Creative business people working on project together, innovation in the workplace

Yvonne Bernard, CTO at Hornetsecurity, shares her thoughts on the importance of diversity, and how having diverse teams can inspire innovation.

The tech industry has historically been male dominated, with research from Tech Nation revealing that only 19% of UK tech workers are female. On top of this, insights from Diversity In Tech show that representation of minorities within the IT industry has increased by just 3% since 2015 to 19%. While this suggests the industry is slowly shifting towards being more inclusive, more must be done.

I work for cybersecurity specialist company, Hornetsecurity. Our work requires constant innovation to keep ahead of the rapid pace of both technological and criminal sophistication – threats and attacks are sadly becoming increasingly common in the workplace. In this industry, it is crucial that we do everything we can to foster innovation, inspiration and rapid action.

The dangers of formulaic recruitment

In the past, many technology firms relied on recruiting people through a formulaic approach, with strict job descriptions dictating years of experience and studying abroad as essential requirements, for instance. The problem with hiring similar candidates, with similar life experiences, backgrounds and perspectives, is that it can lead to groupthink, where a consensus or opinion is accepted without questioning.

While it’s important that candidates have proven capabilities in the industry, rigid job descriptions mean companies may miss out on exceptional talent, full of new skills and fresh perspectives, because they don’t fill the exact role on paper.

Prejudice can also be indirectly encouraged through a lack of diversity within organisations. It’s not unusual for females in senior positions to face assumptions that they occupy a different role within a company, or that they don’t have the necessary knowledge and credentials, simply because of their gender.  The preconceived notion that senior leadership positions should be held by males can be seen as a toxic example of groupthink.

Breaking down common biases

Software as a Service (SaaS) companies such as ours pride themselves on their ability to solve problems. This ability is strengthened by working with people who have diverse and unique experiences. Our global teams bring in many cultural perspectives, which allow us to identify new ideas and emerging threats and therefore, better support our customers and their unique concerns.

I am lucky to work for a global organisation that understands hiring the best individuals requires a wide pool of candidates. It means 42% of our C-suite are female, which is well above the European average of 14%. However, championing equality, diversity and inclusion should not be done as a tick-box exercise. Changing recruitment procedures to encourage a more diverse applicant pool should reflect the company’s genuine desire to work with wide-ranging talents and different ideas. The benefits speak for themselves – but there must be a deep commitment to this initiative, so talents are supported, trained and inspired throughout their time at the organisation.

The importance of understanding your employees

As part of our recruitment process, every employee undertakes our ABC personality test, which helps us to understand people’s individual characteristics whilst also giving an insight into the way they best communicate. The information from this test allows leaders to create environments where everyone feels encouraged and comfortable to share their ideas.

This approach has had a tangible impact on our innovation pipeline. It encouraged someone who identified as introverted to share their observation about decrypting malicious email attachments – an area no other vendors protected – and ultimately led to our technology labs developing a customer protection package. Within six months, we noticed competitors starting to offer a similar service. Our emphasis on supporting everyone’s unique needs and celebrating diversity in all of its forms was at the heart of the industry-first protection here.

In the world of cybersecurity, it’s so important to work in a progressive environment that chases constant growth – it’s the only way to keep pace with the rapidly changing digital security landscape. In my experience, diversity leads to innovation. Senior leaders should feel a collective responsibility to encourage people to follow their passions in technology, and break down barriers and biases that prevent significant talent from even considering applying. Diverse teams bring essential value to our sector – Hornetsecurity is proof of that.

Yvonne BernardAbout the author

Dr Yvonne Bernard is CTO at Hornetsecurity, the global Cloud Security, Compliance and Backup Pioneer founded in Hannover, Germany. With a Ph.D. in Computer Science, she has a technical background and is responsible for strategic and technical development in the areas of Product Management, Software Development, Innovation & Research, Security Lab and Cloud Infrastructure.