecurity talent - both female and male - the flexibility to work remotely. After all, cyber criminals aren't restricted to operating within office hours so empowering your staff to do their job from anywhere and at any time can be a significant advantage in the constant battle against cyber-attacks. This flexibility will also serve to encourage women to pursue their career objectives with the confidence that they will be able to maintain the essential work-life balance.

In recent years, we've begun to see an incredible change in the regional culture. Traditional societies are adapting to the new, globalized nature of business and governments across the region are taking noteworthy steps to empower women and integrate them into the workforce. Now more than ever, businesses can stand to benefit from shedding archaic perceptions and adopting a modern mindset. Attracting more women to cybersecurity is a win-win: it opens up a promising and rewarding career option to a large segment of the population while giving businesses the invaluable resources they need to counter the ever-present threat of cyber-attack.

- Nicolai Solling is CTO at Help AG. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect on newspaper's policy

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