Women in Cyber and On the Ice
Every six months for over decade, and closer to 15 years, ISA has been hosting a hockey game and networking for our customers and partners. This event has been growing in popularity and this November, we even had our first female hockey player join teamwhite in November, contributing to the win with a final score of 8-6 over teamblue. Read why hockey is a Canadian thing, and so is ISA. Female hockey players are helping to raditionally been male dominated.
At this year’s ISA Holiday party for our employees and key strategic partners, we not only celebrated so many achievements and milestones that helped us grow in 2019, we also saw a rebranding of Information Systems Architects Inc. to ISA Cybersecurity Inc. and the launch of our new website. We also recognized some amazing achievements by female contributors, such as Olivia Purchase for Employee of the Year, and Khrystyna Manko for CIOC MVP.
At ISA, we are committed to helping foster greater involvement by women in a field that needs more resources and new perspectives. Why, though, aren’t more women attracted to careers in cybersecurity? And what is being done to improve the situation?
As mentioned, there is a dearth of women in the cybersecurity field. While an (ISC)2 survey in 2019 suggests that about 24% of the international workforce in the cybersecurity field is female, experts suggest the ratio in Canada is closer to just 10-11%. Reinforcing this imbalance, media portrayals of hackers and cybersecurity “heroes” are almost uniformly male. Masculine language and themes of combat and aggression often accompany discourse regarding fighting cyber threats (and will surely sound familiar in a hockey context too). Biases (unconscious or otherwise) can make the distaff minority in cybersecurity roles feel unwelcome and unvalued.
Yet there is no rationale for this gender discrepancy or the perceived masculinity of the profession. Anyone with an inquiring, analytical mind, an interest in solving problems and helping people – regardless of gender – can be a great candidate for a career in IT and cybersecurity. A diversity in points of view and perspective is essential to combat cybercrime – as an industry, we are at disadvantage when we are not leveraging every insight in implementing cybersecurity defences.
It’s also important to note that the cybersecurity field as a whole has a growing shortage of resources and qualified professionals. The 2019 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study suggests that the global staffing shortfall in cybersecurity is in excess of 4 million positions. Cybersecurity clearly presents a “seller’s market” for qualified professionals. Competition can be fierce for skilled labour, so attractive wages, work/life balance incentives like time-shifting or working from home, and professional development and training are frequently available or negotiable for cybersecurity specialists. Ample opportunities exist for permanent roles or contract positions; multi-national firms and local, single-office SMBs are looking for personnel. Some recruiters report veritable feeding frenzies over security talent, with some applicants getting offers on the spot at first interviews so as not to lose the prospect to another company. There’s no question that the cybersecurity field presents an outstanding career opportunity. So, what’s being done to champion the cause of attracting more women to this field?
Targeting high school students, resources are being developed to help encourage young women to explore careers in cybersecurity. The 2020 Girls Go Cyber challenge was developed to encourage high school students to get involved. The annual contest involves tests in programming, cryptography, cyber vulnerability testing, data harvesting, and computer forensics. While the contest is only currently available in the United States, their website offer sample puzzles to whet the appetites of potential cybersleuths everywhere. In Canada, Ryerson and McMaster universities (among others) have developed programs to encourage teens to participate in introductory technology courses in the form of one-week camps and overnight residence programs before deciding on a post-secondary education.
Schools, companies hiring cybersecurity resources, and cybersecurity firms like ISA need to continue their efforts in breaking down the entrance barriers to women. The University of Guelph presents an excellent case in point of a post-secondary institution that has recognized and reacted to the dearth of women in technology fields. Guelph has also developed a number of strategies for supporting women pursuing technology programs. In 2018, the school hosted their first annual RISE conference for women in engineering and technology, featuring prominent female guest speakers in the STEM disciplines. Guelph also supports a chapter of the global Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) organization, whose mandate is to “enable and energize people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in STEM”. Guelph’s attention to supporting female students extends all the way to their student housing, where undergraduate “clusters” are identified and grouped together so students in the same courses can provide mutual support and collaboration in their studies.
The university, in partnership with ISA and other high-profile cybersecurity firms, has also launched a new Master of Cybersecurity and Threat Intelligence (MCTI) course. With the school’s excellent track record of attracting women to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, we hope to attract many of the school’s female undergrad population to the one-year post-graduate course. ISA has stepped to the plate to encourage women to get involved in the innovate course by offering two entrance scholarships – one for women, and a second for men – to participate in the program.
Upon graduation, a growing array of support organizations for women is available. In addition to WiSE, Women in Cybersecurity is an international organization formed to provide resources, mentorship and support for women entering the cybersecurity field. Brainbabe has a wealth of resources for the aspiring cybersecurity professional, ranging from resume development, skills refinement, and information security courses. Similar new organizations are emerging around the globe. In 2018, the Women CyberSecurity Society was founded in British Columbia, seeking to provide additional resources: in under a year, several chapters of the WCSS have already been established in Canada and the U.K.
Firms recruiting cybersecurity professionals need to do their part as well. What is your firm doing as part of your EDI initiatives, pay equity structures, and recruitment/retention programs to ensure that you’re doing your best work in attracting and retaining a diverse and skilled workforce?
Just as a woman was a valuable addition to our hockey team, women will bring new perspectives and talent to all of our cybersecurity teams.