Do we really need to encourage women to step into cybersecurity field?

Some time ago, during International Women Day celebrations at Atos, I hosted a special event dedicated to female colleagues. The idea was to conduct an interview and create a space for meaningful debate between an experienced, successful woman — seen by others as a role model — and the audience. The special guest, a talented senior cybersecurity manager, inspired participants with their potential to tap into their strengths and the courage to “sit at the table.”

The resonance was amazing. Many days after the meeting, my guest and I received messages of appreciation and words of gratitude. Many women expressed that they finally felt it’s time to swing into action.

That was an uplifting day for me and many other women, giving each of us the chance to observe someone just like you in a place where you aspire to be. Where — in a professional sense — you dream to be.

Rethinking the roots of the gender gap

It’s worth noting that not every voice was so enthusiastic. Often, people have told me that they see no need for special engagement of women. Usually, they say: “Do we really need to encourage women to step into cybersecurity? Come on! They are independent, adult people, they can make it on their own.”

To me, this is debatable. For some of my female colleagues, there was no need to follow a role model or support from a female mentor. They didn’t feel compelled to find out how many women work here before joining the company. Such individuals entered the cyber field with courage, with a sense of mission, and with excitement to battle against cybercrime. Unfortunately, one size does not necessarily fit all.

Many women perceive the field as a “boys club,” but this doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the workplace we know. Although cyber is changing and there is increasing diversity, public perceptions change slowly.

Why not be a part of it?

We cannot overlook the fact that according to the (ISC)², in 2021, there are over 3 million unfilled positions in cybersecurity, with a workforce that is twice as likely to be male. Somehow, for reasons discussed time and again, women stay away from cybersecurity. Authors of The Future is Cyber – Opportunity in Cybersecurity Report (2021) surveyed 200 female cybersecurity professionals to better understand why after years of debate, we are still struggling with the gender gap. The women interviewed highlighted three main emphasis points — equal pay, role models and a gender-balanced workforce — that would encourage other women to consider entering the field. So, do we really need to address these? Yes, indeed!

Source: Opportunity in Cybersecurity Report, 2021, Tessian Research.

The report provided some other thought-provoking revelations. They also surveyed 1,000 18 to 25-year-old adults to guage interest in cybersecurity. Even in the young generation, men are still almost twice as likely to consider working in cybersecurity as women (42% vs 26%). We cannot underestimate the power of role models, as there is nothing more inspiring than seeing other women at the helm. For young women, it is important to see strong female representation in the organization. Let’s face it: breaking stereotypes about the industry will take time.

Source: Opportunity in Cybersecurity Report, 2021, Tessian Research.

The next shift: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

I can imagine a time when we shift our thinking and debate from gender balance to diversity of experiences on many levels. That is to say, tapping peoples’ identity-related knowledge and experience as a source of learning for the whole organization. All employees are total participants: seen, heard, developed, engaged and rewarded.

This approach is called Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI). In a nutshell, if we create a truly inclusive work environment, there is no need to specify the type of diversity we want to see. We can then effectively build an inclusive, welcoming feeling in any department — including cybersecurity. Adopting this sustained change leads to higher-quality work, better decision-making, greater team satisfaction, and more equality (Ely, Thomas, 2020).

DEI teaches us that we must also carefully consider the pitfalls. Based on years of research, R.J. Ely and D.A. Thomas (2020) concluded that, “Having people from various identity groups ‘at the table’ is no guarantee that anything will get better. Research shows that things often get worse because increasing diversity can increase tension and conflict.”

Increasing diversity, including gender balance, is only the first step. The time has come, and the ultimate goal should be to create a truly inclusive culture.

Higher-quality work

Better decision-making

Greater team satisfaction

More equality

Sources of citations

Ely, R.J., Thomas, D.A. (2020). Getting Serious About Diversity. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2020.

International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)² (2020). Cybersecurity Professionals.

Tessian Research (2021). Opportunity in Cybersecurity. The date of the access: 2021-07-13, Tessian Research | Opportunity in Cybersecurity 2021

About the author

Katarzyna Gołuńska

Global Delivery Workforce Manager for Cybersecurity Services, Atos

Katarzyna is currently Global Delivery Workforce Manager for Cybersecurity Services at Atos. She is an HR expert and people leader with almost five years of professional experience in cybersecurity. Katarzyna is experienced in recruitment, demand-supply management, workforce strategy creation and execution, reskilling/upskilling programs’ design, and people development.

She holds an M.A. in Psychology, educated in the field of psychotherapy, dedicated to the diversity, equity and inclusion movement and people care at work. In 2021, she was honored to receive the Atos internal D&I Certification, Equity Matters.

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