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IWD 2024: Innovating for a safer digital world: The untapped potential of women in cybersecurity
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

In my 25 years' experience of hiring cybersecurity professionals, I have had just one female applicant.

This situation requires reflection. How can the cybersecurity industry as a whole begin to address this gender imbalance?

Mine is not an isolated experience. According to the Gender Dimensions of the Australian Cyber Security Sector Report released by RMIT University—the first in-depth look into cyber security's gender make-up—women only represented 17% of the workforce.    

This is not a uniquely Australian challenge. The Global Forum on Cyber Expertise found that only 10% of the global information security workforce is women.

Nor is it a resourcing issue. As one of the fastest-growing, highest-paying fields globally, the cybersecurity industry in Australia needs 25,000 more specialists by 2032 to close its skills gap. In fact, the lack of cyber security experts is now significantly impacting the ability of businesses to curtail cyber threats.

The Importance Of Diversity In Cyber Security  
A diverse workforce, encompassing a broad spectrum of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, is no longer a mere aspiration but a strategic imperative for companies striving for excellence in cyber security.

Diversity brings a multitude of perspectives to the table, enabling teams to think outside conventional parameters and devise innovative solutions to complex challenges. This variety in thought and approach is crucial for staying one step ahead of cyber criminals who continually evolve their tactics. By incorporating insights from a wide range of cultural and personal experiences, diverse teams can anticipate and neutralise threats more effectively, ensuring a robust defence against attacks.

Diversity enhances company-wide problem-solving capabilities. Research has shown that diverse groups are better at solving complex problems than homogenous ones. In cyber security, where every day brings a unique set of challenges requiring quick and creative problem-solving, the value of this cannot be overstated. Diverse teams can pool their varied expertise to devise strategies that address all aspects of security, from technical vulnerabilities to human factors.

RMIT's Gender Dimensions of the Australian Cyber Security Sector Report revealed that around half of the female cybersecurity respondents had specific IT qualifications. This compares to two-thirds of their male counterparts. Women entering the cyber security sector already have educational experience under their belts. This helps to ensure that there is a greater pool of knowledge and expertise in any room when making decisions.

In addition, the report found that women in the cyber security sector are strongly motivated by the quest to make a difference to society. This was the factor most commonly cited as "strongly influential" in women's decisions to join the security sector, cited by 52% of women, compared to 44 per cent of men.

A diverse workforce in cyber security reflects the global nature of the internet itself. Cyber threats do not recognise borders. A workforce that mirrors the diversity of the global online community is better equipped to understand and protect against these threats on a global scale.

Harnessing the Industry's Full Potential
The cyber security industry stands out for its potential to advance gender equity more effectively than other fields traditionally dominated by men. Its inherent qualities of adaptability, innovation, and a forward-looking approach position it well to break away from conventional constraints that often hinder progress in gender equity. 

Harnessing the full potential of diversity in the cyber security sector now will lead to a better workforce that is more ready to address the challenges of tomorrow. To put it simply, greater diversity in your team can lead to enhanced productivity, better business outcomes, and, ultimately, increased profitability.

Reflecting on the broader implications, it's clear that entering the cybersecurity field doesn't necessitate a background in IT. In fact, with only half of the professionals holding specific IT qualifications, the industry values diverse perspectives unburdened by IT biases. This inclusivity opens doors to those passionate about compliance, processes, analytics, governance, and beyond. 

If you've ever considered a career in cybersecurity, now is the opportune moment. The cybersecurity landscape is vast, extending far beyond traditional IT confines, and there's no singular pathway to enter this dynamic field. Your unique skills and perspectives could be precisely what's needed to innovate and strengthen our digital defences. Join us in shaping a more secure, inclusive digital future.