and the obstacles that are getting in the way…

If you were to ask somebody to picture a person who works in cybersecurity, they would likely fall back on the Hollywood stereotype of an individual hunched over their laptop in a dark room – and nine times out of 10, that person would probably be a man.

Cybersecurity’s portrayal in the media has played a large role in the poor representation of women working in the space, but this depiction is sadly not too far away from the truth.

Women make up just 36% of cybersecurity workers in the UK. There are several factors to blame for this, but what it ultimately boils down to is accessibility.

Obstacles in my career

Growing up I thought I wanted to be a solicitor, but after spending some time working at a local firm, I soon realised it was not the career path for me. Instead, I pursued my keen interest in IT – largely inspired by police and crime dramas I watched as a child – and enrolled in Forensic Computing at De Montfort University in Leicester.

This decision instantly raised eyebrows at school. I was told by my headteacher it was not what was expected of me and asked whether I was sure of my choice. Instead of encouragement, I was met by judgement and a clear lack of support.

This soon became a pattern in my career. In my first job out of university, I was immediately faced with biases and was repeatedly told I was not a good fit for the role, just because I was a woman.

Imposter syndrome is almost inevitable when being subjected to such scrutiny, especially when you look around the office and realise you are one of few women in the room.

This imbalance starts in the recruitment process. In workplaces with a male dominated workforce,  hiring managers are naturally more likely to be inclined to consider men over women, even if they have the same skills set.

The world is growing more inclusive, but the tech industry, and the cyber space in particular, is still lagging behind. That is not to say I have not had any support at all, though. Over the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to work with some really fantastic individuals, some of whom I still lean on today

When I joined MHR at the beginning of 2022 I instantly felt at home. The work culture is extremely inclusive and it is empowering to be recognised as the Information Security Manager I am, and not being overlooked as I have been in the past because of my gender.

Diversity improves collaboration

The traditional approach to cybersecurity has been extremely linear, but as technology evolved and the arena grew more complex, the scope has broadened. In the past, a single way of thinking may have sufficed, but today there is a real need for varying ideas, perspectives, and collaboration.

As human beings, the way we approach a challenge depends solely on past experiences, our background, and our upbringing. Therefore, teams that are made up of very similar people will inevitably produce very similar ideas. When the diversity pool is widened, new perspectives are introduced and it gives way to a much wider range of ideas.

Businesses that embrace diversity and encourage more women – and other marginalised groups – to join their ranks will benefit from stronger work output as a result.

The time for change is now

The cybersecurity space is expanding rapidly and after the pandemic forced so many business processes online, security teams must grow to keep up with demand.

There is absolutely no shortage of jobs for individuals looking to get into cybersecurity at the moment. The shift to online has made business owners pay more attention to their digital landscape, and in many cases companies will rely on their IT department to run smoothly.

Now is the perfect time for the tides to change, and to introduce more female talent to the cybersecurity space. Jobs are there to be filled, so work must be done to encourage young girls and support their decision should they choose tech is the career path they want to go down.

A good place to start would be improving the representation of female cybersecurity workers in the media. Having somebody to look up to, and somebody that you can see qualities of yourself in, is crucial when it comes to creating the belief that you can do something – and it will hopefully play a role in inspiring the next generation of women in tech.

Read all about MHR’s cybersecurity support here:

About the author

Emma Doyley, Information Security Manager at MHR