As our world today is turning increasingly digital, the threat of cybercrime has been looming larger in recent times. In 2020 alone, a trillion-dollar global business loss to digital threats was reported.
This threat is further exacerbated by a global shortage in cybersecurity talent — 57% of organisations struggled with unfilled cybersecurity positions, as the global cybersecurity workforce faced a shortage of 3.5 million specialists in 2021.
To overcome these threats, the gap in talent needs to be bridged, and the current workforce of 4.4 million needs to grow by 80% almost immediately.
Bridging the tech talent gap
Although women make up 47% of the overall workforce globally, they currently only account for about 25% of the cybersecurity workforce. As it takes significant time and cost to acquire the specialized education, certification, and experience required by cybersecurity experts, the talent gap of this nascent, niche industry will continue to widen every year. In fact, between 2020 to 2021, this gap expanded by 13%.
An effective and efficient way to bridge this massive talent gap quickly is by facilitating access and progress for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (Stem) careers and education — among these includes careers in cybersecurity. Not only can attracting and retaining women in the field close the gender gap over time, it will also help in narrowing the staffing shortfall.
To make this happen, the world first needs to change its mindset towards women in cybersecurity. Women are often perceived to be “not technical enough” for Stem careers, but this is far from the truth.
In fact, there are many influential and inspiring female cyber leaders and trailblazers around us — from unsung heroines breaking Nazi codes during World War Two to the very first programmers calculating weapons trajectories in the ‘40s to today’s global leaders, including Jane LeClair, COO of the Washington Center for Cybersecurity Research & Development, and Nadya Batrol, managing director at BCG Platinion, an industry luminary and thought leader who is always at the forefront of trending cybersecurity topics.
In recent years, thanks to the growing emphasis and focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives by organisations, we are seeing a mindset shift, as more female leaders in the technology sector have emerged, and more women are entering the cybersecurity field, with participation doubling from 2017 to 2020.
In fact, according to (ISC)²’s Cybersecurity Workforce Study, more women cybersecurity professionals, compared to men, are reaching top positions such as chief technology officer (7% of women vs. 2% of men), IT director (18% vs. 14%) and C-level executives (28% vs. 19%), despite being underrepresented — a promising sign of the shift in mindset towards the right direction to #Breakthebias.
Promising progress for young talents
One of the key ways to grow talent is to engage and drive interest from a young age, through mentorships, exposure, and opportunities.
In a recent global study of female Stem undergraduates, 70% of female students in Stem-related programmes indicated that the presence of a role model had encouraged them to learn more about the industry. To this end, it is clear that female leaders in cybersecurity play a key role in supporting and mentoring newcomers to the field while inspiring those considering or entering the industry.
It is also critical to engage and inspire female talent from young. In Singapore, we have seen this through the first Capture the Flag event in 2019, organised by Magda Chelly, founder of the Women in Security (WoSEC) Singapore Chapter, to motivate young talents to discover the cybersecurity space and connect with industry role models.
Similarly, SG Women in Tech last year lauded 18 young female talents from secondary schools and tertiary institutions, as part of the Singapore 100 Women in Tech list, highlighting inspiring women in the tech industry.
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Beyond these, initiatives such as AiSP Cybersecurity Awareness, Advisory Programme (CAAP), Ladies in Cyber (LIC) Charter, and BCG’s Women Mentorship Program also serve as platforms where female cybersecurity professionals are coaching aspiring students before they join the workforce.
The road ahead for women in cybersecurity
Here in Asia Pacific, the future for women in cybersecurity is promising. According to BCG’s latest survey, Asia Pacific respondents are the least likely to regard cybersecurity as a male-dominated field, compared to women in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
In fact, there is a strong interest among female undergraduates in this region in pursuing cybersecurity degrees, with 82% of Stem students expressing interest when surveyed. This further cements the need to make a career in cybersecurity more accessible, approachable and feasible for women.
This would entail organisations increasing equal opportunities for women considering a career in tech — through narrowing gender pay gaps and ramping up DEI efforts, as well as implementing policies and best practices to support and empower women in cybersecurity. Governments can support through the introduction of more initiatives to develop the cybersecurity ecosystem, and work in tandem with organisations and educational institutions. This would give rise to more holistic initiatives to build a more robust talent pipeline, from education to recruitment, retainment, and advancement.
Ultimately, attracting women to cybersecurity would do more than narrow the talent gap — it also promises diverse perspectives to innovation and problem-solving, which contributes to strengthening cybersecurity capabilities. This would bring forth a broader societal impact, as a diversified workforce will foster an inclusive and innovative post-pandemic economic recovery, and in the long run, improve business performance and national economies.
Sugar Chan is manager, cybersecurity at the Boston Consulting Group
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