By Caroline Faulder, Senior Manager – Strategy & Consulting, CyberCX UK 

International Women in Cyber Day is celebrated on 1 September and is set aside as a day to reflect on the strides women have made in the cybersecurity sector, the challenges that still lie ahead, and the indelible marks left by trailblazing women in the field. 

The history of women in cybersecurity 

Women have made significant contributions to cybersecurity since its inception. Ada Lovelace worked on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine in the 1840’s and wrote what is believed to be one of the first computer programs. Joan Clarke was a cryptoanalyst who worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park in World War Two on the Enigma project. Their contributions, and the contributions of other notable women like them, have been foundational to the development of modern computing and cybersecurity. 

However, the cybersecurity sector has always been male-dominated. Women have grappled with stereotypes, biases, and a lack of representation at the top echelons. These challenges are not unique to cybersecurity but are present across the breadth of Science, Technology, Engineering and maths (STEM) fields. 

Recent years have seen a widespread recognition of these workplace challenges and the implementation of a range of initiatives to encourage and support female participation. These initiatives are having an impact, with a 2021 National Cyber Security Centre study found that 36% of UK cyber security professionals surveyed were female-identifying. 

The importance of mentorship and networking 

A major initiative has been encouraging and facilitating mentorship and support for women from their peers and networks. Mentorship, both formal and informal, provides guidance, opens doors to opportunities, and offers a sounding board for ideas and challenges. Networking events, specifically tailored for women in tech, offer a platform to share experiences, learn from industry leaders, and foster collaborations. 

The way forward: Diversity as a strength 

Workplaces have recognised in recent years that diversity, in all its forms, is a strength. Multiple studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative, resilient, and better at problem-solving. As cyber threats become more sophisticated, the industry needs a diverse workforce that brings a myriad of perspectives and approaches to the table. 

Inspiring the next generation 

There has been a new wave of women achieving exceptional things in the cybersecurity sector, who themselves have become role models for the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. 

  • Dorothy E. Denning: Recognised as one of the pioneers in cybersecurity, Dr. Denning’s work in intrusion detection systems has been foundational. Her research and dedication have paved the way for many of the cybersecurity protocols we rely on today.
  • Parisa Tabriz: Often referred to as Google’s “Security Princess”, Tabriz has been instrumental in identifying and rectifying vulnerabilities in the tech giant’s Chrome browser. Her work has ensured the security of millions of users worldwide.
  • Shafi Goldwasser: A Turing Award winner, Goldwasser’s contributions to cryptographic theory have been revolutionary. Her work forms the backbone of many modern cryptographic systems.

Pioneering women beyond cyber: A legacy in STEM 

It’s crucial to acknowledge the contributions of women, both those who have paved the way for future generations and those who are shattering barriers, defying social norms, and providing inspiration today. Not only in the realm of cybersecurity, but across the broader spectrum of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM).  

Grace Hopper, a computer scientist, and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, played a pivotal role in the development of the COBOL programming language. Katherine Johnson, a mathematician, made significant contributions to NASA’s space missions, ensuring the success of the Apollo Moon landing program.  

These women, among countless others, have been instrumental in shaping the STEM fields and serve as a beacon of inspiration for many. Their stories underscore the importance of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in STEM, ensuring that their legacies are not only remembered but also built upon. 

A future shaped by women in cybersecurity 

As we look to the future, the role of women in shaping the cybersecurity landscape cannot be understated. Their past and present contributions serve as a testament to the power of diversity and the importance of breaking barriers. International Women In Cyber Day is a reminder of this journey, celebrating the achievements, acknowledging the challenges, and looking forward to a future where women continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring our digital world’s security. 

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