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Could the shift to remote working bring more women into cyber security?

Tue 2 Mar 2021 | Samantha Humphries

Cybersecurity has always been a heavily male-dominated industry, but the rise of remote working can be used to encourage more women into the profession, solving the skills gap in the process

The global cybersecurity skills shortage is a well-documented and much-maligned issue. For many years, the gap between the number of skilled workers available and the number of cybersecurity posts that need filling has been growing at a worrying rate.

In fact, a recent study by (ISC)2 found that a staggering 3.1 million positions currently remain vacant worldwide, with 22 percent of organisations reporting a significant shortfall of dedicated cybersecurity staff. Naturally, this level of unfilled vacancies has led to major problems, ranging from security vulnerabilities going undiscovered to difficulty in implementing key digital transformation projects.

While there’s no overnight fix to such an endemic industry issue, many experts point to the demographic makeup of global technology employees for a major clue as to the reasons behind it, most notably the overall lack of female workers.

According to a new report by WISE, 84% of technology industry employees are men, a sobering statistic that has changed very little in over a decade.

When looking at cybersecurity specifically, the figure improves a little, but not much. Exabeam’s own recent Cybersecurity Survey found just 21% of respondents were women. With such a large chunk of the global workforce unwilling or unable to work in the sector, the reasons behind this ongoing skills shortage start to become a lot clearer.

However, sometimes salvation shows up in the most unlikely of places. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned much of the business world on its head, forcing organisations across the spectrum to fundamentally change the way they operate in order to survive.

Most notably, it created a huge shift towards home/remote working, something that until recently was dismissed as unmanageable and untenable by senior managers. However, if that last year has taught us anything, it’s that remote working is far more viable than previously thought. In fact, there seems to be a new story every day about how businesses are saving both time and money as a result of new home working policies.

Remote working opens the door to new employment opportunities

As discussed above, if the cybersecurity industry ever wants to solve its skills shortage, it desperately needs to attract more women at every level, from those freshly graduating university to established executives with extensive business experience. In order to do this, there are several hurdles that need to be overcome.

For instance, one area where the cybersecurity industry has always been notoriously poor is job flexibility. Whereas women in other sectors can initially opt to return from a period of absence (such as maternity leave) on a part-time basis, or by working from home initially, these kinds of opportunities have been few and far between in cybersecurity. As a result, many women either steer clear of the industry altogether, or change careers after they have gained valuable experience in cybersecurity, creating a lose-lose situation for all involved.

However, thanks to the fundamental shift in attitudes brought on by the pandemic, there’s suddenly much greater scope to utilise remote working technology and other great initiatives to help retain these skilled workers.

Another rarity in the cybersecurity industry is the adoption of initiatives such as Return To Work programmes, which combine flexible working options with a range of support – from mentorships to skills refreshers – to help those returning get back up to speed quickly. Historically these kinds of programmes have been exclusive to larger enterprises, but small and medium sized businesses are finally starting to wake up their benefits as well.

Transferable skills can be invaluable

Another way to solve cybersecurity recruitment challenges is by looking internally, at existing female (and male) employees with easily transferable skills.

There’s a growing trend, for example, for cybersecurity professionals to cross-train from related areas such as customer helpdesk roles. Cybersecurity and customer helpdesk may initially seem like strange bedfellows, but the helpful and creative mindset that works well for helpdesk employees, as well as the IT knowledge they bring, provides a great foundation for a career in security.

It’s incumbent on the industry to ensure that these kinds of opportunities are presented equally to everyone, irrespective of gender and where they are on their personal career path.

Unshackled recruitment exponentially increases candidate pools

As remote working becomes increasingly accepted as a long-term strategy, recruitment teams and potential candidates are suddenly unshackled from the constraints of geographical location, massively increasing the number of opportunities for both sides.

It’s been widely proven that diverse teams with a broad range of views and outlooks think more creatively and solve problems more effectively than smaller, more blinkered counterparts. As such, it’s in every organisation’s interest to cast their nets as far and wide as they can. 

Despite the enormous challenges created by the ongoing pandemic, there are some silver linings. The fundamental shift in working culture has presented many businesses with a golden opportunity to completely rethink their recruitment strategies, opening the gates to a whole new set of candidates. For women considering a career in IT and cybersecurity, this could be a truly watershed moment.

For the IT industry as a whole, it just might be the long awaited silver bullet to the skills shortage that it’s been waiting for.

Experts featured:

Samantha Humphries

Head of EMEA Marketing & Security Strategy
Exabeam

Tags:

equality skills shortage
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