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Although cyber is changing and there is increasing diversity, public perceptions change slowly and many women perceive the field as a “boys club.” Katarzyna Gołuńska reflects on her experience as HR professional in the field and the role of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) in creating a truly inclusive work environment.
Some time ago, during the 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 ask: “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), 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?
The answer is obviously yes.
The report provided some other thought-provoking revelations. They also surveyed 1,000 18 to 25-year-old adults to gauge 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.
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).
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.