Women in cybersecurity: How far have they come?
In this interview with Help Net Security, Bronwyn Boyle, CISO at Mambu, talks about women in cybersecurity, what are the hurdles they must overcome in their career, and how far has the indutry come when it comes to inclusion and diversity.
Women are slowly but firmly entering the cybersecurity world. Did you personally experience it as a heavy road to take? If yes, why?
It was initially a bumpy road due to the lack of female role models, particularly when I first started in the cybersecurity world. I was often the only woman in a meeting or speaking at industry events, and sometimes struggled to make my voice heard.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been lucky to have fantastic female mentors and I’ve learned from some very talented leaders who made themselves available to lend an ear. By actively seeking out inspiring female colleagues and role models that could relate to my experiences, I built an amazing, supportive network, who helped me overcome and silence the imposter syndrome that many of us feel.
I try to pass on the same advice and encouragement I’ve received from other women in cybersecurity, mentoring people interested in getting into the industry and up-and-coming female leaders who may need support or guidance.
What can be done to improve the presence of women in cybersecurity?
Actively mentoring women looking to break into the industry or further their careers is an impactful way to improve the presence of women in cybersecurity. I’m currently working on several educational initiatives to promote cyber security practices and ensure women of all ages and backgrounds see tech as an attractive career opportunity.
I’ve also seen the challenges women face coming back after maternity leave or taking time off to deal with parenting duties. Figuring out the best way to re-engage and encourage women to return to the workforce is difficult. This is particularly relevant in an industry like cybersecurity where technology changes so quickly. The velocity of technical changes is so rapid that finding ways to keep women upskilled is vital.
There is great power in solidarity, sharing our experiences, and being open and vulnerable. Seeking out those female role models is important to ensure others are not feeling alone, others are seeing their voice being heard and others knowing that people have their back. The resilience and tenacity being demonstrated will give the next generation of women in cybersecurity an equal footing to break those glass ceilings.
Which cybersecurity fields are women faring better in and why?
I wouldn’t say there is a specific field in cybersecurity that women are faring better in. However, in this day and age, the role of a Chief Information Security Officer is based on people and process issues as much as technology. Sometimes we can have a narrow stereotype of the industry when, actually, it’s much broader than we think.
Regardless of the tech, there’s always a person at the other end of the computer using a system in one way or another. The soft skills and the breadth of disciplines that cybersecurity encompasses is fundamentally about how businesses operate, not just how technology works. This opens the door from a talent perspective and brings a lot of opportunities for women with diverse skill sets.
What should women do to succeed in the cybersecurity world?
Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration. It’s a supportive industry, and people are very open when others reach out. Have the confidence to contact people, if you see people publishing blogs that are of interest to you or presenting at a conference – be proactive to build your network and circle of support.
It can be a lonely space for women to forge a path if they are the only voice in the room. Male allyship is also important to ensure that women have equal opportunities to be heard. By putting themselves in the shoes of their female counterparts, men can support change and push for more inclusive workplaces. This is especially important when many women automatically opt out of opportunities due to self-doubt.
What about people from different socio-economic backgrounds? Where do they stand in cybersecurity?
We need to build better pipelines not just to get more women in the cybersecurity space; but people from different socio-economic backgrounds, neuro-diverse individuals, and a much broader selection of social demographics. Old-school hiring approaches relied on looking for people with specific degrees or certifications. Ultimately, this approach can be expensive and a barrier to entry for a talent pool that would otherwise succeed and flourish in the industry. It’s also a self-inflicted challenge for businesses, adding to their recruitment woes amid the Great Resignation
I’m fortunate to work in a company committed to creating a culture where everyone belongs. I’m a big believer in full-spectrum diversity, inclusive of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, religion, background, and culture. I’m keen to do my bit to help women and people from different socio-economic backgrounds to embrace the challenge and take their seats at the table to help make the cybersecurity world a better, inclusive place!