SecurityBrief Australia - Technology news for CISOs & cybersecurity decision-makers
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IWD 2023: How do we woo women into tech?
Wed, 8th Mar 2023

We appear to be at a crossroads with daily news of tech companies laying off staff and tech stocks falling. However, at the same time, Australia is crying out for tech talent. Kate Pounder, the CEO of The Tech Council Australia, recently addressed the National Press Club and spoke about our quest for 1.2 million people by 2030 for tech roles in Australia, with the tech sector currently contributing $250 billion a year to Australia's bottom line.

We know that Australia's skills and labour challenge is not a regional problem, it's global. So, where are all these people going to come from?

There's no silver bullet. However, some areas being explored involve streamlining immigration policies and systems for specialist tech talent, introducing apprenticeships, engaging the 'grey' market and regional Australians, and how we can make tech training and roles more accessible for Indigenous Australians and those with a disability.

While I certainly agree that these are all mechanisms we should explore, I also believe there remains a huge opportunity to increase the number of women in tech - a relatively untapped market, particularly in my field of work, cybersecurity.

Despite representing close to 50% of the workforce, recent data shows women make up less than 25% of the cybersecurity workforce globally. More concerning is that the number drops to less than 15% in Australia.

It's clear that we are not using all the resources available to protect ourselves from the real and present danger of cyber attacks if we are not recruiting and training women in key cybersecurity roles.

We also need to fast-track training and look at the option of cross-skilling those already in the workforce, and with some tech or peripheral experience, as it's skilled professionals we particularly lack. A recent Robert Half Salary Guide states that 86% of technology managers said it's challenging to find skilled professionals in software and applications development, technology process automation, cloud architecture and operations. This is despite software security managers being paid up to $195,000 annually. Certainly, a salary that would be attractive to many in the workforce.

Unfortunately, Kate Pounder's address highlighted that the country was training too few new tech workers. For the last ten years, training for tech jobs has not met demand. In fact, there are approximately the same number of Australians participating in IT bachelor's degrees today as there were in 2002, when the internet was still nascent and social media hadn't even started.

The cybersecurity sector should not overlook the untapped pool of potential workers that women represent. Investing in women will go a long way towards overcoming the skills shortage, improving workforce diversity, and strengthening Australia's security capability.

I have always supported women taking up careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, I feel there is still a lot to be done to attract girls and women into the space and keep them there. Five years after graduating, men with a STEM qualification are 1.8 times more likely to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation compared to their female peers. There is also a wider pay gap of $28,994 in 2020 between qualified men and women working in STEM, compared to $25,534 across all industries. This highlights a continued imbalance in how a female's experience, time and potential are valued compared to that of a male, which also disincentivises female workforce participation in these industries.

A Grattan Institute study indicates that a 6% increase in female workforce participation would add $25 billion to the national GDP and unlock 1 million more full-time workers. We, therefore, need national programs that not only get our girls, young women, and skilled female professionals to pursue STEM careers but also stay employed in this space.

In her recent National Press Club address, Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, The Hon Clare O'Neil, detailed how we will "rise up to the challenges facing Australia" and the goal of making Australia the world's most cyber secure country by 2030 - a vision we certainly share and want to support.

It's clear just how much cybersecurity resilience is integral to the protection of our national security.

Considering our quest for people to fill the cybersecurity roles of the future, by not tackling the problem of low female workforce participation in this field, do we run the risk of falling so far behind other nations we'll be an even greater target for cybercriminals than we are today?