Paving the way for women in industrial cybersecurity research
The professional journey an individual takes is heavily influenced by the people they are surrounded with throughout their life. From an early age, I knew I wanted to study computer science and I was probably one of five girls in my class.
Despite the lack of representation I was exposed to, my interest in computer science evolved into pursuing a career in cybersecurity because of the people who inspired me to take that path. That’s why I believe the first step to bringing more women into the field of cybersecurity – and the greatest catalyst to their success in the industry – is female inspiration and mentorship. We are at a turning point within the security industry, where women are stepping into the conversation and taking the lead – all for good reason.
Today, many women base their decisions to join a company on whether there are other women working there, especially in positions of leadership. Seeing other women in positions of power inspires confidence and presents the possibility for new hires to advance in a similar direction. Equally, having female mentors to encourage other females to apply for jobs, particularly in industries that are heavily male-focused, can make all the difference.
This was certainly the case when I joined the threat research team at Claroty. Seeing women on the team, leading the team, and even being a co-founder of the entire company encouraged me to step into my role with confidence and enthusiasm. I knew that I would be surrounded by women who I could rely on for mentorship. Not only does this diversity transform the atmosphere of the team to be more inclusive, but it brings in new perspectives and opinions based on a diverse set of past experiences that are vital to our work.
In the world of cybersecurity, thinking of threats from every possible angle is critical. The industry is fast-paced and constantly evolving, with new threats emerging all the time. This requires collaboration and challenging opinions and perspectives for the greater good.
An industry amid transformation
Over the past few years, there’s been a growing number of women in the security industry. A 2019 survey by (ISC)² found that women represent 24% of the cybersecurity workforce (up from just 11% in 2017). This is a substantial increase that has grown even further since then, but we still have a long way to go to get to 50%.
The transformation taking place now is not only in terms of the quantity of women entering the industry, but also in the type of work they do and positions they hold. There are more women in cybersecurity research and in key positions who are taking the lead on developing strategy and the direction of the company or team. Often it only takes one woman joining a team to see a positive snowball effect.
However, this push towards diversity in the world of cybersecurity needs to come from the boardroom and the decision makers at the top. This sweeping change will require a top-down implementation, so it’s essential that those in power are educated on the positive impact of adding women to a team and are held accountable to make this a priority.
The key to supporting your female employees
It goes without saying that organizations should create a supporting and respectful working environment where women have opportunities for growth and mentorship. Companies should also promote an atmosphere of acceptance and encourage confidence and trust in their employees, and this positivity will translate into an all-around better quality of work. While organizations have made great strides in widening the scope of diversity, there are three main areas where there is room for improvement to attract and retain more women.
- The first is around the recruitment and interview process. This starts with the job description – the way a company outlines requirements can impact whether a woman will even apply, let alone make it past the first round of interviews. This includes assessing skills correctly, as women statistically tend to be less outspoken of accomplishments than men, and their qualifications may not shine through as easily. There’s an overall need for interview training – a skill set that everyone should develop. Having the ability to ask the right questions to a candidate is incredibly important and, equally, knowing when someone is qualified or even overqualified for a position.
- The second area where organizations can be more mindful is with company benefits – such as maternity leave – and communicating expectations of these benefits clearly and consistently. Women should feel comfortable that they can take maternity leave without being passed over for promotions, raises, or other career advancement opportunities.
- Lastly and most importantly is making sure the company culture is professional and respectful. Providing equal opportunities for women and men is only fair. The experiences we encounter everyday with our colleagues have the greatest effect on employee satisfaction and retention, so awareness of how women and men are treated in a work environment is necessary.
Ready to take the leap into cybersecurity?
My advice to women interested in taking the step into cybersecurity is simple: believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of short-term setbacks. To sum it up, I have three main pieces of advice:
- Identify a female mentor (or mentors): Based on my own experience, having a mentor to guide you, answer your questions, and even just listen to your goals and objectives will help you along your career path.
- Commit to continuous learning: In cybersecurity, there is something new to learn every day. If you want to get into the industry, join an online course, pick up a library book or just start googling. Exposing yourself to environments that encourage learning will only benefit you.
- Don’t be afraid to fail and take opportunities whenever possible: Failure is inevitable but provides opportunities for growth and will lead to longer term successes. That first job doesn’t need to be the “perfect” job. There are many paths to personal success and are presented in a myriad of ways. Have faith in yourself and your capabilities and don’t be afraid to express your ideas – this will allow the most growth.
As a female in the industrial cybersecurity industry, I can say confidently that there’s plenty of room for curious, driven women who are ready to take a leap into this field. When organizations work to create a supportive, inclusive, and respectful environment that fosters diversity, this will present endless possibilities and opportunities – and enable employees to overcome the most difficult obstacles together.
Contributing Author: Anat Katz, Security Researcher, Claroty