Decoding gender in the cybersecurity field

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I hear the theory that “people are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain” bounced around a lot in the cybersecurity industry. To me, this seems reductive. It underestimates the power humans have when their strengths are combined and used effectively.

I am lucky to work in a company that believes people are the strongest link. Humans may be vulnerable to missed warning signs and mistakes, but they also have the capacity to come up with the out-of-the-box solutions needed to fix these mistakes.

It’s why I’m more concerned about another challenge we face in cybersecurity: diversity. Even as we near to the third decade of the 21st century this sector is very homogenous.

Creative problem solving is uniquely human but is most effective when used in collaboration with people from a variety of different backgrounds, with diverse experiences and perspectives.

Building a diverse cybersecurity community is not easy. There are many reasons why the industry struggles. Cultural stigma and self-doubt– especially in the case for women – are some of the mostly highly ranked issues.

Fortunately, awareness of the importance of diversity in STEM industries is higher than ever before. This makes now the perfect time to fill the talent gap. It gives me great hope to see initiatives like the Young ICT Explorers competition, tirelessly educating the younger generation and championing the voice of girls in technology.

Gen Z are often blissfully unaware of cultural norms and ingrained stereotypes, and the Young ICT Explorers program the proof of this. Now in its 10th year, the competition has reached fifty per cent female student participation across New Zealand and Australia. This is a testament to both the program’s inclusivity and the power of a de-stigmatised generation. Girls today are increasingly showing their interest in inventing, innovating and engineering because for the first time, they are being encouraged to do so.

This year’s Young ICT Explorers inventions have been the most ground-breaking, forward-looking projects we’ve seen to date. Through the collaboration of individuals from different backgrounds, with different modes of thinking, we’ve seen innovations that tackle cybersecurity, as well as other large-scale issues like climate change, drink driving, cyber bullying and waste management.

Despite the great work that is being done in schools to dismantle hurdles for female participation in STEM, our society at large still has a way to go. We must act as a community and champion diversity not only within the cybersecurity field but across every industry and sector.

We must support women in their choices and accept that a cookie-cutter approach won’t work for everyone. We must continue to tell young girls that a career in cybersecurity is not only possible, it’s desirable and an industry where women can be very successful. Promoting more female leaders to lead as an example would be a good start. More mentoring and support for female talent will also be essential for training the next generation of cybersecurity leaders.

Cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues we face today, with cyber threats affecting each and every one of us. As hacking technology continues to morph and improve, the security solutions and methods need to follow suit. If we fail to take action, people will remain the weak link in cybersecurity. Diverse thinking and perspectives will be vital to finding the most effective solutions.

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