Cybersecurity limbo: is there a place for women in the industry?

11% of the cybersecurity workforce worldwide are women, and it drops to only 7% in Europe. Experts argue that cybersecurity is still in limbo - it’s pictured as a profession requiring only hard skills, and therefore not always considered as a career choice, especially by girls.

Cybersecurity is all about protection, and therefore, men are and need to be in charge. It is a completely false statement, yet, a very widespread perception of cybersecurity. The industry is still pictured as requiring mostly hard stills, and this misconception discourages many girls and women from entering the field.

“Only 11% of the cybersecurity workforce in the world are women; it’s only 7% in Europe, very disappointing results here. We need to step up a lot,” Nina Hasratyan, Policy Manager at European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO) and Operational Coordinator at Women4Cyber Foundation, told during a discussion about women in the digital era.

Cybersecurity is quite a fresh field, compared to such deep-rooted and conventional career choices as medicine or finance.

“It’s still in limbo somehow in the minds of people. Many people think that cybersecurity is about hard skills, but soft skills are just as important. Cybersecurity is very horizontal and applies to every other single field that exists out there. As long as you have employees using devices, cybersecurity is your concern,” Hasratyan said.

That’s why role models are so important - to present opportunities that people don’t know exist.

“The primary reason would be to show different jobs that exist out there in cybersecurity, the scope, the big range of positions that exist,” Hasratyan added. Female role models make the sector more welcoming to young girls so that they know there’s a community out there and they will be not alone in cybersecurity.

Iva Tasheva, co-founder and Cybersecurity Management Lead at CyEn, could be seen as one of those role models. Her cybersecurity career started in a think tank back in 2015. Her first work experiences were in a travel agency and a construction company.

“The advice is to gather as much experience as possible and don’t be intimidated. My first working experiences were in very different fields, but once you get this knowledge of the sectors and a little bit of law, you could really grasp the cybersecurity and apply it to different fields,” she said.

According to Tasheva, cybersecurity is still often considered to be about survival and protection, and therefore, it is a very male-dominated sector.

“We are still very driven by the military offenders, the attackers, this game that is more typically men-driven, and so it is not necessarily associated with inclusion or diversity, and it is more about survival and protection. It is not necessarily the right approach,” she said.

The way that more diverse data in the development of artificial intelligence leads to better solutions and decisions, diversity in the cybersecurity field could lead to a more inclusive society.

“If we want society to be inclusive, we also have to have diversity in the design of technological solutions, to take into consideration the interests, shortcomings, and issues of the different groups there are. It would work for me as a woman, and it would work for everyone eventually, whether it’s language, interests, or background that differentiates us,” she said.

Sophie Batas, Director for Cyber Security and Data Privacy at HUAWEI, argued that cybersecurity requires a lot of soft skills, such as caring for people, negotiation skills, and swift communication, which are naturally embedded in the DNA of women.

“Cybersecurity is a very multi-disciplinary sector. It requires various types of profiles and very specific skills, for instance: caring for people, being able to communicate in a precise way swiftly, negotiation skills, a broad understanding of the situation, ability to react quickly, and I think all those skills are naturally embedded in the DNA of women. That’s why we have a growing number of women in cybersecurity. I’m also experiencing it in Huawei, and it’s a pleasure to work hand in hand with other women and with men,” she said.

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