Women in cyber – challenges and opportunities!

Article by Claire Harratt, Managed Services Manager, Saepio Information Security.

‘My route into the cybersecurity industry was a happy accident. I had left the teaching profession to spend more time with my young children before deciding on the direction I wanted my future career to take.

By chance, I happened to see an entry level role at Saepio advertised just as I was beginning to get itchy feet at home. I was very fortunate to get my first foothold in cyber with a truly progressive company that saw my potential and the value in my transferable skills, rather than focusing on prior industry experience or relevant certifications’.

Claire’s ease of entry into the cyber-security industry does appear atypical though, with many struggling to land their first cyber specific role and where women specifically are woefully under-represented in the workforce.

So why are there so few women in Cyber?

‘I have definitely noticed the gender imbalance in cybersecurity since entering the profession. For a number of years I was the only female employee at Saepio, but that wasn’t due to our lack of desire to hire more inclusively; women simply didn’t apply for our vacancies in the early days’, says Claire.

Encouragingly, Saepio now employ as many women as they do men, and it seems anecdotally, that already having women in the business has encouraged more to join the ranks. This really spotlights the importance of having visible female role models and diversity champions within the industry; and much progress has been made in these areas in recent years. There are some noticeable trailblazers that Claire says she follows avidly on LinkedIn: Jane Frankland, Lisa Ventura, Lisa Forte, Eliza-May Austin.

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There are also a growing number of organisations supporting women in cyber, and several initiatives designed to encourage more women into the field. We have recently celebrated Ada Lovelace Day, for example. Ada is often referred to as being ‘The First Computer Programmer’. According to www.findingada.com Ada Lovelace Day is an, ‘international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM’.

However, according to stats published by UCAS for 2017/18 and reported on by www.stemwomen.co.uk the percentage of female students studying a STEM related course was 35%. When we look specifically at those studying computer sciences this drops to an astonishing 19% females versus 81% males. In contrast though a recent research report by (ISC)2 concludes that females now make up around 25% of the cyber workforce so, at least on the face of it, the gender imbalance in cyber is slowly starting to improve; and improve it must. Given that ‘The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2021’ places cyber security failure as one of the key threats we face as global citizens, it is essential we encourage a more diverse cyber workforce to be able to meet those challenges.

Research shows that diverse teams produce better business outcomes, and initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge UK, the NCSC’s CyberFirst Girls Competition, and Code First Girls are all helping to raise awareness of routes into the profession and the variety of opportunities available.

‘My advice to any females, and everyone generally, looking to get into cyber is to go for it! There are such a huge variety of roles on offer, business orientated as well as technical. It’s a fast paced, challenging and incredibly rewarding field to work in. Do your research, take opportunities to skill up and train when available, network with people already working in cyber, and connect with other advocates of diversity in cyber’.

The future is bright, the future is diverse!

Claire HarrattAbout the author

Claire Harratt is Managed Services Manager at Buckinghamshire-based cyber-security firm, Saepio Information Security. She is a former Science Teacher and Assistant Head of School who switched careers to join the tech industry in 2017.