Article by Charity Wright, Cyber Threat Intelligence Advisor at IntSights

cyber securityWorking as a woman in any industry, including the cyber security industry can be incredibly challenging.  We frequently need to prove that our intelligence and knowledge is valid to be respected and have our voices heard. 

Strong and resilient women before us have ensured future generations have the ability to overcome discriminatory obstacles, but a history of patriarchal rule means that we still have a long way to go in ensuring an equal and fair workplace, without gender discrimination. For instance, The Pipeline’s Women Count 2020 report shows that out of the FTSE top 350 companies, only 14 are led by women, and 15 percent of companies have no female executives at all.

The cyber security industry also shows a larger gender gap. The NCSC and KPMG UK recently published their first annual Decrypting Diversity report which highlighted that there was “a lack of inclusivity across gender, sexual orientation, social mobility and ethnicity” within the industry, and female representation in UK cyber security companies is only 31 percent. Both reports highlight a need for more inclusivity and female representation in both the cyber community and in organisations in general. Without equality in the workplace, we cannot expect future generations to join an industry where the facts and figures suggest they do not have a place there.

There are, however, many women who have made a name for themselves and have succeeded in what is a predominantly male run industry. Cyber security offers a range of exciting opportunities, and every day is different which brings a personal diversity to a working day. There are many ways in which women can get into cyber security and become engaged in all that it has to offer.

Hungry to learn?

There are two predominant routes into the cybersecurity industry: the military and university.  However, they are not the only pathways. Many industries require the same skill sets that cyber security also requires. From law, to data analysts, and even business risk jobs, the skills used in jobs such as these are easily transferable to cyber security. If there is curiosity, a willingness to learn and the hunger to understand technology and how it is used in our world today, then the components needed to succeed within this industry are already there.

Skills and qualifications

With that said, cyber security recruiters will always be looking for a set of qualifications when considering hiring someone. While having the personal behaviours and attributes to work in cyber is important, so are qualifications because it shows a willingness to put in the work to learn and improve. For example, a degree in International Studies or in International Relations creates an understanding of the global issues affecting society today as well as establishing a better understanding of different nations and cultures. This aids a career in cyber security because this knowledge helps apprehend a nation’s, or a cyber attacker’s motives and possibly their behaviours according to differences in culture, ideology, and long-term goals.

Certifications also show that candidates are willing to put in the hard work to learn important skills. Security+ is an excellent starting point because it provides the foundational skills needed to pursue a career in security; from threat intelligence, to cryptography, vulnerability management and even physical security, there are numerous paths that can be taken in order to progress in the cyber security industry. Many people that are exploring cyber security as a career use the Security+ certification to help discover which area appeals to them the most.

Mentoring – how to know who is the right mentor for you?

Finding a mentor is also an important step to creating a successful career in cyber security. Reading thought leadership pieces or looking at research from seasoned cyber professionals is a great, free way to learn, and the information out there is unlimited. It’s also worth connecting with these individuals on LinkedIn and expressing an interest in the work they do by asking them questions.  Mentors usually look for individuals who already know the direction they would like to take in their career and who are taking proactive steps to start their journey in cyber by taking classes and learning about the industry. This demonstrates an eagerness to learn and progress so potential mentors are more likely to invest their time.

Once you find a job, find a female mentor within the company. Shadowing is a good way of finding out how females in a company work within the industry and within their space. Often, women find it difficult to speak up in a meeting or express how they are feeling about a certain topic or action at work, so it is important to ask a female mentor how they do it, or simply ask to observe a meeting where women are attending and contributing. For example, how do they go into a meeting room full of men and express their ideas and input? Where do the women sit at the table? Do they allow men to talk over them and interrupt them or do they respectfully insist on being heard?  Learn by shadowing a female mentor who demonstrates courage and strength and manages to assert herself in scenarios such as these.

Looking into the future…

There will be challenges in any working environment and career, but gender should never be one of them. With a drive and passion for wanting to get into cyber security, taking the steps to begin a career in the industry is straightforward. Whether learning from a mentor, from a qualification, or from a certification (or ideally all three), the power to succeed is there. With more women feeling able to enter a career in the cyber security industry, we should expect future diversity reports to show more equal figures and, hopefully, a rise in female leadership roles.

Charity WrightAbout the author

Charity Wright is a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst at threat intelligence company, IntSights.  She has over 15 years’ experience at US Army and the National Security Agency, where she translated Mandarin Chinese. Wright now focuses her attention on dark web cyberthreat intelligence. She enjoys the dynamic threat environment of cybercriminal communication and networks and thrives on providing relevant, timely intel to her customers at IntSights.